If there’s something we are no stranger to it’s remodeling. We both grew up in homes where our parents were constantly tackling projects to improve the house. I grew up listening to my dad tell me what he was doing as I held things in place or fetched tools, out of college I helped my mom give her bathroom & walk through closet a facelift. Chris’s dad built their family home from scratch, and worked on finishing it for much of his early life, moving in with plywood floors all so they could have solid cherry and maple floors years later.
Since meeting, we’ve tackled one and a half houses ourselves, plus hundreds of remodels at work – I’d like to think we know a thing or two about it. But if you haven’t done it before, you are in for a few surprises! Whether you’ve never remodeled before, never remodeled in Vermont, or have remodeled and just want a few tips to make things go smoother the next time, we are here to tell you it doesn’t have to be stressful. Put yourself in the right mindset and be prepared for the journey ahead of you. We promise, once it’s all over, it’s beyond worth it.
- Plan ahead. The biggest mistake we’ve seen a client make? Calling us after they’ve done demo and wondering if we can take care of wrapping this all up in 3 weeks before their renters arrive (yes, this happens all the time). Let’s be frank, this is not an HGTV show, we do not have a crew of 50 guys who can come in and take care of it all in 48 hours. (oh and p.s. that takes an insane amount of pre-planning too!) In this area, we don’t have a surplus of contractors ready to take on projects at a moments notice or big box stores full of stock cabinetry, tile, and plumbing fixtures. Our contractors are usually booked 3 months out at least, and sometimes as much as a full year, and almost all the pretty things we put into the homes we work on has to be shipped in or custom ordered. Even with clients biting off just one room in their home like a kitchen, we are usually a part of their lives for at least 6 months from looking at the project, going through designs & revisions, quoting the materials & labor, scheduling the contractor, pre-ordering everything to arrive on time for construction, and the actual remodel. On our projects, we like to have every single detail ironed out and ordered before the first hammer swings. Yes, we do projects all the time on shorter time frames because this is the real world and not everything is perfectly planned out but the it’s the absolute number one thing I can recommend for having a project go smoothly and not stress you out.
- Decide what to tackle first. When you don’t have a big budget for remodeling, it can be really tempting to bite off smaller projects as you can afford them and while this is a great way to make progress on your house, we’ve seen a lot of clients end up wasting time and money by not doing things in the right order. I’d be happy to sell you new countertops for your kitchen if that’s all you need, however I’m not going to recommend it if you think you’d like to replace the cabinets in the future. You are essentially committing to that exact same layout and risking breakage of those new counters to get new cabinets in, not to mention paying to have your already installed countertops uninstalled and reinstalled. If you’re thinking about remodeling, even if it’s just a few things here and there, consulting a professional like us is a great way to ensure you don’t make any rookie mistakes. We offer pre-renovation consultations in our design services and can talk you through your long term goals for the house and can help you prioritize and make progress to get there. We can help you identify what needs to happen now, what can wait, and how to do it so you don’t waste time and money. Oftentimes it’s as simple as ordering a few extra boxes of flooring so that when you remodel the kitchen in 5 years and take out a wall, you can patch it in and refinish the floors for a seamless look.
- Don’t bite off a project you don’t have the budget for. We have a minimum budget we require to take on projects based on our experience that we feel is enough for us to produce a result we can be proud of. We wish more people in our industry conveyed to their clients that sometimes it is better to wait and save your money than take on a project on a a budget that will force you to compromise on quality materials & craftsmanship. If you spend $10,000 on a remodel that a professional tells you is going to take a minimum of $20,000 and you aren’t happy with the results, that is unfortunately on you. To get it to the place you wanted it to, you’re still going to have to spend $20,000 and now in total you’ve spent $30,000! It also is no fun to have a case of the “what if’s” once you finish the project. The NKBA surveyed homeowners who’d recently remodeled and the number one regret they all had? That they didn’t spend more! It may sound crazy, but people always wish they got that tile they loved, the countertop they really wanted but wasn’t in their budget, or those extra organizers in their cabinets. Oftentimes adding these things later either aren’t possible or is more expensive. I’d rather see a client say to me “We’ll be back in a year when we can swing that quartzite we love” than see them move forward with something they don’t for the sake of doing it now. Unless your space is literally uninhabitable, you’d be amazed with what you can live with for a few years. Trust me, we could have re-done our kitchen by now with laminate floors, stock cabinets, and some entry level granite – but what we really want is soapstone counters, Plain & Fancy Cabinetry, and a healthy tile budget. So, while we save a bit more we’re living with temporary masonite flooring, formica counters, and appliances & cabinets on their last leg. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!
