Your Money > Your Home
Make your house your home
You've got big changes in mind -- here are 4 things to consider before you get started.
July 6, 2003: 3:22 PM EDT
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) - Whether you remodel every last inch of your home or simply update your 1970s circa kitchen, there is something satisfying about transforming a mediocre space into one that's exactly to your liking.

The owners of the seven homes featured in this gallery of renovations can certainly attest to that (click graphic at right to read their stories).

For all of its rewards, though, most undertakings are more emotional, costly and time-consuming than would-be Bob Vilas imagine during the dream stage of a project.

To make the process go as smoothly as possible, heed the following advice:

Prioritize The most successful remodeling projects begin with homeowners who have a definitive, yet realistic, idea of what they want done. "Sometimes it's good to live in a house a while before you renovate," said Michael Litchfield, author of the book House Check. In fact, most of the homeowners we profile lived in their homes before they began knocking down walls and putting in new ones.

By not rushing into a remodeling project, you'll get a better sense of what you'd liked changed, not to mention what needs to be changed. "The roof and the foundation are where you should spend your money first," Litchfield added.

It's never too early to start thinking about each and every detail, including such things as windows, wood, kitchen cabinets, fixtures and appliances. Delaying decisions about these items is an easy way to break your budget and hold up the remodeling process.

Know the lingo Even if you plan to hire a general contractor to manage the project for you, you'll still want to give yourself a crash course in construction, beginning with learning the lingo.

"If you can speak the language you'll not only be able to communicate more effectively, you'll be taken more seriously," Litchfield said. You'll want to be somewhat familiar with common terms, such as "change orders" or "cost-plus estimates."

Be sure to that you have a copy of the work schedule and actually understand what it's telling you. Also, avoid making costly changes in the middle of your project by doing your best to visualize what it will look like when it's complete. "Whenever you make changes it costs extra money," said Sal Alfano, editor-in-chief of Remodeling magazine.

Hire an advocate Going with the lowest price is not the best route for choosing an architect or a contractor. After getting a range of estimates, make sure that the people you're hiring are experienced and trustworthy.

"When something goes wrong -- and it always does -- you'll appreciate working with someone you feel comfortable with," Alfano said.

To find such a person, begin with word-of-mouth recommendations. Your local builders association is also a good resource for finding contractors who are certified in their areas of expertise, according to M.M. (Mike) Weiss, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council, who recommends going with a firm with at least five years in the business.

Get away from it all The process of remodeling can be all-consuming if you let it. To avoid eating, sleeping and breathing in the midst of major reconstruction, many of the owners we profiled moved out for the better part of a year.

At the very least, create a "safe room" free of any trace of construction. "You need to have a place to retreat to, to seal off from all of the mess and stress," said Litchfield. "You may even want to take a vacation if the project is a large one."  Top of page

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