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THE KITCHEN REMODELING PROCESS
In this chapter, we’re going to explore the remodeling process as a whole, its various forms, and your role in the process. There are a large number of ways this process can unfold, but I’ll share the most common scenarios I’ve encountered. Once you have a clear understanding of the process, you’ll be able to better control it. More control means lower costs, less confusion, and hopefully, a better result than if you were in the dark.
We’ll start our discussion with your role as the homeowner. Easily the most important cog in this machine, the homeowner is bankrolling the entire operation, and you need to be on your game if you want this remodel to go right. Right out of the gate, the homeowner needs to answer four fairly basic, but essential questions.
- Do you need to remodel the kitchen?
- What is the scope of the remodel?
- What is the budget?
- What are the functional requirements?
We’ll take a few minutes, and briefly discuss each of these questions. Getting the answers to these questions done and done right will make your remodel go significantly smoother than if you wing it. Trust me.
To Remodel or Not To Remodel
Do you have to remodel your kitchen? That’s the first question you need to answer. You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that the point of this book?” Yes, it is the point, but not everyone needs a new kitchen. There are lots of great reasons to remodel your kitchen. You need to make sure that your reasons for remodeling make sense. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time and money. You spent more than a few bucks for this book. If after reading this section you end up not renovating your kitchen and saving thousands of dollars; I think we’ll both be happy.
Here are a few great reasons to remodel your kitchen:
- Your current kitchen is dated, beaten up, or plain ugly.
- Your current kitchen no longer meets your needs.
- You are remodeling your house, and the kitchen needs an update.
- The home won’t sell, or won’t sell quickly, without an update
Of course, there are loads more reasons to remodel your kitchen than the ones I’ve listed above, but keep in mind that for every valid reason to upgrade a kitchen there’s an equally poor reason to waste money on a kitchen remodel. Before you spend another dime, you need to make sure that you are upgrading your kitchen for the right reasons.
If the items in the list above are examples of good reasons to remodel, what are examples of poor reasons? Good question. Here’s one. Let’s suppose a couple named Jack and Jane are preparing to sell their home. They believe that they need a newer kitchen in order to get a quick sale or to maximize their home’s value.
Instead of consulting with a local Realtor or conducting their own basic market survey, they choose to invest their money in newer, trendier cabinets, a high-end countertop, and new stainless steel appliances. Jack and Jane assume this will be a sound investment. They discuss their plan with some contractors they are thinking of hiring and the local cabinet salesperson. Not surprising, everyone tells them an upgrade is a great idea.
After spending $25,000, their new kitchen looks amazing. The only problem is they didn’t need to do anything in the first place. A quick real estate search of local homes would have shown them that homes comparable to theirs, with brand new kitchens, are only selling for around $5,000 higher than the homes that don’t have those upgrades. This means, in all likelihood, they will end up losing $20,000 over this decision.
Although Jack and Jane lost money on this deal, it doesn’t mean you will. Your circumstances may be different. Some minor changes to this example make a big impact on the bottom line. For example, if Jack and Jane were planning on living with their brand new kitchen for another five years before selling, then this purchase doesn’t seem so ill advised.
Alternatively, if their home is the absolute only one in town without granite countertops and their cabinets are beat up, then their home is not as likely to sell for as high a price as those other homes. If the homes with upgraded kitchens are selling for $30,000 to $50,000 more than homes without the upgrades, a $25,000 new kitchen now seems like a smart investment. Get the picture?
The key lessons learned from these examples are to seek independent investment advice from a knowledgeable authority and to do some basic homework on your options. A local real estate professional can help you determine whether or not your kitchen should be updated prior to a sale. They’ll do this by looking at “comps,” which are homes comparable to yours. They can tell you what features other homes in your market price and neighborhood are offering. You can even do some quick and simple research on your own using Realtor.com, Zillow.com, or Trulia.com to determine what comparable homes in your neighborhood have going for them in the kitchen.
If you don’t need to remodel, the return on your investment isn’t going to net a faster sale, or a higher sale price, you should stand pat. Minor, targeted changes, like replacing laminate counters with granite or some fresh wall paint, may be all that’s needed to improve your home’s value.
In that case, you might not need to hire a general contractor or a kitchen designer. Again, this whole discussion may sound strange coming from someone who’s writing a book on remodeling a kitchen, but it’s a crucial question you need to ask yourself before you take a sledgehammer to your kitchen cabinets. For the rest of this book, I’m going to assume that you have a need for a new kitchen.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about what you need to do next; determine how much work needs to be done. What do you need to replace or remodel? Is the remodel a complete gut job or is it more superficial like new counters and cabinets? For most kitchen remodelers, it’s somewhere in-between. If you can’t answer this question yet, or don’t know how to, don’t worry. We’ll get there over the course of the next couple chapters.
In the meantime, write down a list of the must-haves: new countertops, new cabinets, new floor, new lighting, and new appliances, for example. This will be your starting point.
For homeowners renovating their kitchen within a budget, that budget plays a big role in determining the scope of work. You’ll need to figure out how much money you have available to invest in this project. As your budget can determine your scope, your scope can also drive the budget. Once you start getting quotes from designers and general contractors, you can then adjust the scope to fit your budget.
You’ll need to figure out the absolute total amount you have available for this project. You shouldn’t share this number with anyone you plan on hiring, or instead, tell them a lower number.
For example, if you have a budget of $20,000, you may want to tell your designer or contractor that you are only willing to spend $12,000 to $15,000. You can keep the rest to cover unexpected overages or save it.
