5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Remodeled My House

A couple of months back I read an article in the Wall Street Journal titled 5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Built My House. I’m sharing it now, almost 4 months later, because the article has stuck with me. The author’s advice and hard-earned lessons continue to resonate with me. While she was having a new house built from the ground up, the experience is essentially the same for expensive, high-end home remodeling projects as well.



1. Starting. Takes. Forever.


Her first point was “Starting. Takes. Forever.” Whether you’re building a new home or simply remodeling your existing home, getting started always takes longer than you expect. No matter how long you think it’s going to take, it will take longer than that. However, an experienced project manager can help set your expectations properly. By providing you with an accurate and realistic timeline, he or she can help manage your expectations. Rather than simply relying on your head contractor to give you a back-of-the-envelope ballpark guesstimate of “we oughtta be able to get started around the 18th and be done in about 9 months or so”, your project manager can help nail down a more definite estimate of your start date (and, just as importantly, your completion date!) by consulting with everyone involved in the project, including the contractors, architects, builders, financiers, interior designers and permitting departments.


2. Lots of Expenses Aren’t Included


Your construction budget needs to encompass more than the just the obvious price of labor and materials. The exact laundry list of additional expenses depends greatly on the scope of your project and where you live, but it often includes non-obvious items like building permits, surveys, structural engineering analyses, topographical maps, tree inventories, road-maintenance funds, septic permits… the list goes on. An experienced project manager can help ensure that you aren’t surprised by these prosaic expenses that eat into your budget for other, more fun stuff like commercial-grade appliances, high-end cabinetry and exotic stone countertops. They aren’t exactly hidden expenses, but they are non-obvious to inexperienced managers and builders. A good project manager will line-item these budget items to ensure your loan or savings don’t fall short of your goals. No one wants to scramble to cut features or finishes near the end of a project due to a budget shortfall that could easily have been predicted before your contractor even arrived on site!


3. You Don’t Know What You Need Until You Need It


In the author’s case, she didn’t realize she needed a $15,000 backup generator. It’s not something that even occurred to her, despite living in a remote location in which winter blackouts were not uncommon. This is something that an experienced project manager can point out because he or she has a bigger, broader view of the project. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add a backup generator as part of a normal home remodeling project (even in a high-end home!), but a good project manager will catch the fact that you might need to upgrade your electrical service to a much higher amperage to handle the additional load caused by your new kitchen appliances — an additional expense that should be added to the budget up-front rather than adding it on to the back-end when funds are already running low.


4. There Are Sneaky Ways to Save Money


Since your project manager is your advocate, he or she can help you find ways to save substantial amounts of money through non-obvious design tweaks, slightly different (but still fantastic!) finishes, alternate appliance sources, or even doing some of the work yourself if you have the time, skill and inclination. Your project manager should be looking out for you and your goals and your budget. Let’s face it — as much as you might respect your architects and interior designers and contractors (and their sub-contractors and their sub-sub-contractors), they’re all looking out for their own bottom lines, and saving you money isn’t necessarily in their best interests. That’s where an honest, dependable, forward-thinking project manager can provide benefits that more than offset our fee. In addition to saving you innumerable hours of do-it-yourself project management headaches, and helping homeowners avoid costly mistakes, an experienced project manager can also help you save money that can be better spent on the fun parts of the project or redirected to other worthy causes (like college tuitions!)


5. There Are More Cost-Effective Ways to Design a House


In the author’s case, she learned that if she had asked more what-if questions up front, she may have been able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on their project. What if we used stucco instead of stone? What if we curved our driveway differently to shorten it? What if we had gone with a different roofing material? Unfortunately, by the time she thought to ask those questions, it was far too late to change it. These are the sorts questions that a project manager should help you think through before you commit to a particular course of action — one that could be horrendously costly because no one thought to suggest a small, but significant, change that would trim thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from the cost of a project.

Conclusion


Since I am an experienced project manager, I know a lot of the above comes across as a bit self-serving. However, none of what I’ve said is actually wrong — an experienced project manager really can save you tremendous amounts of money, help you avoid huge mistakes, and really will act as your advocate in balancing your budget against all of the interested parties who would like as big a piece of the pie as they can get!


So if you’re looking for a solid, hard-working project manager/homeowner advocate that you can trust, please allow me to throw my hat in the ring!

— Ed