- Throw your deadline out the window. Remodeling is a large investment and is not something you want to be doing more frequently than every 20 years or so. So when it comes time to rehab a space, allow for some time to pass in the process and don’t stress out over having it complete for a certain date – because we promise you’ll love it once it’s done, whenever that is. Again, I’m not saying a project can’t be done on a tight timeline, but the more time you give the process, and the less you obsess over an end date, the more enjoyable the process is going to be for you. Waiting for a handmade and custom item built just for you, from master craftsmen who take their time getting it perfect the first time, is worth it. Delays caused by issues we uncover along the along the way but have to make right will seem like eternity during the process, but will be a distant memory the second you get to start enjoying your new beautiful space with the piece of mind you don’t have to worry about anything going on behind the walls. We know it’s not always fun, and it almost always takes more time than we anticipated, but that Thanksgiving you spent among boxes with takeout all just be a funny story you tell around the dinner table in your new kitchen, dining, & great room, cooking great food for the entire crowd for years to come.
- Be prepared to spend more than you intended. We’d like to say we always complete projects on budget, but that frankly isn’t the reality with remodeling. Not only is there always at least ONE surprise behind a wall, but there’s always project creep. Once we’re replacing all the lighting in the kitchen, you realize the lighting in the hallway, dining, and living room need a refresh as well. Or you’re doing the floors and taking the toilet up anyway so why not replace it? And while we’re in there lets take care of the vanity as well…. and before you know it you’ve added an entire bathroom onto the project. A lot of the time it’s not even aesthetics, but taking care of a new HVAC system or generator while the electricians there or having the plumber add a water filter. Remember when the costs start to add up that you are investing in your home and that the project has also likely gone much further beyond it’s original scope. We recommend clients anticipate the possibility of spending 25% more than their budget for the project, so if your project budget is $100,000 – be prepared and able to spend as much as $125,000. Though we’ll do everything in our power to keep you on budget, homeowners almost always want to add something on in the process and anything we find in demo that isn’t as it should be needs to be corrected. We’ve found pretty much everything you can imagine at this point, but improper insulation, water damage, and rot from harsh Vermont winters are probably the biggest culprits we encounter.
- Hire out everything you can afford to. Though you can definitely achieve a great result for your project on a tight budget if you are relatively handy and willing to spend a lot of time patience doing it yourself. But be prepared to make lots of mistakes, get really frustrated, watch lots of Youtube videos, and have at least one thing that you either have to do over or live with something that annoys you every time you look at it. Doing it yourself often leads to lots of unfinished projects. We personally try to strike a balance by tackling smaller things we can take care of in an afternoon or weekend (painting), while larger projects we realize we are too busy to tackle or need a certain level of expertise, we hire out. We are handy & in the business, we know what we are doing, but we still mess up sometimes when we’re playing weekend warrior. If you aren’t confident you can tackle something and willing to take some time doing your research and making mistakes, hire someone else to do it for you. Professionals do this everyday and are going to do it better and do it faster. Tile & Wallpaper install top my list of things I definitely always hire out, but even something as simple as painting, you’d be amazed the difference a professional job makes.
- If you can, leave. In our area it’s a lot more likely that clients aren’t around when we remodel due to the percentage of second homeowners in the area. This, makes our jobs a lot easier a lot of the time, and our clients lives a lot less stressful. Remodeling is messy, it creates more dust than you can possibly imagine, usually requires turning your water, heat or power off pretty frequently, and in general is about zero fun to live amongst – trust us, we’ve done it a lot! Professional remodelers will update you with progress photos, keep you informed of changes & issues, and communicate frequently so that you know whats going on even when you aren’t there. Give them space to do their jobs and realize that it’s a lot easier for them without you in the mix asking questions or needing the crew to move things so you can get to that or keep the construction confined to a small area, or keep a stove hooked up they have to keep sliding out of the way so you can cook. If you live full time in the home you’re remodeling our best suggestion is to take that long vacation you’ve been meaning to go on or before you move in. There really is nothing as good as coming home to it all DONE. If that’s not in the cards for you, just be prepared to have your life in upheaval for a little while, and doing it in the summer is in my opinion the most bearable. If you’re doing a kitchen, I recommend getting friendly with your grill and takeout menu (luckily we have lots of great dining options in Manchester) and get ready to do dishes in the bathtub. If you’re remodeling your only bathroom, things get a little more inconvenient, you can go full Vermont with a camp toilet and solar camp shower or if you’re more the city type a gym membership is a great way to ensure you still get daily showers. In general, the further you can put yourself from the work in the house the better you’re going to cope. So consider moving over to a guest bedroom at the opposite end of the house where we can put a plastic barrier between you, your stuff, and the dust. One of my favorite clients of all time lived in a camper outside their major renovation well into winter because she wouldn’t compromise on some things she wanted that took longer to get for her master bath, and to my memory was probably one of the happiest I’ve seen once it was all done and exactly what she wanted.
