Where to Start When Planning a Home Remodel

Remodeling a house? Not sure where to start?

You’re not alone. “Where do I start” is almost the number one question asked by anyone considering a renovation of any kind. Being cooped up inside the home due to Covid-19 has made the question more relevant than ever since many people have come to realize their homes are neither functional nor comfortable.

Fortunately, starting a home renovation isn’t as complicated as many imagine.

1. The First Step is to Identify Your Goals for Renovating Your House

Why are you remodeling in the first place?

Do you want to spend more quality time with your family in a comfortable living space? Do you want to host more dinner parties? Do you need more space for the kids? Will you be working from home?

Don’t just focus on what isn’t working about your home. It’s very important to pinpoint what you do love about your house. Knowing what your remodeling company shouldn’t touch is just as important as knowing what you’d like to change.

List out the changes you’d like to make based on what isn’t functional or aesthetically appealing to you.

2. Understand the Benefits of Remodeling vs. Moving

Remodeling can be a tough process, so it’s important to identify your “why” before you begin.

You could buy a home, maybe even trade up, but that means paying more property taxes and probably a higher mortgage.

There’s also the home market. As of this writing, it’s a seller’s market through and through, with people going in 300K to 400K over asking price here in the East Bay Area of California and still not getting the house they bid on. The process is frustrating, and you might have to make compromises to move, such as moving to a less desirable neighborhood.

When the going gets tough you can hold on to the fact that you’re avoiding all of these hassles and expenses while staying in the home that has already provided you with so many memories, and continuing to live with neighbors whom you like, and keeping your kids in the school they’re used to.

3. Prepare for the Process of Renovating Your Home

Living through a remodel takes some resilience. You either need to be willing to improvise while the remodel is taking place or you need to have enough money saved up to move out for up to six months, depending on the size of your home renovation project. We find that about 70% of our clients opt to stay in their home during the remodel.

Moving out is a bit of a pain, just as moving to a new home is a pain, but it’s a pain that comes with knowing your home will be exactly what you want it to be when the job is done.

4. Determine Your Home Renovation Budget

There are two ways you can do this.

One way is to determine your budget in advance and then discuss at your consultations what can be done with that budget. If you do this, it’s a good idea to create a list of priorities, rating each item on your list as something you need to have vs. what you want to have.

The second way is to bring your entire list to your consultations and ask what it’s all going to cost.

Remember, you can remodel your home in phases, as you can afford it. There’s no need to do a whole home remodel all at once. You can start with your kitchen (learn the top 12 kitchen remodel mistakes), then save up to tackle your bathrooms. When you work one or two rooms at a time, it’s unlikely you’ll need to move out at all.

Here’s an in-depth look at how one client decided to spend their $175k budget.

5. Decide How Much You Want to Be Involved in Your Home Renovation

One advantage of working with MSK Design Build is that we manage the project for you. Many people who are asking where to start when remodeling a home imagine they are going to have to be the primary project manager.

In reality, few people have the skills or the time.

Managing a remodel involves hiring someone to create as-built plans, design the project, and create the proposed plan for demolition, framing, electrical, cabinetry layout, tile, etc to submit to the city or county. It requires shopping, either by yourself or with a designer. It involves being there for inspections. It involves receiving product or returning product (you’d be surprised how much product arrives incorrectly or damaged) and contractors may not do this for you.

When you work with contractors directly you’re on your own—you may have to do all the tasks mentioned above by yourself. When you work with a design-build company like ours, all of that gets taken care of for you.

6. Get Inspired!

This is perhaps the most fun part of planning a home remodel. Create a Pinterest board, put together a Houzz idea book, and find finishes and features you like. This can help designers plan the perfect home remodel for you. While we don’t want to recreate the exact results since every home is unique,  it is possible to take the spirit of what you like and incorporate it into something that works perfectly for your home.

Don’t forget to look at the gallery of the remodeling company you’re working with or considering. If you see something you love, they’re likely to be able to do it again.

7. Decide Who You Want to Ask for Bids

This is where most people start when they want to remodel a house, and as you’ve seen it’s the wrong first step. But you’ve done your homework, and now you’re ready.

Start looking at websites and making some phone calls to local contractors, designers, and design-build firms.

Again, look at their galleries and their past projects. This will tell you a lot about that company’s creativity. It’ll tell you a lot about how innovative they are, and whether they produce high-quality, beautiful home remodels.

