Work with pros to make sure your renovation hopes and dollars line up
Houzz Editorial Staff. Writing about the cost of renovation and what it takes to remodel. Former Forbes real estate reporter. Fascinated by cool homes, watching the bottom line.
Part 1 in a new series on how to remodel a home, from the initial vision to completion
As a client, you may feel like you have little influence over whether your remodeling project stays on budget and hits the finish line on time. But you have more control than you might think. Remember, the scope of your project and the specific materials are up to you.
The key to keeping a project on budget and on schedule is nailing down the details before ground breaks. If you’ve never renovated or built a new home, you may not be sure about how the seed of an idea turns into a completed project. Here’s a road map for two early steps: putting together your renovation team and nailing down your project’s cost.
Who Will Help You Build Your Vision?
Before you meet with a professional, you should know what you want to accomplish. Is your goal to tear out your entire kitchen and start fresh? Or are you looking for less costly upgrades, perhaps replacing cabinet fronts and a tired backsplash? Or do you want to remodel your whole house?
Some homeowners know only that the current home isn’t working for them but aren’t sure how to fix it. If you are in this group, you may decide to work with professionals who can help you develop a plan and advise you on cost. A recent survey showed that 85 percent of Houzzers who renovated in 2015 did so with professional help. The survey covered 120,000 registered Houzz users, including 70,000 who renovated.
What Exactly Do Pros Do?
The most important documents you will need are the construction plans. Your building plans must be approved by an agency to make sure the home is safe and meets local codes. So unless you are familiar with building codes and construction methods, you will want to hire a professional to draft these plans. Rules for which pros can draft plans vary by state (and in some states by county or municipality) and with the size and type of project. Look to the local building department or the professionals you contact to explain the rules in your area.
Each profession has its special emphasis. Architects and interior designers create concepts and draw plans. General contractors build the plans. Landscape architectscreate designs and plans for outdoor spaces. Design-build firms offer both design and building services, some with in-house architects, others by contracting the design work out.
Houzz guides to home improvement pros
Houzzers who remodeled in 2015 said the most valuable contributions of general contractors and design-build firms were delivering a quality result, finding the right products and materials, staying on budget and managing the project.
Architects, interior designers, and kitchen and bath designers were appreciated for helping clients integrate their personal style into the design. Houzzers valued architects for understanding and complying with local building codes, and interior designers for finding the right products or materials. But these are only their most-appreciated contributions; each profession has a wide range of skills and resources to offer owners.
Ask About Options
Many pros offer a range of services, from initial design to project management, which may be priced as menu options or charged at per-hour rates. For just one example, architects can provide evaluation and planning services, which can involve site analysis and selection, economic feasibility studies and helping you determine what you want, need and are willing to pay for.
Architecture firms offer design services, including documents that define the space’s shape, and they may work closely with engineers as needed in relationship to the structural elements. They also may offer construction management services, involving consulting and coordinating with the various agencies overseeing your project, or manage the bidding process when you search for the right contractor. These are just a handful of the services your architect may provide, so it is worth asking about pricing and what is involved as you shop around. This AIA guide can be helpful. Also, there could be some overlap in the menus of services provided by the different pros, so be sure that you are clear on what you need and what services each will perform.
Even if you are not planning to hire a professional to design or manage your renovation, you may want to hire a pro on a per-hour basis to help you refine your ideas. “A small percentage of upfront money with a professional can really help clarify the scope of the project and the budget before you get too involved,” says John Firmin, general contractor at Build-A-Home Inc., in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who founded the firm 16 years ago.
Select Your First Team Member
When hiring your first design team member, you can start with a builder, architect, designer, design-build firm or remodeler, depending on your needs and priorities. If you already know a contractor whose work you like, he or she will probably have a list of architects and interior designers to recommend. That is also true if you start with other pros. You also can use Houzz’s directory to find individual professionals, see their past projects and read client reviews.
Narrow your list down to your favorites and then interview a few people. Ask for — and check — references, and drive out to see past projects. Also, see how it might feel to work together — make sure you have a rapport with the professional. You should find out whether they listen and whether they are good communicators, says Jon Dick, an architect with Archaeo Architects in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has been practicing 30 years and worked on more than 100 homes. “Their design ability is very important,” Dick says. “But it’s also a long-term relationship. They’re going to ask pretty personal questions and know a fair amount about you.”
You should follow this same basic process with an interior designer, landscape architect, general contractor or design-build firm. Keep in mind that the average kitchen remodeltakes about five months once construction starts, but three times that long from initial design phase to completion, according to a recent Houzz survey. So the professionals you hire should be people you like and can communicate with.
Whether to Hire One Pro — or More
Which pros and how many you hire is up to you. Among Houzzers who hired pros for their renovation projects last year, nearly half hired a general contractor, builder, kitchen or bath remodeler, or design-build firm — the professionals who actually build the project. About 20 percent employed an architect, interior designer or kitchen and bath designer.
A recent Houzz survey found that 2015 home buyers spent $66,600 on renovations, while would-be 2016 home sellers spent $36,300 on renovations.
Be Up Front About Your Number
It’s helpful to be honest about your budget with the professionals you contact. Pros typically work with clients whose budgets are within a certain range. (Sometimes a pro’s range can be found on his or her Houzz profile.) If you fall in love with a pro whose projects start at $50,000, but you have $5,000 to spend, you’re probably not a match. Some homeowners pay a high-end designer to create the initial plan, only to realize that the products and materials suggested are out of range.
Homeowners without constrained budgets may be afraid to be too forthcoming for fear that pros will push them to spend more than they would like. That’s where checking references and finding people you can communicate with comes in. In the process of vetting the pros you are considering, you will find reputable people who will not push you but use your target number to help guide your plan.
Some Averages to Go On
If you have never renovated or built a home, you may have no idea how much it’s going to cost. To give you a sense of average budgets, here are some recent stats: People renovating kitchens had budgets ranging from less than $5,000 to more than $100,000, according to a survey of nearly 2,500 owners conducted by Houzz. One-quarter of renovators had budgets of $25,001 to $50,000, while 20 percent had budgets of $15,001 to $25,000. Only 10 percent had budgets of $5,000 or less, and only 6 percent had budgets of more than $100,000. The range of figures here is national; it should be noted that renovation costs vary by region and even city.
That said, not everyone stays on budget — and that’s true regardless of geography. Only about one-third of Houzzers who renovated last year stayed on budget, while just 3 percent came in below budget. Another third exceeded their budgets, while the remaining third had no initial budget at all. Among those who exceeded their budgets, the top reason was selecting nicer finishes or materials.
Major kitchen renovations cost an average of $50,700 for spaces 200 square feet or larger, while major renos in smaller kitchens cost about half that, according to Houzz data. A major kitchen renovation includes at least replacing cabinets and appliances. Major master bathroom renovations cost an average $25,600 in rooms at least 100 square feet and about half that for smaller bathrooms. A major bath renovation includes at least replacing the vanity or cabinets and countertops and toilet. Doing it yourself, of course, is less costly.