How to Survive a Home Renovation
A successful home remodel is the dream of many a homeowner: You’ll finally get that chef’s kitchen with custom cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances; a new deck, patio, and fire pit for barbecue get-togethers; or an upgraded bathroom with a soaking tub. Even better, there’s also the potential that the home renovation may increase your home’s resale value.
But let’s be real: Home renovation projects can also be costly, stressful, and disruptive.
“The average [home] renovation has around 15,000 decisions involved in it,” says Bruce Irving, a real estate agent, home renovation consultant, and former producer of “This Old House,” who is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Avoid wishful thinking: Almost all the time people underestimate time and money involved.”
“Making decisions about something as important as remodeling a home and the big expense that you can run into can really test a couple to see what they’re made of,” says Linda Bloom, LCSW, a relationship counselor based in Santa Cruz, California and co-author of “That Which Doesn’t Kill Us” along with her husband and fellow therapist Charlie Bloom, MSW. “There needs to be a spirit of goodwill…and good negotiation skills.”
“What it requires are qualities that don’t necessarily come naturally or easily to a lot of us,” says Charlie Bloom. “In a situation with a major home renovation, anticipate there are going to be differences…Be open to really listening well to your partner without trying to invalidate what they’re saying, or thinking or feeling. Keep in mind that the way in which you present your desires, feelings, and preferences is as important—and maybe even more important—than the specific content of what your preferences are.”
Before you get started with any potential remodel, it’s invaluable to not only prep your home, but also your relationships, to ensure a successful project outcome.
Is the Home Renovation Worth the Time, Money, and Stress?
When mulling over a potential home renovation, get as informed as possible so you can make the best decisions for your home, finances, and relationships.
First, know if your plans will be a worthwhile investment of both your time and money. You may be dreaming of an in-ground pool or wall-to-wall carpeting but the actual maintenance required may be eye-opening and/or potential buyers down the line may find those “upgrades” unappealing. Speak to a local expert to find out for sure.
“Getting a local real estate agent in for a consult is a great idea,” says Irving. “They’ll tell you what [buyers] expect and the things that never pay off.”
Additionally, by knowing how the remodel will impact your property value, you can then plan your remodeling budget accordingly. And while less tangible, you’ll also get a better sense of whether the payoff will be worth the stress of enduring the renovation project itself.
Speaking of stress, if you have anxiety about how your relationship will fare during a home renovation, try tackling a small project first.
“Money, power, hierarchy in decision making, optimism versus pessimism, all come to bear on the practical undertaking of the renovation,” says Irving. “People don’t know their power dynamic in this regard. So start first with a smaller project: Go build a birdhouse or a mailbox together and see. Try a small job in the house first, like the smallest bathroom at the farthest end of the house and take it on. It may not be super-efficient but you’ll learn a lot. Whatever happens, magnify it by some number and you’ve contemplated a bigger job.”
Choose Great Partners
After you’ve made an informed decision to renovate and tackled a smaller project together, find professional partners you trust (while also trusting your family partners implicitly).
“Do your due diligence before you enlist contractors—make sure they have a good reputation and they’re high-integrity people,” says Linda Bloom. “Set up the agreements before you do the work, and have contracts in order…so there are no surprise bills. Most home improvement projects end up taking more time [and] expenses [than planned]. Don’t become belligerent or combatant. Invite the contractor into good communication about ‘how are we going to solve this together.’”
“Build the right team” to avoid home renovation conflicts, says Irving. “Start with a good designer, and bring in builders early in the process while [you’re] sketching.” By bringing in the design and build side early together, you’ll be able to spec out plans that are both feasible for your property and within your budget and get everyone on the same page (or blueprint, as it were) right from the start.
Prep Your Home (and Your Relationships)
Before the first nail gets hammered, make a plan to communicate early and often.
When communicating with your families, “anticipate what it is that you’re going to likely experience so you’re prepared to encounter the disruption that inevitably occurs,” says Charlie Bloom. “Talk about it with your partner and kids: The home is not going to be the same structure. There’s going to be a period of time where it may be frustrating because things aren’t going to be where we expect them to be, we’re not going to be able to do things in the rooms that we used to, we’re not even going to have walls that we used to have. Talk about how we can anticipate what’s going to happen and how we can best deal with these things when they do…and when we’re done, it’s going to be really beautiful and we’re going to be happier. It’s going to be a disruption, but remember, it’s only going to be temporary.”
When communicating with contractors, don’t be afraid to ask questions. “There’s no such thing as a dumb [question],” says Irving. “And it’s your money you’re spending.”
Finally, “it’s important to hold the vision that the end product is going to be worth the effort,” says Linda Bloom. “In the midst of it, it sometimes can be so aggravating and so challenging that people can lose sight of that, at the end, we’re going to have a beautiful end product.”
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