It's official, my home looks like a war zone. No sooner was Thanksgiving over, then we began to remodel the outdated kitchen. A thick layer of fine white dust has now settled on EVERYTHING throughout the house.
Oh Holy Night!
Don't get me wrong, I have been anxiously waiting for this work to begin for nearly a decade and I know the drill: "out with the old, in with the new." Even so, I'm never quite prepared for the discomfort that goes along with these major undertakings. (Renovation is a bit like childbirth; you have to forget the pain in order to do it more than once.)
Having scaled back the kitchen remodel to a more modest "update," instead of an all-out assault, I convinced myself that this would be a fairly painless procedure. Countertops, backsplash, lighting, stainless-steel appliances, and a new hardwood floor; heck, we could do this in a week or two - at the most.
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa,lalalala, la la la la. . ."
Clearly, I've been watching too much HGTV, wherein the handsome Property Brothers arrive on the scene and remodel an entire house in the space of only a few week's time. I especially like the part where they send the lucky (but highly skeptical) young family off to a hotel for the night so they can finish up the renovation and bring in all new furniture and art for the much-anticipated "reveal," and here's the best part, it's always completely affordable!
"Hark the herald angels sing . . ."
Unfortunately, here in the REAL WORLD, any remodeling project is going to be messy, time-consuming, and expensive (!) and it's NOT likely to include new furniture, unless you have set aside extra dollars post renovation. Take it from me, that's just about the time you run out of money.
"I have no gift to bring, pa-rump-pa-pum . . ."
So before you embark down the path of construction (or destruction, as the case may be) make sure you understand exactly what's in store . . . and whether or not your family is willing to live through the displacement, OR if they can live through it at all. (I give mine no choice.)
Once having decided to move ahead with the renovation, the first order of business is to define the scale of project, the budget restraints, and the amount of time your contractor will require to articulate the approved plans. Here are my list of "Do's" to make the journey easier . . .
DO get a signed contract in place BEFORE you begin. Some contractors work on "time and materials," while others set a budget that encompasses the entire scope of work, within reason. "Add-ons" or "change orders" will absolutely cost you more and that's only fair. With respect to my own kitchen, M&M Builders and I are working in conjunction to complete the job more quickly. While Matt Schaefer is overseeing the bulk of the installation, I am bringing in my own painters and floor crew to assist. (Some contractors won't let you hire your own subs and for good reason; it's more difficult to coordinate outside schedules, and to guarantee their work.)
Note, If the project is significant in scale, DO hire a licensed architect/designer to move walls, open up spaces, engineer the stairs, draw in windows, and appear before Design Review on your behalf. These talented professionals bring a wealth of knowledge to the project well above and beyond what an experienced contractor, or an ambitious DIY (do it yourself) homeowner like myself has to offer.
DO pull a permit for the work. If there are any electrical or plumbing components to be replaced, chances are you WILL need a permit; however, if the work is merely cosmetic, you may not. Check with your local planning department as to the rules and regulations in your municipality. (Piedmont requires a permit for almost everything!) Keep in mind that the city inspector's role is to ensure that any new improvements are up to "code," as is appropriate; they're not "out to get you," (although it can feel that way). Smile and roll with it. You need them on your side.
DO order the design components right away so that the crew isn't held up waiting for their arrival. Windows, doors, and custom cupboards all have fairly lengthy lead times, as does anything made specifically for your home. The more preparation upfront, the easier it will be to stick to the projected completion date.
DO leave room for the unexpected. I have yet to undertake a project where a surprise didn't rear its head. While surprises can, sometimes, be a real gift (I once found $20 bills under the hallway runner I was ripping out of our first flat) more often than not, they are the discovery of previously shoddy work, undetected leaks, dry rot, termite damage, or some other unwelcome roadblock that is going to add additional costs to the project. (Gee, that's not so merry.) Deal with it and move on.
Do have some flexibility. If a particular sconce isn't available, or the lead time is too great, pick something else. Ditto for the tiles, the stone work, etc. These aren't life-altering decisions, they're just tiles for goodness sakes. AND don't fall in love with top-of-the-line components your budget doesn't accommodate. There's more than one way to get a fantastic finished product without breaking the bank. Scan the Internet for bargains. There are so many great resources online.
DO understand, that while the work is exciting, it's also going to be stressful. No matter how carefully orchestrated, your house is about to be invaded by crews creating A LOT of inconvenient noise and DUST. Moreover, the construction is likely to take more time than you planned. Embrace the process and then take long walks in the fresh air - preferably with the dog in tow. That's certain to cheer you up.
Finally, I am often asked:"Should we or shouldn't we?" with respect to the expense and inconvenience of a major remodel, and the answer is (drum roll please):"It depends." If you love your street, your neighbors, and your lot, it's going to be nearly impossible to replicate them in the next location.
On the other hand, if you have little patience, not only for the extreme inconvenience, but for the MANY decisions you will need to make during the course of remodeling, a major renovation may NOT be in your wheel house. In such a case, it's probably easier to pull up stakes and move on, and that's where I come in:
"Oh come on all ye faithful . . ."
As an aside, not ALL renovations are created equal. Kitchen and bathroom upgrades typically return more than other home improvements, but in my experience, anything that adds good storage and light is money well spent. The truth is that not all remodels"math out;" some we do simply for our own enjoyment, or because they make good sense for our family. That's okay; it's your house and your hard-earned dollars. You've earned the right. Just don't get insulted if your wallpaper is more of a turn-off than a turn-on, come time to sell.
That's enough for today. I've got floors to vacuum and shelves to dust (Ahhh, what's the point? I'll be buried in dust again tomorrow) and you've probably got gifts to buy. (May I suggest Heifer International? Nothing says I love you like donating a goat, some chickens, or a cow for Xmas!)
Whatever holiday traditions you celebrate this season, may I wish you a very "joyful and triumphant" season and a Happy New Year.
(The Perspective will take a break until the new year. See you in January, 2014.)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.