The Truth About Your Remodeling Project: 203Ks, Home Additions, Finished Basements and Whole-House Renovation Jobs -- Part 2: Setting Realistic Expectations for Your Home Remodeling Project

Home Builder with New City Construction


In the first post of this series, we explored the Top Ten Problems Homeowners Face in Remodeling Projects. But, a list of problems is not very helpful without some solutions, so we'll start tackling those now.

Set Realistic Expectations for Your Home Remodeling or 203k Project

The first and best way to avoid problems in your remodeling project is to set realistic expectations for yourself and your project. We believe that "eyes wide open" is the best policy for everyone. For this reason, here at New City Construction, we start off every new renovation project with a client meeting to set expectations. Remember that when you undertake a whole-house renovation, a 203k project, a room addition or a finished basement, your goal is the outcome -- a brand new living space that your whole family can enjoy. But, even the smoothest remodeling project is no party for the homeowner. It's best for everyone if you are honest with yourself about that up front. There are ways, though, that you can make the whole process better.

Top 9 Tips for a Better Home Remodeling or 203k Project

9. Move Out (or Don't Move In). If there is ANY way that you can avoid living in the property while it is under renovation, do it. Not only will you avoid an enormous amount of the frustration typically associated with home remodeling, you will also save time and money. When a property is occupied, your contractor must install temporary protection so that your part of the house remains livable. Also, there are additional labor costs for putting the site back together at the end of the work day. It is cheaper, faster and easier to be somewhere else -- if you can.

8. Make Your Selections Early. Materials arriving late can be one of the most significant delays in completing a project. Ask your contractor for a list of the finish materials you will need for the project (e.g. plumbing fixtures, cabinets, counters, lighting fixtures, doors, hardwood, tile, carpet, appliances and hardware) and start shopping as soon as possible.

7. Align Your Expectations with Your Budget. A remodeling project is like a trip to the grocery store; if you go in with more money, you can walk out with more "stuff." However, homeowners often want to put more "stuff" (or nicer stuff) in their cart then they can afford. If you have to remove items from your project scope in order to make it work with your budget, recognize that the end project will be different than you had hoped. So, if granite counters and new stainless appliances have to become laminate tops and existing appliances in order to accommodate the cost of your new septic line, you need to accept that the finished project will be different than anticipated, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

6. Pay Attention to Your Chemistry With Your Contractor. You will have a relationship with your contractor. Like all relationships, it will have its ups and downs. When you meet potential contractors, pay attention to the chemistry you have with them and how well your styles work together. Imagine that you are in a heated disagreement with this person and try to anticipate how it would go. You need to pick someone that you trust, that is capable and with whom you can get along through both the good and the challenging parts of your project.

5. Get a Written Schedule, and Then Expect the Project to Take 25-50% Longer. Ask your contractor for a written schedule, so you understand the phases of the project and what tasks should happen when. The schedule will also help you understand how much time you have to make selections and get finish materials delivered. Keep in mind that schedules are typically built on what contractors know, control and can reasonably estimate. While there may be some slack built in, most schedules do not anticipate delays that come from permits, inspectors, materials unavailability and other "uncontrollable" factors. For this reason, assume that your project will take 25-50% longer than shown on the schedule.

4. Check Contractor Referrals Thoroughly. The contractor you select will the biggest factor that drives how well your project goes. Demand several referrals and call them. Don't just ask them if they were satisfied in the end. Ask them detailed questions about their project, what went wrong along the way, how the contractor handled it and where the weaknesses were. Just because this homeowner would recommend the contractor doesn't mean that they don't have valuable information to share about what you can expect and what to avoid.

3. Make Regular Site Visits. You need to know what is happening on your job site, but going every day will drive you and the contractor crazy. Plan to visit the job site no more than once a week and no less than once every two weeks. This will ensure that you can spot any problems with enough time to correct them, and will allow for enough progress between visits to make the trip worthwhile.

2. Plan to Spend at Least 10% Extra. Renovation projects are filled with uncertainties and discoveries (which we'll discuss more in an upcoming post). For a large project, you should maintain at least a 10% contingency fund -- either in your loan or in your pocket. For smaller projects (those $25K and under), you should have at least an extra $5,000 available for items that come up during the project. If your budget is very tight to begin with, you will end up making tradeoffs during the job in order to accommodate the unexpected scope that's required for code issues, health and safety. Plus, you may decide along the way that you want to add items you didn't anticipate at the beginning of the process.

1. Get a Very Detailed Scope of Work. Your construction scope IS your project. If the work is not on the list the contractor provides, it will not be included on the job. Either it won't get done, or you will get a change order later. MAKE SURE you get a very detailed, clearly-written scope that identifies all work to be done and the material allowances provided. DO NOT RELY ON ANY CONVERSATIONS ALONE.

NEXT: We'll talk about the most common kinds of project discoveries, and what to do to handle the ones that do occur.


Comments (3)

Michele Miller ~ REALTOR®, LMC, HSE, CHS, SRES, CMRS
ERA Key Realty~Worcester County Realty Group - Worcester, MA
'Helping You Make the Best Move"


Great information! I just had contractors in my home and it took longer than expected. I think it always does!

Overall, we are happy with the work that was done. Now to paint!

Apr 28, 2011 12:11 AM
Jon Solomon
Javic Homes - Tampa, FL

I think you hit 9 of our 10 expectation setting items for each our customers when we do our kickoff meetings.  Well done post!

Apr 28, 2011 03:12 AM
Joey Yaffe
New City Construction - Rockville, MD
New City Construction - Residential Remodeling

Thanks, Jon.  What's the 1 we missed?

Apr 28, 2011 03:34 AM