Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Renovation Realities- Our Learnings

afew months ago I was contacted by someone (now a friend) who was is about to undertake a basement renovation similar to what we did, and she asked if I had any tips for her.  Having undergone our renovation pretty blind, and feeling our way through, there are plenty of good things and things we can and will do better next time, so here they are....
Our top 10 11 tips and tricks for keeping the renovation process as smooth as possible:
1. Shop around and get multiple quotes.  We ended getting our attic insulation for cheaper than doing it ourselves (and don't hesitate to negotiate they'll kind of expect it!). We played one off another and saved a few hundred $. But, keep in mind that even if you are not both working away from home, that the people you hire will be in your house while you are not around, and you will be working with them for a while, so you've got to like and trust them. 

2. Trust your gut.  The two "bad" trades we worked with my gut told me were not the best from the beginning, and I should have heeded the warning bells. Also, the trades people who do work for some people may not gel with you due to conflicting personality, ideas or temperament, and that's ok.

3. Take the time to figure out exactly what you want to do. We used floorplanner.com (a free tool) which we found great for playing around with ideas - what if you take down that wall, how will the doors look if I put one here, will a bed and two night tables fit in that space, etc. This helped us be confident in our plan, and to be able to communicate clearly with our trades, avoiding a lot of wasted time. I even used my floor plans to get our permit from the district saving us from having to get a professional to draw up our plans (I think that was about $500-$1000 saving right there).

4. Think about the future uses of the space - will you be taking back all or part of the space for your use in the future? If yes what will you use a room for?   How will that affect the other spaces- will the living room become a bachelor space, can you lock it off from your space?
  • The bedroom in our suite is designed to be our playroom/tv room in the future when we add kids to our family, so we had a tv line set-up in there already.
5. Be home for an hour or so at least the first day that each trade is on site (even if you have a general contractor) - that way you can make sure that they are clear on the plan, and then let them get to work- and not stress out about it while you are stuck at the office! It also saved us time and money by avoiding mistakes. The clearer you make it for them, the less they need to think or "guess" at what you want them to do.
  • In advance, we sat down and ran through the future uses of the different rooms and then prepped plans of our wants for electrical, and furniture placements.  I then ran through the plans with the trades and answered/clarified all questions they had.  The plans were then posted on the wall for the trades to easily follow and refer to.

6. Budget realistically so you can make sure you can afford your vision, but still factor in minimum of 10-20% for the "extras" that you want to add along the way and 'extras" that you need to do (like finding out your plumbing is rotten!).  

7. Think, about the bigger picture. While you have the trades on site, it's easy (and cheaper since it's part of a bigger job for them) to get them to add in a lot of the little things you'd like in the house, we added an extra plug in our upstairs hallway while they were wiring the smoke detectors up there, and an extra switch for our upstairs kitchen. But be careful you don't get too carried away, as all those little things still add up!

8. Know yourself, are you a DIYer, or are you a delegator? There's nothing wrong with accepting yourself as is and getting all the work done for you. I'm an organizer/'control freak"/cheapo so I can't just sit back and trust that others will do it. Meanwhile, my brother is a delegator and is happy not taking on the stress and time required to do it yourself - but pays a heck of a lot more for that convenience. And, if you are a delegator I think it's even more important to know what YOU want ahead of time, as the pros come up with great ideas, but can totally blow the budget and send you off in a design/style direction that isn't you if are not clear on what "you" is.  Finally, even if you are a DIY-er it's about knowing your family as well, is your partner on the same page? Do you have little kids at home?  Think about how with the chaos and your time spent working on the house will affect them?

9. Remember it's a basement suite and you are not living there, if it costs you money and doesn't add to the rental value, don't do it. A renter doesn't need granite counters and heated floors (unless it's cheaper/quieter/better for you). Knowing where to save and where to splurge can also help. Cheaper kitchen cabinets with a fancy tap, industrial flooring that will last longer (and look better) than the cheapo stuff, etc.
  • Our bathroom was fully functional, so to avoid adding a huge extra chunk to our budget, thus pushing the time that our investment would pay itself off ever further out,  it got a lipstick makeover: a new toilet, sink, and shower head.  We added a bathroom fan and a plug by the counter, and a baseboard heater.  A coat of paint on the walls (leftover from our upstairs bathroom) and a new vinyl floor (picked up at a garage sale of all places for $15!), some chrome towel rails,  rounded out our mini makeover.  No potential tenant voiced any issues over the look and functionality of the bathroom, and we only spent a max of $500 spent vs. a $15k full reno.
10.  Set a deadline.  When you get towards the end of the project, set yourself a deadline to avoid burning out or letting the last 20% of the project drag on forever.  Especially with a suite renovation... every month it is not rented is lost revenue, so giving yourself a deadline (and even a reward- a vacation or nice dinner out perhaps?) can help keep your eye on the prize.
  • When we were at the 80% done mark (~5 months into our reno)  H and I were starting to hit our limit.  We sat down and had an honest discussion about what we wanted to do.  We debated stopping for the summer and picking up again in the fall, but in the end gave ourselves a 3 week timeline and both committed to 'getting 'er done'.  That target made the late nights worth it and kept us both motivated and on the same page.
11.  Accept the reality that your whole house will look like a bomb exploded for what will feel like forever!  There will be a constant layer of dust over everything no matter how often you dust and clean.  You will have to move the same heavy box or item at least 10 times around your house.  You will not be able to find things in the mass chaos.  You will have to learn to accept that people are going to see you and your house at your worst, but your family and friends will love you anyways.
  • This was one of the hardest learnings for me.  So next time I will make sure I have a room or specific space designated for storing all the "stuff", and carfully plan (and label) where things are within that space to keep the shuffling and frusteration as much at bay as possible.

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