1. Put your goals and objectives for the project in writing. This will benefit both you and any building or design professionals you choose to work with. Be clear about your goals for space utilization, light levels, energy efficiency, indoor air quality or anything else you’re concerned about.
2. Set a palatable budget and stick to it. You know what your financial resources are and you know what you’re comfortable spending, and that’s your budget number. And keep in mind this general rule of thumb: Don’t spend more than 15 percent of the market value of your home on a kitchen project or more than 10 percent on a master-bathroom project. By setting a realistic budget, you, your designer or your builder can put together a rational materials list that fits not only your needs but also your budget.
3. Take your time when planning a remodel, and try to have all your materials selected before the first hammer swings. If you’re going to gut the entire space, take up to a year for planning and design for a kitchen and up to six months for a master bathroom. This minimizes the need for decision-making under duress, which rarely provides optimal results. Also, if you bought the home recently, live in it for a year before you start planning a remodel project. This allows time to develop a clear idea of what you like and dislike about the space and get a feel for the natural light over the changing seasons. For less extreme projects, you can scale back on the planning time, but given the investment of your hard-earned dollars, more planning usually equates to fewer change orders, less money spent and greater satisfaction with the results.
4. Differentiate your needs from your wants. Do you need a warming drawer or would you simply like to have one? If you have an erratic schedule, with an unpredictable work schedule and kids going in every direction, a warming drawer is a great appliance for keeping the home fires burning. If you’re empty-nesters who travel a lot, you probably won’t get an adequate return on your investment in this appliance and you’ll give up valuable space in your kitchen for it. You want a two-person jet tub? Are you going to upgrade your water heater to supply that tub, and do you regularly have the extra 20 minutes it takes to fill the tub, or would you be better off allocating those funds to a two-person multihead shower?
9. Get real — don’t believe those home-remodel reality shows. Well-designed kitchens and baths can’t be remodeled in a weekend, especially by a novice. So be honest with yourself — do you really have the skill set and the time to start and complete a remodel yourself? If your answer is no, enlist professionals to help you with your project. Hiring architects, contractors and designers can save you time, money and, just maybe, your marriage. Finding the right professionals can be an arduous process, but keep one simple thing in mind: These people will be part of your life for the duration of the project, and by the time they’re done, they’ll probably know a lot of intimate things about you and your family. So choose professionals you like and trust, someone you’d feel comfortable leaving your wallet and your toddler with for an entire weekend while you travel out of state. But how to find such people? Ask your friends, family members and neighbors. You can also contact the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the National Home Builders Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen & Bath Association. These groups maintain high standards for their members in terms of ethical business practices and educational and experience requirements.