6 Essential Steps Before You Start a Home Remodeling Project

Undertaking a home remodeling project this year? Here's what the experts have to say about what to consider -- and what not to worry about.

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Whether they're minor, hundred-dollar home repairs or million dollar renovations, Paul Sullivan and his home remodeling company, Sullivan Company Inc., has seen it all. Sullivan knows what works, what doesn't, and what homeowners should be doing if they're considering revamping all or part of their house. Whether you're a novice DIYer or an experienced remodeler, it's important to consider these steps as you create the home of your dreams.

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Stop worrying about resale value. Sullivan's clients constantly ask him about home remodeling resale value, but in his opinion, it should be less of a concern. "The first thing I say is, 'Are you going to enjoy that?'" Sullivan says. "If you focus on future value you'll end up with a vanilla project that you don't fully enjoy, and the project will most likely be remodeled again when they sell the house."

Price everything the first time. Home remodeling can be a scary prospect: ballooning budgets, cost overruns, and too little funds. But don't make too many assumptions about home remodeling price and budget. "Clients assume they can't afford it, but for the first round, I ask them to put everything they want into the budget," Sullivan says. "Don't cut before you need to cut."

That means looking at the whole home remodeling scope and finding out how palatable it is -- or isn't. If the initial estimates don't meet the budget, Sullivan says, then it's time to scale back. "So many people get started with a budget they don't know and try to remodel for someone they haven't met yet," he says.

What's your end goal? Specifics are less important to Sullivan than a general feel -- a comfortable family room, he suggests, instead of a 14x16-foot addition on the back of the house. "A professional can work with those goals and budget to help determine how to accommodate their family and activities, and how and where it will fit on the home," he says.

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Gather all the home remodeling inspiration you like. Magazine clippings, photocopies from books, online inspiration boards: Folders and electronic files of inspiration will help design and remodeling experts identify patterns, trends, and themes that you may not even realize. "I'd rather see 100 to 200 clippings than just 3 to 4 pictures," Sullivan says. "The more items they gather, the easier it is to determine what they like."

Get a general idea of home remodeling budgets -- up to a point. Some home remodelers are savvy, with several projects under their belts and a good understanding of costs. Those with less experience may not have any idea what to expect financially. Sullivan suggests asking friends and family what they spent and checking out online resources such as the Cost vs. Value report. But realize too that every project is different -- different locations, different contractors, and different designers. "There is no magic remodeling book with firm budget numbers," Sullivan says. "It all depends what you put into that project and details that you just can't anticipate."

Interview your home remodeling experts. One of the more intimidating aspects of remodeling is finding contractors, designers, and other reliable professionals to work with. Sullivan suggests starting with local chapters of homebuilders and remodelers and seeing if those companies have additional professional designations. "Remodelers that go out of their way to join an organization take their craft and business seriously," Sullivan says.

Once you narrow down your search, thoroughly research their portfolio and web presence, and ask to see both a completed job and a work in progress. "You can see the quality of work and ask if that is what you'd be happy with in your own home, and you can look at a construction site and ask yourself if you would be able to deal with that," Sullivan says.

But most important to home remodeling success, Sullivan says, is open, honest communication. "Regular meetings and contact are so important, and if anything is bothering you, no matter how small it is, I want to know and make it right," he says. "Everyone needs to be on the same page."

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