Always, always have a contingency plan.
Although the popularity of home remodeling shows like HGTV's Fixer Upper has increased our desire to get out there and flip houses, the task is not for everyone. We sat down with David and Catherine Wilkes of David Wilkes Builders, the contractors who orchestrated the remodel on our 2018 Idea House, to get their take on what a remodel requires.
The first thing to consider when you're looking to purchase a home to remodel is the exterior. Are there cracks in the foundation? You should try to identify any structural isses with the home. "One thing we always look at is if the home had already had an addition or a remodel," David said. "A lot of the time, when they add space to an existing house or they remodel – if it's done poorly – it's really hard to correct. Then you've got to incur a great deal of cost to, quite often, remove that addition and then remodel."
Other great indicators of the home's structural integrity are the doorframes. "Are they out of square because the house has settled in a particular place?" David said. "If it's a pier-and-beam house, the fix is typically less expensive than if it's on a slab. Also, looking at the general layout of the house, is the kitchen in a pleasing place? Same with bathrooms. If it's on a slab, like this year's Idea House, and you want to relocate the bathroom or kitchen – it can be really costly because you've got to cut through concrete. If you're in the market to remodel and do a hands-on job as a homeowner, just be careful that you don't bite off too much that you can't complete it."
With any home project, as Catherine reiterated, a homeowner should always, always have a contingency plan. "With remodeling, there are always unknowns," she said. David agreed. "With remodels, we always try and guide our clients [to avoid having] their drawings and budget pushing right up against the total overall budget. You always want to have a contingency in there of 5% or 10%, because it doesn't matter how thorough you are on the front end – there are always going to be unexpected items that are going to pop up, especially if you're doing an extensive remodel where you're taking it back to the studs. We call it 'scope creep' and it happens on every project."
If it's your first time considering a remodel, David urges homeowners to seek out a designer or architect. "It's [easy] to generate ideas on paper and then assign a budget. I think you can get into a lot of trouble that way. We introduce [clients] to an architect that can help them through a design phase."
Most of all, as you're planning, the key to a successful remodel is to do your research. David and Catherine recommend a book called Managing the Emotional Homeowner: The Remodeler's Guide to Happy Customers by David Lupberger. "I would encourage everybody to read [it] before you do a project," David said. It really identifies the highs and lows that are going to happen through a project. You start the project and the demo goes really quick, and then you move into framing and it's still moving along, and then you start to get into the trades and mechanics, electrical, plumbing, and it starts to slow down a bit."
The project will test your emotional highs and lows, as the book describes, so preparing for this in advance is key to avoiding frustration mid-renovation. "[The book] actually has a graph of your high, excited emotions and when you're going to be down in the dumps, depending on what trade is happening," Catherine described. "It's pretty accurate; the writer got with a psychologist and they interviewed a lot of people. We've given that chart to clients before we start a job sometimes and say, 'This is when you're going to be happy,' or 'When you get the contract, you might be a little unhappy.' It takes you through the whole process."