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Ready, Set, Remodel!

How To Get Your Project Off The Ground

August 16, 1998|KATHY PRICE-ROBINSON | Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for nine years. She can be reached at: kathyprice@aol.com

After buying their Burbank home nearly two years ago, Laraine and Ralph Herman had a dream:

Enclose a breezeway and create a laundry room to move the washer and dryer out of the garage. Post-remodel life in their 1940s home, they thought, would be a lot easier.

Driven by their dream, the couple set out to find a contractor to do the work. However, one contractor after another wondered "what the architect would say."

The trouble was that the couple didn't have an architect for their project, which was more complex than just replacing kitchen cabinets.

"And without plans," Laraine Herman

said they discovered, "you can't get a bid."

Still determined to remodel, the couple set out to find an architect. One turned out to be unlicensed. Another didn't return calls. Another said the couple would be "stupid" to hire a firm that did both design and construction.

"I just hung up on him," she said, recalling her frustration. "After all that, we just decided not to do it."

The couple got a home improvement loan and hired subcontractors to replace windows throughout their home, beef up the insulation, replace the roof and redo the landscaping.

Someday, they say, they will again attempt to remodel the breezeway.

The Hermans are not alone in their quandary. Few endeavors are as fraught with the potential for frustration--and satisfaction--as home remodeling.

Unlike other big expenditures, like buying a new car, every home remodeling project is unique, without easy comparisons to other projects.

And besides that, remodeling happens in your home, which is supposed to be private, clean and quiet, qualities not associated with a construction site.

Imagine several strangers, all early risers, taking up residence in your house for weeks or months, pounding down walls and stirring up dust.

Some homeowners end up in court with their contractor, some part ways amicably and some become lifelong friends.

Yet for all the uncertainty of home remodeling, one can hardly up and move family and furnishings to a new house whenever the bathroom tile becomes dated. If ever the term "no pain, no gain" applied, it does to remodeling.

"You must know that your life will be disrupted," said Patricia Morrow, who successfully remodeled her North Hollywood home. "But it will be OK because the rewards at the end are so great."

But how do you begin the remodeling process? Do you start with a contractor? An architect? A design-build firm? Your own wits?

Ask 10 people and you'll probably get 10 suggestions. One will advise always starting with an architect. Another will say never to start with an architect.

Truth be told, there are lots of ways to approach a remodel. Here are 10 of them:

* Create a design team with, for instance, the architect and contractor of your choice. The team could also include an interior designer and/or landscape designer.

* Start with a contractor, who will find a designer or draftsperson.

* Start with an architect or designer, then put plans out to bid.

* Start with an architect or designer, then negotiate a bid with a trusted contractor.

* Hire a design-build firm, which both designs and builds your project, thus eliminating the all-too-common adversarial struggle between architect and contractor.

* Start with an interior designer.

* Act as your own designer, hire a draftsperson to draw up plans.

* Act as your own contractor (owner-builder).

* Hire a general contractor for some of the job and subcontractors for the rest.

* Do the whole thing, or part of it, yourself.

The correct method for you depends on many factors, including:

Do you know and trust any remodeling professionals?

Do your friends or neighbors know any?

Is your knowledge of building vast or slim?

Do you like to control every detail of a project or prefer to allow trusted professionals to take over?

Do you have a lot of spare time?

The best plan, long before you approach professionals, is to know yourself: your temperament, your tastes, your budget and your project.

Spend some time considering how you want the remodel to enhance your life. Do you want a luxurious spot to soak in the tub? Somewhere to put the groceries when you come in the door? More natural light in the kitchen for reading the morning newspaper?

Once you're clear on what you want, come to grips with how much it will cost. Be aware that almost all home-improvement magazines are based on the East Coast, where costs tend to be lower. Plus, because remodeling magazines promote remodeling, they can be expected to give estimates on the low side.

So if a remodeling magazine claims that a totally remodeled kitchen (new cabinets, counters, lights, flooring, appliances, etc.) will cost $20,000, don't be surprised if your new kitchen costs double that.

When you've come to terms with a) your remodeling budgets and b) the limitations of that budget, you're ready to start bringing your remodel into reality.

For inspiration and tips on how to do a remodel, consider how these four homeowners navigated a successful remodeling path:

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