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Before You Pick Up That Sledge Hammer...Remodeling Advice from Hometime

It's an urge anyone who's bought an older house can identify with. Within minutes of the closing you want to bust out the back wall for a kitchen addition and gut the bathroom with its oh-so-lovely pink fixtures and pink and black tile dating back to the fifties. Our advice? Unless there's extensive damage that must be addressed immediately, wait.

You can save time and money down the road if you live with the house for a while to see what works and what doesn't. Maybe you'll find that tearing out the wall between the kitchen and the seldom-used dining room will gain you the eat-in kitchen you were after, saving you the cost of an addition. Meanwhile, while you're getting to know the house, get busy planning your projects.

Start with research on design and products. You want to develop a good idea of what you want the room to look like, and the products that will help you get there. Go to home shows and collect big bags of catalogs and product literature, prowl the local new-house tours, read scads of design magazines and clip pictures of rooms you like, watch home-improvement shows on TV, and surf the Web.

When you see a room or house you'd be happy to live in, analyze what it is that appeals to you. When you see a product you like, find out what it costs and whether it's available in your area. The time to research the tile for your kitchen floor is not after the old floor has been ripped out. Plus, you're less likely to bog down with decision paralysis if you have a grasp ahead of time on what you like and what you can afford.

Get to know your neighbors and ask to see their houses. Chances are, their houses are similar to yours and they have already solved—or at least thought about solutions for—problems similar to those in your house.

Decide how much you can—or will—spend to accomplish your goal. Then make a budget for the entire job that uses only 80 percent of that amount. Set the rest aside for contingencies— we guarantee they'll happen. If it's not an unanticipated plumbing or electrical disaster waiting behind the walls, it will be you saying, "I know I budgeted for vinyl, but I really, really want a ceramic tile floor."

You also need to think about where you'll get the money. If you've lived in the house long enough to have built up some equity, you can take out an equity loan or pull equity out of the house by refinancing your existing mortgage for a greater amount of money. If you haven't got any equity, you'll have to pay cash or take out a personal loan.

Decide what you can do yourself and what you want to hire out. Even if you plan to do the work yourself, it's worth it to pay an architect, plumber, and electrician to help plan the job. After all, you want to make sure the house isn't going to fall down when you move that wall. Plus, these professionals will have a different perspective on the house and the job. They have more experience than you do and may be able to suggest more efficient ways to get the job done or design options you hadn't considered.

In some areas you may be required to hire a plumber or electrician to do that part of the work. You can find out what you're allowed to do yourself by calling your local building department. They will also be able to fill you in on which jobs require a permit, and how to get a permit and schedule inspections.

If you're doing the work yourself, make a schedule for the job—be realistic about both your skill levels and what you can accomplish weekends and nights. Set goals that allow time for things that go wrong. To lessen the negative impact on your family, try to minimize time spent with the water or electricity turned off or the toilet removed. Be sure to schedule some time off. Finally, never, ever start a job expecting to get it done in time for a holiday or major entertaining event. The added pressure will just stress you out—especially if (when) you miss your deadline and have to cook the Thanksgiving turkey on the grill because the new oven hasn't arrived.

Visualizing the project is an important part of the scheduling process. Think through every aspect of the job, trying to anticipate how each step will impact surrounding materials. Removing a bathtub, for example, often means taking out at least one row of tile along the tub's edge. Take notes outlining the project steps and the tools and materials required. This will help you create a more accurate budget and schedule. It will also help reduce the number of unplanned trips to the home center store.

Call your insurance agent, especially if the work will substantially increase the value of your home. Check into what happens if a sub gets injured on the site. Ask about coverage for materials not yet installed. Homeowners policies usually don't cover materials purchased for the job until they're actually installed.

Finally, prepare for the inconvenience, especially if a bathroom or kitchen is involved. Call a family meeting to discuss what's going to happen and how you'll deal with it. This may mean making a revised shower schedule or setting up a temporary kitchen in the living room. Figure out a way to keep the construction—especially the dust—from impacting other areas of the house. It will help reduce stress on family members if there's at least one room in the house where people can shut the door and ignore the chaos going on elsewhere in the home.


Reprinted with permission of Hometime®. For further information about home maintenance and common home repairs, tune in to Hometime or visit © Hometime 1999, all rights reserved.