6 Steps for a Stress-Free Remodel
Everyone has heard stories of the nightmare remodel. How everything went sideways. How contractors took deposits and never finished the job. About shoddy workmanship, poor communication, or projects taking months to complete. If you read the testimonials on my site you will see that is not the norm if my company is handling your remodel. My team and I work very hard to ensure our clients experience a stress-free remodel.
However, no remodel is without disruptions to your personal schedule. There will be noise, dust, and lots of contractors coming and going. You will be displaced from the rooms under construction. Remodeling is a lot like parenting. There is nothing more challenging but, at the same time, more rewarding. By planning and organizing, you can have a stress-free remodel. Here are some valuable tips for you to consider.
3 Key Components To Consider When Planning Your Remodel.
Construction is a messy business
There will be dust, dirt, and noise during construction. If you are a work-from-home person, you might want to plan an alternative workplace for noisy days like demolition and framing. There will be multiple subcontractors performing the work. Get to know the team and make sure you have good screening and security systems in place if you are acting as your own GC.
Be available for questions and provide timely responses. Concealed work [ building issues that we cannot see or know about beforehand ], meaning things behind the sheetrock or under the flooring like termite damage, knob and tube wiring, and leaky pipes – happen. Be prepared for additional costs to correct these things. Make sure your letter of agreement with your contractor answers all of your questions on how the project will proceed. If you’re a designer reading this, my ebook “Letters of Agreement”, [ which you can purchase here for $15.00 ], contains very useful information on how to structure a letter of agreement for a successful and productive working relationship with your clients.
Patience is a virtue
Be patient and prepared. If you are working with us, know that we start our jobs starts early in the morning. Don’t be surprised by a 7:30 am wake-up doorbell. We work to move through your project in a timely fashion. We mainly work on one project at a time. I refer to this as our *concierge level* remodeling service. Every once in a while we hit a snag but, if you’re working with us, know we are working to quickly get back on track.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 1: Create A Book Of Wishes
This is where the fun starts. You have been dreaming of this new space forever. Now is the time to gather inspiration for the room[s] we’ll be remodeling. In the past clients would collect magazine pages. Today there are so many digital ways to collect images. Pinterest is a great way to create mood boards for your project. If your computer has a “snip tool” you can create your own mood board from digital magazines to convey your style. All of this will make it easier when we are discussing what you want for your home. Surprisingly, clients are amazed at how quickly I can get a clear picture of what they are looking for. After all, design is what I love to do.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 2: Start With A Clear Timeline Expectation – And Have A Plan B…and C.
Most importantly, remember: a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Is there a special occasion in your schedule that this remodel must be completed by? Plan ahead. It can take up to 6 months to complete a design, make selections, place orders and receive the materials. With extended delivery times, that timeline can take up to 12 months. Calling in June to have a kitchen remodeled in August may not be realistic.
The Family Schedule
Additionally, think about how this remodel will affect your family’s schedule. Is it better to remodel when your kids are in school so they are out of the construction zone? Maybe planning a vacation during the demolition phase will make it easier to endure the process. Once you have a realistic timeline, you can move on to the next step, what you want to remodel.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 3: Defining Scope Of Work
Specifically, think about the rooms you are remodeling and the rooms around that space. It is unrealistic to think that remodeling one room will not impact the rooms around it – especially if you are relocating doors or changing floors. Nail pops (when nails in the wall of an adjacent room break through the surface of the sheetrock) will happen and you will probably need to repaint that adjacent space. Consequently, anytime you extend the scope of work, you may extend the job schedule as well as the cost of the project. Designers: make sure your letters of agreement address additional work orders.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 4: Determining A Budget
This is a big one. Often, people I work with have no idea what their budgets should be. Of course, if you haven’t undertaken a major remodeling project in quite some time, the current material and labor costs may be surprising. If you have no idea what your budget should be, we can discuss it. When you work with my team, we develop budgets for your project based on the scope of work and the quality level you desire. What’s more, will always be very realistic based on our 20+ years of experience.
The quality of the products you desire and the workmanship involved play a big part in the cost of your project. There are definitely different levels of quality involved in every selection we make for your project, but there are also corresponding drawbacks and benefits to each selection. For instance, warranties are often non-existent or very limited when working with lesser quality materials – a fact to be taken into consideration depending on how long you plan to stay in your home
There is no such thing as “free”
A big problem in perception when I’m discussing budgets with my clients is the mass marketing of “free” design services, with corresponding *free* shipping, delivery, and installation. There is no such thing as free. You are paying for these supposedly “free” items and services somewhere. Just because an item is sold at a cheaper price does not mean it is the same item. Value engineering is very misleading to consumers. Manufacturers will provide products to ecommerce retailers which look the same but are not built the same. They do this to keep the prices down.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 5: Assemble The Team
It is so very important that whomever you choose for your project will all be part of the same team. Every trade and the designer your select must be able to work together successfully.