Look for pricing, too. Are companies transparent about their pricing on their website? While it’s impossible to give anyone an exact quote before they’ve settled on a design or made product selections, it is possible to publish a typical range for remodeling projects.

It’s a good idea to look for current testimonials. Check their Google reviews, where you can see the date of the testimonial. Houzz is another great place to check. This is also the best way to be sure that the testimonial wasn’t just made up and pasted on the website.

You should also get to know their team! If they’ve posted bios, read them and get an understanding of how the company works. These bios are often quite revealing.

In fact, read the entire site from end to end. It will tell you whether the company is likely to meet your expectations. Do they value courtesy? Will they clean up after themselves every day? Do they have a reputation for finishing on time and on-budget? These are things you need to know.


8. Determine Setbacks and Easements if You’re Planning an Addition

You only need to take this step if you plan to add a room. Additions require you to reach out to the city or county so you can find out your setback and easements. Any remodeling company you work with will need this information to determine what they can do for you.

9. Prepare for Consultations

Remodeling companies will need certain information from you when preparing your bid.

If you have your original house plans, bring them, they will be very helpful, but not necessary.

You should also email them in advance with your inspiration and style boards.

You’ll want to send pictures of the house as it is. If you bought it within the past 8 to 10 years the pictures are usually already on Realtor.com, but if they aren’t you’ll need to take some.

10. Ask the Right Questions

Every company does things a little differently when starting a home renovation project. These are the questions you need to ask to make sure the company you choose is compatible with your needs. Asking these questions can also give you an idea of what realistic expectations might look like in your case.

  1. Is the work you show on your website and social media projects that your company designed and constructed, or are you showing design possibilities with AI?
  2. May I speak with your references?
  3. How long is the design phase?
  4. How long is the construction phase?
  5. Do you use subcontractors or are all of your craftsmen on staff? Ideally, they’ll say that everyone is on staff. It’s hard to hire right now in construction. If they use subcontractors they might not be able to get them in a timely manner, which could mean serious project delays. If they are employees of a company you know they are available.
  6. Are your designers employees or contractors? Most people don’t realize that some design build firms subcontract the design phase too. Again, you want them on staff. When the designer is on staff they are there to coordinate with the carpenters to ensure that their design details become a reality.
  7. Are you licensed, bonded, and insured? Do you have both general liability insurance and workers compensation insurance? These aren’t selling points, these are the bare minimum basics for doing business.
  8. Have you won any awards for your work?
  9. Do you have relationships with the building departments?
  10. During the remodel, how do you manage communications? How do you handle things like change orders and problems? How do you keep track of the budget and the schedule? The most progressive design build companies have software and an app that shows it all so it’s very easy for you to stay informed at all times. If you don’t go design build you’ll have to manage all these items for yourself, which means you’ll have to come up with a method for managing them.
  11. Do we need to hire an engineer or an architect? If you’re managing your own remodel the answer will be “yes.” If you have a design build firm, they will either have one on staff or coordinate with these professionals for you. You may need to have one on your project if you’re using a contractor or making structural changes, are building an addition or are moving structural walls.

Keep in mind if you’re managing your project yourself you may have to hire up to four different companies and coordinate with all of them: the architect, the engineer, the contractor, and the designer. When you hire a design-build firm you need to hire only one of them.

When you ask these questions you’re not just looking for the right answers. You should also be paying attention to the attitude behind the answers. Do you like the people you interact with at the company? Do you think you can work with them for months at a time? Are you impressed with their professionalism and responsiveness? These initial conversations can all be very telling, so don’t be afraid to take your time with these interviews.

Hire and Get Started on Your Home Remodel

Now comes the exciting part! Once you’ve found a remodeler you’re happy with, accept the bid, sign the contract, and let the work begin. Enjoy your dream home coming to life before your very eyes.

The process can be challenging, but ultimately it will be incredibly rewarding.

If you want stunning results from an award-winning company, reach out to Northern California-based MSK Design Build. We’re the premier design build firm in the East Bay Area, and we know you’ll love the results you get with us.

Kat Mullen

Kat and her husband, Scott Westby, own and run MSK Design Build, an award-winning design-build firm located in the San Francisco East Bay. With over 10 years of experience in design-build construction for high-end remodels, Kat enjoys sharing her knowledge, experience and expertise. Kat's favorite part of the design build process is hearing her client's vision for their home and helping to make their dream into reality.

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