Remodeling 101: Getting Off To A Good Start

photo_1355_20060320Your heart wants a new kitchen with all the trimmings, but your head is telling you to fix the roof first. Unless you live in the land of unlimited budgets, it’s likely your remodeling project will require some hard core prioritizing once you make a list of your needs and wants.

Even if your home maintenance is completely up to snuff (see page 17) and you can allocate your entire remodeling budget to upgrades, there are still plenty of choices to be made. The most efficient way to deal with this is by having a solid plan, and the road to that starts with lots of lists.

To get a feel for the scope of your project, suggests making a detailed list for each area of your house, starting with the exterior. Evaluate your roof, siding, windows, and gutters. Are there drainage issues? Decide what is okay, what needs repair, and what you’d like to change.

Next, move inside and make a list for each room (don’t forget mechanicals, like the furnace, or appliances). Again, for each area, decide what is okay, what needs repair, and what you’d like to change. Do you need more room or do you just need it to work better?

Once you’ve ruled out what doesn’t need to be fixed you’re left with two main lists: items to schedule for repair and things you want to change. Often these lists overlap, and sometimes the repair items will eat up more of your budget than you’d like, leaving you with less to spend on your change items.

For example, suppose you plan to finish your basement but it’s damp and sometimes leaks after a rainfall. After you pay for waterproofing and a new sump pump, the radon test comes back positive and adds more cost to the repair side.

As you reassess your budget for the basement, you realize you still need extra space for your family to spread out, relax, and entertain friends. However, you now have to choose if that space will also have the home theater set-up with surround sound, the gas fireplace, or the cushy new furniture you wanted to include. Knowing your priorities will help.

Budgeting for repairs first and prioritizing your change list will help you decide where your money will ultimately be spent. suggests making your change list into two columns, one for needs and one for wants.

For instance, you may need the gas fireplace as another source of heat, while the home theater is a nice-to-have item. Or you need furniture, but you decide to get by with less expensive pieces.

In a kitchen, perhaps getting a bigger space with more storage is most important, but you’d like that space to include a stainless steel cooktop, range hood, and double oven. And a wine cooler. And a backsplash of hand-painted tiles.

Or, you need a second bathroom, and wouldn’t it be nice if it had heated tile floors?

What if replacing the old drafty windows in your living and dining rooms means you won’t be able to install that hickory floor you’ve been dreaming about?

If you skimp on the repairs or needs in exchange for your wants, you could find yourself freezing as you squeak across that beautiful new hickory floor, regretting that you didn’t spend the extra money to replace the windows, or the soft and squishy subfloor.

Sometimes you have to choose, and it pays to be prepared. So while making your list of wants, be sure to include a few options. You don’t want the siren song of new kitchen cabinets to override the practical need to repair water damage around the window over the sink. But perhaps you could be just as happy with cabinet choice B instead of A.

Happy remodeling!