- Consider removing all your stuff too. We realize moving stuff is a major pain, but as careful as our contractors are, the best way to ensure nothing you love gets broken, dinged, or dented accidentally is to get it out of the way. If we are doing an remodel it may seem like moving stuff simply out of the room is enough but if we are doing a multi-room or whole home renovation we often need the garage for staging and constantly moving furniture, appliances, or boxes around the room to get them out of the way is a great way for them to end up damaged. Not to mention any soft furnishings like carpets or drapes will attract dust like a magnet. We can offer services to pack, move, and store everything offsite for customers who simply don’t want to deal with it. If you don’t have the budget for moving and storage, we recommend packing up and moving most if not all furniture & belongings into rooms that will be sealed off from the construction zone, as well as draperies, rugs or any upholstery, and art or items hanging on the walls.
- Trust the process and the people. We care more than you know about your remodel turning out beautifully. Us at Northshire Living, the contractors and tradesmen we work with, our vendors and suppliers, all take pride in our work and want to give you the home you’ve dreamed about. We only use contractors we trust who we know will respect your home like it was their own. And trust that the process and order of doing things often starts with an ideal order dictated by the materials balanced with the schedules of at least 3 different contractors, sometimes it needs to be adjusted or shuffled. Ideally we like to have floors, walls, window & door trims in and everything painted before installing cabinets as you don’t want to chance getting anything on specialty finishes or have the humidity be too high from wet work like drywall and cause doors to swell. But depending on the type of flooring you choose, sometimes it needs to go in afterwards to prevent it from getting damaged… or to get things done on a deadline. Then come countertops, backsplash, trims & hardware – with appliances always last as they are so easy to dent on a job site when you’re working around them! We aren’t telling you to wait 24 hours after counters go in to hook up your plumbing to torture you, though I know living without a sink is misery – we’re doing it to make sure you have a tight, waterproof seal and your sink stays attached to your counters forever.
- Add-on a professional post-construction clean. Once we wrap a project we’re not going to leave you with a mess, but expect to still see some dust hanging around once we’re done. Our contractors will clear the site of all construction materials, sweep, and shop vac the work area – but don’t expect spotless perfection once they leave. We can add professional cleaning services onto a remodels if requested but do not automatically include them. The same will go for most professional remodelers, expect to still need to do some dusting & cleaning before your home is camera ready.
- Get ready to LOVE your new home! Though a lot of this post may have felt a little like we’re trying to prepare you for the worst – we promise remodeling is always worth it and you’ll be so happy with your home when it’s done. There’s nothing better than an home remodeled to suit your taste & your lifestyle that functions perfectly for you and your family. Whether it’s a baking station in the kitchen for those cookies at Christmas, storage for all the kids AND grandkids ski’s and snowboards, a media room for family movie nights, a game table for neighborhood poker nights, or a back patio perfect for entertaining friends by the fire, once you’re living life in your home (and getting compliments about how great it looks) the last thing on your mind will be any of the issues that popped up along the way. So the next time you’re feeling stressed about your project, take out that design or Pinterest board or whatever you’re working off of give it a good look, and close your eyes and imagine how good it’s going to look once it’s done – the stress will melt right away!
And with that, you’re ready to tackle any remodeling project in your path! Feeling inspired and in the Southern Vermont area? Contact us about how to start on your next project! We were booked well into next year with our two main contractors but are working to add a few more we trust in the near future. If you’re already working with one of our areas talented contractors we can help you and them by ironing out all the details with our professional floor plans and 3D renderings, offered free when you purchase materials through our showroom. We hope you enjoyed this post – now go out there and help me make the world a more beautiful place!