So you’re thinking about doing some renovations to your older home, but have heard some real horror stories about wild cost overruns and jobs that have gone on forever. How can you help ensure that your project comes in on time and within budget, and doesn’t disrupt your lives?
Because they involve so many variables, household renovations are among the most difficult building projects to plan for. Setbacks can come from many sources – contractors inexperience, uncooperative weather, lack of personal preparedness, or too high expectations for a given budget are common problems-and can blow schedules and budgets out of the water.
Fortunately, there are a number of positive, concrete actions you can take to greatly improve your odds of having a rewarding and affordable renovation experience
Design Scope of Your Project
The first step begins with the design of your project. Not only is this your chance to convey your dreams and desires into built form, but it also is where you will tailor ideas for the scope of the renovation to your budget and to how much you are willing to be inconvenienced.
The crucial starting point is a careful assessment of how your house is put together. Then, working with a competent designer, you can look at alternative ideas and ways to achieve the effects you want. It is also helpful to incorporate flexibility: if costs mount up or surprises occur during construction, this will provide you some room to maneuvre. Ultimately, though, to be more certain about how much things will actually cost, it is better to ask those who will actually be doing the work…
Which Brings Us to the Contractor …
There’s a lot out there but how do you choose? Being your own contractor can save significant amounts of money, but only if you both have the time and some knowledge of construction and the sub-trades. The builder should be matched carefully to your design-what is his or her the level of craft and willingness and ability to follow the drawings.
Check the references of anyone you are interested in hiring. Ask for at least their two most recent customers; call them and see the builders’ work for yourself. What was their experience? Also, ask to see a project that the builder feels is the best example of his or her work. Communication is essential. Do you feel you can talk to this person, can you relate?
You should decide whether to proceed on a cost-plus basis (where the builder works hourly and materials and sub-trades are paid for directly by the homeowner) or a fixed-price contract (where the builder agrees to do the job for a set fee). Both have advantages and drawbacks. Cost-plus is generally more economical, but has no guarantees; fixed price offers peace of mind, but most builders will pad their estimate to accommodate unforeseen problems, which may or may not occur. When getting estimates from a number of builders, to provide a basis for sound comparison make sure that each covers all the same things.
How Prepared are You?
The third area in which you can make a difference is in personal preparedness. Even with careful planning, cost overruns are sometimes unavoidable. Always try to have some funds-10 to 20% is recommended-available for contingencies.
If the renovation is extensive, you should consider finding alternate accommodation. Living in the midst of dust, noise, and workers day after day just compounds all the other stresses. If you do check out for a while, try to stay where you don’t need to vacate on a certain date. Things have a way of taking longer than expected.
Once the project is underway, you must bear in mind that any significant changes you request will often cost extra. Also, particularly in older homes nasty surprises often lurk under a floor, or in a wall or roof cavity: rot, insects, totally inadequate structure, skeletons… Have some cash in reserve for these, or be open to reconsidering the design in light of the new findings.
Regularly scheduled meetings during the project (weekly is advisable) can help you to keep abreast of progress and the rate at which your money is being spent. Regular meetings will also allow you an opportunity to help move the process along.
Finally, to prevent interminable delay at the finishing stage, a hold back of 10 to 15% of what is owed to the builder will be an incentive for a speedy finish, as well as insurance that all suppliers and sub-trades will be paid in full.
In conclusion, renovating cannot help but have an effect on your life. With some careful planning and forethought, and close attention along the way, you can come out the other end with your hair, your shirt, and a nice new living environment!
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