1 Budget, budget, budget I can't say it enough. I'm an optimist who always believes that if you spend money on a quality reno instead of cheaping out, the necessary funds will magically appear. In reality, we know that isn't true! So make sure you do your homework. Talk to a friend who has been through a similar reno, do as much window shopping and cost-comparisons that you can do. Make sure that you tack on at least an extra 20% for those inevitable issues that will spring up. And check your budget with your contractor or trades regularly to make sure you're on track. Finally, don't borrow to renovate if you can. A reno is much more satisfying if you save up the necessary funds before your renovate. Trust me.
2 Find the right contractor We've all heard the horror stories (and I've certainly been witness to a few of them). My usual recommendation is that the best contractors can be found through word of mouth. But if you can't come up with a good referral, I am happy to say that you can find great contractors on the Internet. Check out sites such as www.handycanadian.com or www.homerenovationguide.com. Make sure you get several referrals before you sign any agreements!
3 Be realistic Dreaming is the start of any good renovation, but to have a good experience, you have to be realistic about what you can accomplish based on your budget, resources and your existing home. So many of us (particularly in this era of low interest rates and easily accessible home equity loans) will live beyond our means-just to have that gorgeous gourmet kitchen or marble bathroom. If you are absolutely committed to the dream of something that you can't afford, see if you are able to renovate in stages. For example, in my first home, I really wanted a stone floor in my kitchen. The price well exceeded my budget. I didn't want to compromise so I decided to wait to do the floor until I could afford the stone that I really wanted. I ended up painting my subfloor a putty grey and had the millworkers design my kitchen with an extra-high kick – which allowed me the room to install the stone floor later. Ironically, I ended up selling the home. One of the things that the new homeowners loved was the painted wooden kitchen floor!
4 Do your research Talk to friends who have renovated as well as other real estate and reno experts. It's really important before you embark on the renovation rollercoaster that you have a clear understanding of what to expect. Plus, you need to make sure that you bring your thoughts and research to the table. Clip photos out of magazines of rooms that you love. Scour shops and the Internet for the latest and greatest. Have a general idea of how you want the space to look and feel. If you are overwhelmed, find a designer who can help you lead the way. If you want to find a reputable interior designer, log on to the Internet. In Ontario, you can get fantastic referrals through the Association of Registered Interior Designers. Other provinces also have their own associations.
5 It's all in the details Thinking big picture should be commended, but we know that details are what can make or break a reno. I will never forget standing naively in the catacomb that was eventually to become my gorgeous new bathroom, delighted with myself that I had ordered my faucets, my tiles and my vanity. “Where are the rough-ins?” bellowed my plumber? “Rough-ins?” I asked, a shaky note of trepidation colouring the tone of my voice. Within moments, the glory of having provided everything to my trades had vanished as I realized that I had not ordered the “cake” of the faucets, only the shiny chrome icing. My error held up my reno for another two weeks. So make sure you have a list (or multiple lists for each room), and make sure that you confirm and reconfirm that everything has been ordered, has been delivered, etc.
TIP: If you want a truly beautiful reno, pick everything BEFORE your reno starts. Something as simple as a cabinet knob can really decide the look of a room.
6 Get advice Now that you've talked to the experts, gotten referrals and drawn up your plans, have one more chat with friends or family who have gone through the reno experience. Try to be as thorough as possible-you'll thank yourself later. I have saved thousands of dollars by having good friends take a look at my plans and assess them from an objective point of view. A designer or contractor may be able to convince you that you don't REALLY need a six-foot bath, and that a four-foot version is adequate as long as you have a separate shower. It takes a good friend to remind you that YOU love baths and will be unhappy with one that's designed only to bathe small children.
7 Don't have any regrets If you follow steps 1 through 6, chances are you won't have any regrets. But remember, when you choose to renovate, do it with a certain amount of chutzpah. Don't second guess choices once they've been made, paid for and installed.
8 Renovate for the future Trends are for accessorizing, not for renovating. A rule of thumb for renovating is that doing a high-quality job in a classic style is exactly that: classic. If you invest in quality finishes now, you won't regret it. Forget about being a slave to fashion-instead, think how dated those olive-green appliances look 20 years later. At the end of the day, there's nothing more classic than a basic white refrigerator or a white pedestal sink.
9 Check in every day Your contractor will tell you that you only need to come by once a week. Don't believe him or her! You need to do a site visit every day. Unless you have an incredibly trustworthy person to oversee your reno, you really don't want to go on holiday or avoid the site. I've heard many people say “it's perfect-my kitchen reno is happening while I'm away” and I cringe. You need to be there ALL THE TIME. Mistakes will happen, and you need to make sure you're there to react to them. The longer that mistake goes unseen, the more expensive it will be to change it.
10 Have fun! It's not all doom and gloom. At the end of the day, there's nothing more rewarding than watching a space be transformed by good design decisions and great workmanship. Better still is the day when the work is done and you can enjoy the results in the peace and quiet of your new space.