You don’t want to be in a position where the contractor scales up their work scope only to eat your entire budget. It can happen. Even honest contractors do it. If you tell someone you have $20,000, they are going to expect that you want to spend every penny, and they’ll attempt to help you with that goal.
If you only want to spend $10,000, but are prepared to spend $20,000, don’t tell anyone working for you unless you know keeping your true budget secret will negatively affect your remodel. Be prepared to be flexible with your budget, but don’t show your hand unless you have to. We’ll discuss project estimating and your budget more in depth in a later chapter.
Next up, you’ll want to develop a list of functional requirements for your new kitchen. Not sure what those are? Chapter 4 is dedicated entirely to this process, so we’ll only scratch the surface here. To give you the short version, you want to treat your kitchen remodel like any other major purchase. You start with must-haves, then down-select into nice-to-have features, and finally, the design choices. Don’t start with the design choices. For example, you wouldn’t buy a computer based on its looks. You don’t walk into a computer store and ask for a white computer. You ask for a computer with a certain screen size, hard drive capacity, RAM, processor, or whatever features you need. The looks come secondary. If you want a white one that meets that criteria, great, but don’t start with the color. Remodeling your kitchen so you get the kitchen you need is EXACTLY like that. If you purchase for looks as the first priority, then you may have to sacrifice some feature you need.
The Home Improvement Models
Once you have answers to all four of these critical questions, you can start planning the execution of your kitchen remodel. There are multiple ways to run the renovation; in this section we’ll take a look at several. These models describe the relationship between you (the homeowner), a kitchen designer, and a general contractor (GC). We’ll discuss more about each person in later chapters, but for now, you should examine the pros and cons of each structure, and then pick the model that you feel will best work for you.
100% Outsourced Model
We’ll start our discussion with the 100% Outsourced Model. This option is the most comprehensive version of the kitchen remodeling process you’re likely to see, since it has the most number of unique individuals involved. It might not be the best option for everyone, but it’s very common.
FIGURE 1: THE 100% OUTSOURCED MODEL
Here’s how this process works. The 100% Outsourced Model starts with the homeowner defining the renovation requirements, the scope, and their budget. The homeowner then hires a kitchen designer to come up with a vision for the finished space. The designer produces a material list based upon the requirements of their client. The homeowner then uses that plan to solicit bids from several general contractors (GCs). Once a GC is selected, the GC will hire various sub-contractors to execute the plan and finish the remodel. The subs might include plumbers, carpenters, electricians, cabinet folks, countertop installers, tile installers, etc. The GC will perform some minor finishing work like caulking, painting, and trim work. This model is pretty straightforward, and there shouldn’t be anything too shocking here.
- This option is almost completely hands off for the homeowner once it starts
- Each participant is highly skilled in their respective work areas
- Higher skilled workers result in quick project completion times
- Requires more coordination across multiple participants by GC
- Highest cost of all approaches
- More participants means more opportunities for miscommunication and mistakes
The GC Does it All Model
FIGURE 2: THE GC DOES IT ALL MODEL
In this situation, the GC is performing most, or all, of the tasks that the subcontractors would handle. The big benefit here is the GC may save you money since using dedicated subs will cost more. How much work is required will also determine how much work the GC is willing to tackle. If there isn’t any plumbing or electrical work required that might entice the GC to do the floors himself too, since it’s already a smaller scale job. Unfortunately, if the GC is not as skilled or is slower than subs, this option can end up hurting your bottom line, or this may result in poorly executed tasks. It’s a pretty common approach, but be aware of the potential pit falls.
- Only one person to coordinate
- Lower cost to overall remodel
- Potential for lower quality work
- Potential for slower job
The No Designer Model
FIGURE 3: NO DESIGNER MODEL
If you don’t hire a designer, you can invest those savings elsewhere. You can choose to spend it on an increased work scope, higher quality materials, or keep it for yourself. You’re also biting off more of the upfront work like selecting materials, sizing cabinets, and so forth. If you don’t fully complete this work it could leave your GC waiting for you to make design decisions. If the GC is left waiting, it might cause them to start another remodel, until you’ve gotten your ducks in a row. If you don’t have an eye for design, picking this option can be difficult, and leave you with a mismatched or poorly coordinated finished product.
- Saves the cost of hiring a designer
- Homeowner has to make all design and material decisions without designer input
- Can be difficult to coordinate all materials if homeowner isn’t proficient at design
The Homeowner as GC Model
FIGURE 4: THE HOMEOWNER ACTS AS THE GC MODEL
In this approach, you act as the GC. You figure out what work needs to be done, from your own experience, and you hire out your own subs. This setup means that you are responsible for applying for the permits for the demo, for being home to let the subs in, and dealing with all the problems that can arise during a kitchen remodel. If you’re not handy or don’t have much DIY experience, even if you’re not doing your own work, this approach may not b
e the best idea.
- Saves the cost of hiring a GC
- Can be difficult to organize the remodel and coordinate the subcontractors
- Can be very time consuming
The DIY Homeowner
FIGURE 5: DIY HOMEOWNER
If you are willing to do all of the work yourself, then you fall under the DIY Homeowner model. The clear benefit to this approach is the cost savings. You also get the personal satisfaction of having undertaken and completed a major home improvement project. Not everyone has the skill or the determination to remodel their own kitchen. It’s a big deal. The downside to this approach is the time investment and added aggravation. Unless you can work on the project full-time, you’ll have to stick to nights and weekends, which means it’s going to take much longer to finish than if you hired it out.
- Saves the most money out of all the approaches (if done properly)
- Can be very satisfying to run your own remodel
- No need to deal with contractors
- Entire job is run by the homeowner
- Mistakes are more common