5 Easy Steps to Plan Your Remodel
I know – you’ve been dreaming of this for years. You know what’s wrong with your house and you know you want to change it, but it just keeps getting pushed down the road as real life gets in the way. I get it! A remodel, even a small one, is a BIG job. There are a lot of moving parts, people involved, ideas to narrow down, and potential challenges waiting to derail you. The whole thing just seems so overwhelming that you don’t even know where to start, so it feels like it’ll never actually happen.
Well my friend, I’m here to tell you that it CAN happen, and it’s easier than you think! The best step you can take on the journey to your remodel is simple – all you need is a plan. Turning your dream into a goal, and then breaking it down into actionable steps, helps you keep going on that path even when life threatens to knock you off course. It gives you purpose and direction so you’re fully prepared, and when opportunity comes knocking your family will be ready.
Step #1. Determine your time frame.
The single most important thing you can do to get started on the path is to set a target date. Whether it’s the end of the year or 3 years from next summer, having a date in mind will start gearing you up for taking the next steps, giving yourself a frame of reference for other goals and milestones, and setting you up for success.
- Set a goal date. This can look like anything – a new kitchen before your in-laws visit for the holidays, or maybe construction started by late spring so you have a patio in time for your 4th of July block party. Or maybe you’re flexible – mom’s getting older and you’d like to have her move sometime in down the road, so you just want to get the ball rolling. Whatever that looks like for you, give it a name and put it on paper; narrow it down to the month and year you’d like to be enjoying your new space.
- Work backward to build your timeline. Start with your target date and estimate how long construction will take. You may not know this number yet, and that’s okay; you can adjust the timeline later as you move forward. For now, assume small additions will take two months to build, large additions three months, and total gut jobs where you’re adding on and also replacing every fixture can take four months.
- Account for all the steps involved. The permitting process often takes about 4-6 weeks, but for larger projects or permits pulled during high season in the summer, it could take 12 weeks. Permits for new construction in sensitive environmental areas, with sloped lots or overlay districts, can sometimes take a year or more. If you’re working with a designer to develop your ideas and put together a permit package, that process can take six or eight weeks, plus another four to six weeks for engineering if you need it. If you aren’t sure what your dream space even looks like, allot for the maximum: 10-12 months for a big job from first meeting with the designer to the contractor driving away.
- Be honest with yourself and be aware of anything coming up that might slow you down. Add a few weeks if you know you want to spend the kids’ summer vacation unplugged in the woods. Add a couple of weeks around the holidays when you’ll have family in town, so you don’t have to stay glued to your phone waiting for emails from the team. Give yourself a little extra time to make decisions, shop for finishes, and let life happen, so this process stays fun and the timeline doesn’t stress you out.
Step #2. Figure out financing.
The earlier you can start thinking about how to pay for your remodel, the easier it’ll be when you start making decisions about what you want and taking steps to turn that vision into reality.
- You don’t have to know what your project is going to cost yet, but you do need to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for it. There are a few different ways to do it, all with pros and cons that you’ll want to weigh carefully. Have you lived in your home long enough to have substantial equity built up? A home equity loan is a really common financing method people use. Often older parents moving in will invest some of their cash into the remodel, especially if those funds are being used to build them a comfortable space in your home. Occasionally proceeds from the sale of an investment property can be invested into this house to avoid taking on more debt. However you’re planning to do it, find out how much you have available to spend on a remodel.
- Be honest about how much of those funds will be available for your project. Do you also need to replace the roof on the garage, pay off debt, or make other investments to get your retirement account on track? Are the kids heading off to college in a couple of years, and is it a lifelong goal to give them a head start? There’s no right or wrong way to do it; just take a solid look at your entire financial picture, and decide what the priorities are so you can get an accurate picture on what your remodel budget really is without sidelining your other big goals.
- If you’re financing with a HELOC, cash-out refinance, renovation loan, et cetera, know that bank financing can take time and be sure to work it into the timeline. Sit down and talk to your lender now, so you know what to expect, what their process looks like, how long it takes, and what information and plans they need at each stage to keep moving forward.
Step #3. Decide what you'll do during construction.
One of the more overlooked pieces of the remodel puzzle is what your family plans to do during construction. Many assume they’ll stay in the house during the remodel, but don’t underestimate the discomfort and disruption that comes along with living in a construction zone. Whatever your goal is, be sure to go into it fully aware, with a plan for how you’ll manage.
- Determine the scope of your project. If it’s a smaller addition that can be mostly completed before opening up the wall and joining the spaces, or if it’s entirely downstairs while your main living quarters are upstairs, it may be possible to live in your home while the work is going on. Major additions that will require the roof coming off, decommissioning of your kitchen or bathroom for days, or full deconstruction of all your surfaces will likely require your absence. Whatever the scope is, keep in mind that it’ll likely go faster with your family out of the way, and decide how important the speed of completion is.
