Big Blunders

Dear Expert: When it comes to remodeling, what is the biggest mistake homeowners make?

A: During my 30 years in the remodeling business, the biggest and most costly mistake I’ve seen homeowners make is not investing enough in, nor fully understanding, the critical nature of the design and planning stage. Homeowners typically want to know right from the start how much the project will cost, before they know anything at all about the design or planning process.

We are used to buying most things ready made, like cars and microwaves, so as consumers, we are disconnected from the creative process of designing and building. And so, it’s only natural at the start of a remodeling project for homeowners to focus on the end result, while ignoring the planning process that gets them there. This “cost first” perspective also misleads homeowners into trying to compare pricing among several contractors. They ask, “How much would you charge to redo this kitchen?” At best, the answer to that question is a highly qualified guess. The art and science of remodeling is not like buying a car where you can easily price shop multiple dealers, because it isn’t a pre-manufactured product—it’s a living, breathing, custom process.

Before any realistic answer about cost or schedule can be given, the right questions about scope, depth, lifestyle, taste must be answered. Your remodeler has to get to know your house, you, and what you value. Only then can thoughtful measuring, planning, inquiring, and drawing be done. So, at the beginning of this fascinating process called remodeling, the homeowner is really purchasing a process and the experts who orchestrate it. When done right, the process accurately determines what the project will look like, when it will be done, and what it will cost. It may surprise homeowners to know proper planning typically takes as long as it does to actually build the project—such is the depth and degree of detail required. But it’s worth it, because this process ensures on-time, on-budget projects with the highest satisfaction. Ignore the process, and you might as well be driving in the dark without headlights.

Good projects are planned well and managed well. Invest first in the right process—the right people and all else will follow.

—Dave Amundson, Owner TreHus Architects, Interior Designers, Builders