How to Go into Your First Home Renovation with Confidence

April 2, 2019 / Tips

When you enter into your first home renovation, you’re full of ideas: you know how you want things to look, you know how you want the home to feel, and you know what appliances are going to make your life 100% better.

You just don’t know if it’s all going to be worth it.

That’s the problem when it comes to entering your first home renovation: you may think you know what you want out of your home, but the questions that pop up along the way can eat into your confidence.

And since we know that a home renovation can be a great way to increase the experience of your home while you live in it—not to mention its long-term sale price—you need the right information to make decisions.

That’s why we’ve put together this brief guide on going into your first home renovation with all the confidence in the world, even if the process is foreign to you:

Step #1: Learn What Renovations Tend to Produce the Best Results for Home Sale Price

As you might remember from a previous post, one dollar spent in one room might not yield the same increase in value that it will in another room.

That’s because home buyers tend to look for specific aspects of your home when shopping for their next house. They’re going to place more of a premium on rooms like a fully-updated kitchen than they will a home office.

Research found that kitchen remodels tended to produce the best results in terms of resale value, with renovations to master bedrooms coming in second.

With that in mind, your priorities matter. Think about what you want to do and then ask yourself if that’s really going to give you the long-term value you need.

For most people, renovations tend to center around these high-value areas to begin with, so it may not be an issue for you.

If, however, you’re thinking about remodeling the floors in your living room, it can be a little more difficult to ascertain what kind of impact that might have on your long-term resale value.

In that case, you’ll have to think about a few other factors, including how long you plan on living in this home. If you have a longer timeline, you’ll get more out of your renovations for the investment dollar because you’ll have more time to enjoy the renovations yourself.

Ultimately, each home renovation will come down to a judgment call. But if you can start the first phase with some sense of what kind of resale value it might generate, you’ll build your confidence.

Step #2: Do the Proper Research to Work With a Contractor You Can Trust

For first-time home renovators, one of the most fundamental questions they ask themselves is whether they’re paying too much. This comes down to one factor: trust.

You have to be able to find and identify a contractor that you can trust. Not only should you be able to trust that they’re charging you a reasonable market price for their labor and the supplies required to renovate the home, but you should feel confident that they’re going to do a great job with high-quality results.

Here are some tools for researching a contractor that you can use to kick the process off:

  • Find a Professional Remodeler from NARI. This can be a fine starting-off point, as it will help you get a sense of the NARI members in your area.
  • HomeAdvisor. HomeAdvisor makes it easy to view project-specific remodelers as well as their reputation and the typical prices you can expect to pay in your area. For example, you can enter in your area and your intended project, and HomeAdvisor will ask you about whether you plan to make changes to cabinets, countertops, and the like to get a specific sense of what your project may cost.
  • Angie’s List provides plenty of resources for hiring your first contractor, including tips and advice.

Once you’ve shopped around for some credible home contractors in your area, it’s time for the first step in the actual process of renovation: getting an estimate.

Step #3: Getting an Estimate with Some Reasonable Amount of Accuracy

Since this is a guide on going into your first home renovation with confidence, there are few steps more worthy of discussing than the estimate process.

This is where consumers can feel thrown off. An estimate, after all, can feel like a certainty—until you learn more about the home renovation process. Estimates can vary wildly, for one thing. They can also vary from the final tally, especially if your home offers contractors a bunch of surprises along the way.

How do you get an estimate that you know is accurate? And how can you trust that a contractor is going to stick to it?

Here are some individual steps to consider:

  • Start off with multiple bids. It may be tempting to get an estimate and conclude that it’s “good enough” for your budget. But if you get multiple bids, you’ll not only get a sense of the true cost of your renovation project—you’ll also get a sense of how different contractors approach the estimate process. If one contractor includes the price of supplies, for example, and another doesn’t, you may have a clue about which estimate is more accurate.
  • Look into the materials costs yourself. Okay, maybe this one will only show up on the “extra credit” portion of your home renovation report card, but it never hurts to have some added confidence. Angie’s List recommends looking into the costs of your materials yourself, getting a sense of what good-quality materials will cost. Feel free to confer with the home contractors as well, as you’ll likely find that they tend to charge more, in some cases, when they do use better materials.
  • Follow up with the estimates. Does a contractor say they’ll have an estimate for you next Tuesday, but gets back to you with a half-hearted estimate on Friday? It’s good that they appear to be so “busy,” but the truth is that you should expect more from a professional.

After you’re done getting those estimates, you’ll also want to know what sort of questions to ask. These questions can vary depending on the project and your own curiosity, but here are some suggestions to kick things off right:

  • Does your contractor belong to a trade organization of any kind? These trade organizations can go a long way towards accrediting your contractor and giving you the confidence you need to start with the right contractor in place.
  • Does the contractor have proper insurance coverage?
  • Does the estimate you have in hand provide enough details, or are you still wondering what their exact plans are?
  • Does the contractor put things in writing so you can refer to a contract when something goes wrong? After all, they’re called contractors for a reason.

Step #4: Giving Your Contractor Direction

This is where most first-time home renovators can struggle. They don’t know the appropriate level of direction to give their contractor, so they end up going too far down one path or the other.

On one hand, you can be too hands-on. In this case, you might start giving the contractor such specific direction that you don’t allow them to use their professionalism or creativity at all. The result is that your inexperience shows in the way the project turns out—at which point you find yourself wishing you could go back to the beginning and start over from scratch.

On the other hand, if you’re not clear about what you want at all, then the contractor is left without direction. That means that they make the decisions themselves—and their aesthetic approach may not match your vision.

How do you get the confidence to speak up—but ensure that you don’t end up running the project yourself?

The solution is to answer these questions at the beginning if you can. Give the contractor clear “no-nos” when it comes to your personal taste, but also the freedom to use the materials that tend to work best for them. Or, if you have specific materials in mind, let them know what other items in the renovation project don’t matter to you as much.

For example, if you want new countertops in the kitchen and your first priority is durability, you might have one specific material in mind. The contractor, however, might have a perfectly valid alternative that will cost you less money and still deliver the durability you want. This is a great example of when you can use the control direction of your kitchen, but still be open to a contractor’s very specific expertise on the subject.

Letting the Contractor Do Their Work

At a certain point, you’ve done all the research you can. You know about resale value, the cost of materials, and which contractors you can trust. Now it’s time to let the contractor do their work—and hopefully, your reward will be a beautiful renovation that you can use for years into the future.

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