Finding the right contractor
Now that you have a plane of action, the next step is to find and retain your dream team. I have written an article on the subject which you can read here: Understanding the Value of a Great General Contractor. If you choose to work with my firm, I have been partnering with a great group of sub-contractors for the past 18 years – ensuring your remodel is as stress-free as possible.
Finding the right designer.
Designers offer a wide range of services from design only to complete remodeling. Some offer “free” design consultations and some charge for initial consultations. Always make sure that roles and expectations are clearly defined. Payment terms should be stated and completion schedules noted. Spelling things out in detail can help eliminate disagreements. How do you know which one to hire? Here are a few tips:
Do your homework
First, make sure you hire someone that is certified. Certified designers have to meet specific criteria based on education, experience, exams, continuing education, and professional references. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (nkba.org) is a great place to start your search for a kitchen or bath designer. The American Society of Interior Designers also has a referral system on its website. Get names from friends and neighbors and browse magazines that feature homes designed in your area.
Finding the right fit.
Second, find a designer who fits your style. Designers help you make wise choices when designing your home. A professional kitchen designer is a specialist for that part of the home. I truly love designing kitchens and I bring a wealth of knowledge that I’m eager to share with my clients.
Schedule a meeting
Schedule a meeting and come prepared. If you are meeting at the designer’s studio, bring the dimensions of your current space and photos of spaces you like. Make sure you see examples of the designer’s completed work and not just the manufacturer’s photos. For instance, Thyme & Place Design has its own brochure with photos of actual installations. Always ask for references. Good designers should have happy clients who love to talk about their experiences. Ask about how they work. Check out our “How We Work” page for some ideas.
Not every designer is for every client. After your first meeting, you may decide that designer is not a good fit. The perfect project relationship must be based on honesty, communication, respect, and teamwork. Make sure you feel comfortable enough with the designer to discuss everything related to your design ideas, budget, and timeline requirements. You will be working together in your home for many weeks and you want the project to run smoothly.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 5: Detailed Contracts And Specifications
Make sure that you sign a comprehensive letter of agreement. This should include a specification for each and every item you will be ordering for this project. Start with floor plans and elevations for each room included in the contract. We use elevations rather than 3D renderings so there is no error in interpretation. When I meet with clients to review selections, we select finishes and materials from real samples which is better than paper images which can distort the true colors.
Each and every detail for cabinets, hardware, fittings, and fixtures are detailed on my specification sheets. Products like countertop material and tiles are selected at the supplier’s showrooms. Once all of the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed will we move forward with placing orders. Once I have confirmation from the manufacturer with delivery dates, my contractor will set the schedule. Any final selections such as lighting, furniture, window treatments, and accessories can be designed and ordered if requested.
Stress-Free Remodel Step 6: Final Steps
Once any punch-list items have been completed, you can consider your project complete. Depending on your local town and state laws, final inspections need to be made. In our state of New Jersey that is the responsibility of the homeowner. This is an important step. If you do not get the final inspection, a certificate of occupancy will not be granted and you will not be able to sell your house. Now you can sit back relax and enjoy your newly remodeled home. Hopefully, you will invite all of your friends and family to a big celebration!
Sharon L. Sherman, ASID, NCIDQ, CID, CKD
Sharon is the founder of Thyme and Place Design, headquartered in Wyckoff, New Jersey. She’s been practicing kitchen and bath design for the past 40 years and is a Past President of the American Society of Interior Designers – New Jersey chapter. She is a current member of the editorial board of KB&B Magazine, the official magazine of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
Her award-winning designs and editorial comments have been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Design Milk, Bergen NJ magazine, Kitchen & Bath Design News, Woman’s Day, Country Decorating, Design NJ, New Jersey Home Magazine, 201 Magazine, The Best of Bergen, Savvy Living, The Vue, The Record, The Star-Ledger, and Aspire as well as several books.
Her blog “Tips from the Trade” appears in digital form on DesignNJ.com and KBBonline.com. She has also appeared on HGTV’s My Big Amazing Renovation and episodes of House Smarts with Lou Manfredini. In 2022, she was a featured *Voices From The Industry* speaker at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s international convention and is available for further speaking engagements nationwide on all topics related to running a successful kitchen and bath design business.
Excellent advice from a consummate professional! And ‘there is no such thing as free” – truer words were never spoken!
What an excellent post, Sharon. Thank you for clarifying what is often a murky and difficult process.
I really enjoyed reading the beautiful testimonial from your client at the end, too.