Four Tips for Remodeling Success


After years of putting off plans for a new deck, a better kitchen or a bigger family room, it seems many Americans are now ready to get back to the business of remodeling their homes.  For the first time since 2006, the remodeling industry is predicting a significant increase with 13% of all homeowners saying they’re going to tackle a remodeling project within the next year, and 72% of “affluent homeowners” saying the same.

Put your ideas on paper

Before you begin casting about for bids on your project, make sure you know just what you want (with pictures, crude sketches and notes to prove it).  Homeowners who are more organized and sure of their plans almost always get the best pricing and results.

To gather ideas, go to open houses and home tours, start a clippings file with articles from magazines, and buy a few of the remodeling picture books.  Remodeling TV shows are brimming with ideas and examples, as well; but instead of spending all that time watching each episode, just dive into the content on their websites like and

Another option is to hire an architect, or one of their less-expensive compatriots: an architectural designer.  What’s the difference?  Architectural designers usually don’t have an architectural degree or the same depth of engineering experience, but they can provide most of the same services (remodeling ideas, drawings and blueprints) for considerably less money.

It’s okay to negotiate

Contractors will be all to happy to provide bids for your project; but most homeowners don’t even think to ask for a discount.  Contrary to popular belief, bids are not set in stone.  General contractors, and some specialty contractors, may be willing to negotiate so long as you have good reasons, or viable alternatives, to support a reduction in price.

The hardball tactics that work so well when buying a car usually fall flat with contractors.  They aren’t as used to negotiating.  Instead, start by simply asking, “Can you suggest any changes that might reduce the overall cost?”

Other tips:

  • Carefully review the bid with an eye for unwanted or unnecessary services or products.
  • Suggest contractor A incorporate some of the money-saving ideas proposed by contractor B to lower the overall cost of his bid.
  • Ask if scheduling the project for another time (like the off-season) would be a way to reduce costs.
  • Ask if you can perform some of the non-skilled labor in the evening or on weekends – after all, labor accounts for about 40 percent of the overall project cost.

For some, moving might be better

Once you’ve got some plans and pricing for your remodeling project, it’s time to stop, take a breather, and evaluate the option of moving instead.  While it may sound drastic, with home prices and lending rates so affordable today.  It’s going to make more sense for some homeowners to move rather than take on the added expense of remodel.

Good reasons to remodel

  • You are satisfied with your neighborhood and location.
  • After the remodel, your current home will continue to suit your needs for four or more years.
  • The value of your home is low for the neighborhood.
  • You have little equity built up in your current home (which would make a new home down payment difficult.

Good reasons to move

  • The remodeling project will cost more than 30% of your home’s value.
  • You plan to sell within a year.
  • Your current home is valued in the top 20% for homes in your area (which usually means further improvements will yield little return).

For help weighing all these factors, consult the free, online calculator at

Scheduling considerations

Contractor’s schedules will start filling up fast as the year goes on, so if you want your remodeling project to begin this spring or summer, start developing your plans and gathering bids right away.

And once the work gets underway, stay close to home.  While reality TV shows make it seem like fun to go on vacation while your house is under construction, in the real world, that’s a terrible idea.  Instead, plan to spend much of your free time during the remodel answering questions, making final design decisions, helping to solve problems, cleaning, and checking to make sure things are progressing as planned.

Even modest home-improvement project can be disruptive and exhausting; but follow the advice above and your remodel just may become the envy of the neighborhood.