- Be honest with yourself and really imagine the reality of living in a work zone. If you work from home, will you need a quiet place to go during the day while the crew is banging hammers and running saws? Can you survive without a master bathroom while they’re expanding yours? Will your family be okay with to-go dinners while your kitchen is stripped and replaced? Are the dust, paint fumes, and living without most of your possessions worth the money you’ll save? What if the two-week job runs into crazy complications and turns into four weeks, or eight?
- Weigh all of the options, and get creative! If you plan construction for the summertime, can you send the kids to grandma’s for a few weeks during the heaviest work? Could you live with your parents or rent a house month-to-month, or take an extended vacation? If you have friends going out of town for the summer, could you stay in their place in exchange for dog sitting or paying a bit of rent? If you do have options for being out of your house during construction, whatever the solution looks like, make sure it’s included in the overall budget.
Step #4. Get inspired!
With the hard conversations out of the way, now you get to dream big and get inspired! Not only is it the most fun part of planning a remodel, there’s also a practical benefit: the better idea you have of what you like, don’t like, and are trying to accomplish, the easier and faster it’s going to be for everyone involved. You’ll also get better pricing from your designer and builder, since they’ll spend a lot less time deciphering your uncertainty and helping you reach decisions.
- There are two main types of design – spatial and interior. Start with big picture spatial design ideas: what exactly does your new space need to look like, feel like, and function like? How big does it need to be, and how does it need to tie in to your current house? How will it be used, who will use it, and what are your long-term goals for its functionality?
- After you’ve brainstormed your family’s needs for the new space, start thinking about interior design. This isn’t just colors, textures, and hardware; also be thinking about light, flow with and access to the outdoors, and setting the tone for whatever you’re planning to do in the new space. Also be thinking about whether you’ll want to match the style in the rest of your home, or whether you can update the rest of your house to work with the style in the new space.
- Once you’ve done some brainstorming and family conferencing, take it online. Find some Instagram accounts that post pictures of styles that you really love. Go deep on Pinterest, creating intentional boards and taking the time to update the captions on the items you pin to call out what specifically you like in the photos. Check out Houzz for idea books, and start putting together dream boards for what your new space is going to look and feel like. Get excited about it! Lastly, don’t be scared to look at blueprints and house plans online. Get used to looking at 2D plans and imagining the flow. Decide what you like, what you don’t like, and keep a running list so you don’t forget anything.
Step #5. Assemble your dream team.
The final step in planning your remodel is choosing your team and getting them on board with your vision. Even if you’re still a year or two out from construction, the earlier you can get your providers together and get on their schedule, the less stress you’ll have when you are ready to Pass Go and collect on your dream.
- First and most importantly, you’ll need to decide which team members are necessary to accomplish your goals. Something simple like a window between your kitchen and dining room, or a closet turned into a small powder room, can probably be done by a savvy builder who can draw up the plans for you. More complicated projects like additions and basement conversions will require full permit drawings, so at the very least you’ll need a drafter experienced with codes and zoning laws in your jurisdiction. A designer can help make sure the flow is right, make it look like whatever you’re doing was always meant to be there, and get your ideas really clear on paper so there’s no confusion with the builder or his subs. If you’re savvy and have the time and energy, you may be able to hire the jobs separately and manage the project yourself; if you’re busy or not sure how it all works, you may want a general contractor to bring his team in and handle construction from start to finish.
- Once you know who you need to look for, ask everyone you know who they’ve used in the past. People will usually tell you if they loved their team or not, and referrals are the best place to start. Be wary of working with friends and family who happen to be in the industry – is it worth the relationship if their standards, time frame, and expectations for quality aren’t aligned with yours? Meet with as many people as you need to in order to find the best fit; personality and personal connection are a huge part of a big remodel project, since you’ll be working daily or weekly with your team for a long time.
- Whatever your team ends up looking like, there’s likely going to be one strong voice keeping things rolling. Often that’s your designer; if you find a good one, they’ll lead you gently through the process of exploring all the options, narrowing down the possibilities, and then settling on the best layout for your new space. The designer should also be able to refer you to great engineers, builders, and interior designers at the right point in the process to help you meet your target date. If you’re working with a general contractor, they should be able to advise you on whether you need permits, point you toward someone who can put your plans together, and work with you to finalize a construction timeline. If you’re going solo and managing the process yourself, you’ll need to sit down at this point, inventory your goals and time frame, and determine what the next steps are in making it a reality – whether that’s purchasing plans, sketching your ideas and taking them to the City or County, or researching how to DIY the work and collecting all the materials.
There you have it!
If you follow these five easy steps, you’ll be well on your way to making your remodel goals a reality. Determine your time frame, figure out financing, decide what you’ll do during construction, get inspired, and then put together the team to make it happen. The more you’ve thought about your goals and prepared up front, the easier and simpler the rest of the process will be, and the better chance you’ll have of meeting your budget and time frame.
What did I miss? Are there any important steps you took early in your process that made it easier down the road? Anything you’re concerned or anxious about, or holding you back from getting started? I’d love to hear about it! Find me on SM, drop in my inbox, or give me a call – let’s figure it out!