Renovations: 8 Phases to Get from Dream to Dream Home
and a few tips to ensure it is successful
MARCH 14, 2019

Home renovations can bring on a wave of emotions, all the way from excitement to overwhelm. You have a vision in mind for how you imagine your new home, but bringing that vision to fruition takes time and meticulous planning. For some, it may be tempting to take this project on yourself to ensure things go exactly as you envision them, but in reality, hiring a team you can trust to help you saves you time, frustration and money. This article is designed to provide you with some worthy knowledge to have before beginning your next home renovation project.

Phase 1: Planning – the team and the budget.

The two most critical design team members to scout for are a designer and an architect. For more sophisticated projects, you may also need a lighting consultant, an A/V consultant, landscaper and/or an engineer. Determining the type of experts you need on your team, and finding the shoes to fill each spot, are critical and should all be completed before you hire a contractor.

Start with either your designer or architect. A good rule of thumb is that if you already have a designer or architect you appreciate working with, start there and ask for referrals to their favorite collaborators. Build the team around the person you know and trust the most, that person will often become the lead and all others can be layered in accordingly.

A successful home renovation requires A LOT of planning and preparation, and the time to do it well, as well as the budget allocated, is often underestimated by the homeowner. Surprises and unexpected needs regularly surface, making it imperative to plan as far in advance as possible, and to have an agile team that is readily available to problem-solve quickly with a can-do attitude. Good consultants will guide the client and the process so that mistakes are minimized, budgets are approached with a full understanding of all involved, and regular oversight of the project is provided. Homeowners are guided so that their time is focused on decisions where their input is critical, and then they are able to focus on their everyday lives.

Although you will want to be the one to determine how much you want to spend on completing your home renovation, and you will be the best person to articulate your priorities, the design team needs to be trusted with determining how that budget is allocated throughout the project. In terms of deciding an overall project cost, this may be partially determined by either

  • The real estate value of your investment and what kind of profit can result from the value-add to your home.
  • The anticipated value-add to your life and overall lifestyle.

Once you have set the parameters around how much you want to spend on the renovation, the team will help distribute those funds appropriately over the course of the project.

Just because you hired a team does not mean you get to walk away. Be prepared that your time will be needed to make decisions and understand the project developments. Be sure to communicate what free blocks of time you’ll be able to consistently allocate to a weekly or bi-weekly meeting. In situations where you are unable to attend the team meetings and are generally unavailable to adequately take part in the process, you may want to consider hiring an “Owner’s Representative” who can work alongside the design team and help make decisions on your behalf.

Phase 2: Design

Once you have a team together, start drafting up ideas on paper. Larger projects always need drawings and permits but I’ve seen some smaller projects get started with little planning- just to quickly get paused for indecision or quarrels, frustrating all involved. Always draw first. This is the efficient way to do things, as opposed to jumping into the construction first, and then realizing cost and pricing implications later on.

With that said, once you have a financial plan in place and some preliminary ideas drafted, begin conversations with contractors. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page and clarify that the vision you imagine for your home can be completed according to the initial financial plan you and your team have established. Don’t move forward with the project until you, your design team and the contractors all understand the expectations both from a design perspective, and cost perspective. Also, don’t be afraid to take it slow with choosing a contractor. Try to determine who you have the best communications with, do try to see other examples of their work in person, and only move forward with someone with whom you have a solid rapport.

Phase 3: Permits

After awarding the bid to a contractor, a project moves to permitting. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to obtaining permits, is that this can be a very easy, or a very tedious process, and often requires more time than desired. Usually an expediter will assist in the process of filing paperwork for larger projects, and communicating requests and approvals from the building department. Expect that their costs are additional to any architectural or contracting service fees. Depending on the size and type of renovation being done, there may be steps of the renovation you can begin with before permitting is complete. However, this is not the standard, so make sure to account for plenty of time to get your permits in place, prior to construction.

Phase 4: Demolition

Once you get going, there is a period of demolition and there are ALWAYS surprises, so be prepared for them. For example, just because you did a probe of the wall and you think you know where the pipes are, that doesn’t mean you have a clear picture. Ultimately, designs will need to change because of things unknown, and this speaks to the importance of being flexible. Discovery of the unexpected can also impact the budget and cause additional design fees. If this is something you face, just know this is not a reflection of the competency level of your team, it’s just part of dealing with reality. Unfortunately, even the most experienced professionals cannot predict everything.

Phase 5: Building

Now it’s time to discuss the fun part – the building phase. One thing I always recommend my clients do is to identify 2-3 items in the buildout that are not negotiable. Take the time to articulate clearly for yourself and your design team those items you have always wanted in your home and those things you are most excited about adding. For example, it may be a wrap-around window seat where you can float away for a morning with your favorite novel, only getting up to refill your coffee cup and imagine the next scene in the story. Or, it could be that dream closet you have always longed for with 10-foot ceilings and never-ending shelving for your shoes and handbags. It may also be a wet bar complete with all the best trimmings for entertaining; a space so inviting you will never want to meet out for drinks again. The sky is the limit. Whatever these non-negotiable items are for you, make sure you have it firmly in your mind. This will help you feel better if you have to start making decisions that impact the initial design plans elsewhere. Should that happen, you will be happy to have set the few things that are most important to you, and are guaranteed to have in your new home when everything is finally complete.

Phase 6: Installation

Once your contractor leaves the site, the house may be in decent shape, but it’s not move-in ready. You will need your own cleaning crew, and one that is capable of getting your home ready for installation. This is not something your housekeeper can do, as post-construction cleanup is a completely different project. Be sure to allocate a few thousand dollars to this, and note that doing a web search on “post-construction cleaning” will yield a treasure trove of good sources.

After cleanup, your designer needs time to install your new furnishings throughout the home. Trust that your designer knows what he or she is doing, and understand it takes time and that this is not a step to be rushed. In terms of estimating the time required for installation, here are a few points of reference that we use: A 4-6,000 square foot home will take about 1 week to install, a 10,000 square foot home, about 2 weeks, and more than 10,000 square feet, about 2-3 weeks. Can it be done faster, if you allow the designer to hire extra moving and housekeeping crews, yes, some time can be shaved off.

Phase 7: Move in

The move-in process can be done at any level you are most comfortable with, from a do-it-yourself approach, to a turnkey solution where all you have to do is show up on the day your designer gives you, and everything is ready to go (this is our fave, and most our our clients agree, read HERE for more on this).

If you are someone who enjoys the nesting process, feel free to move in as you wish. Your designer will have all of your furnishings set up for you, and the nesting process, i.e. accessorizing, unpacking your clothing and belongings etc, can be done at your leisure. On the other hand, we like to remind clients that you have invested a significant amount of money on your home renovation, what luxury is there in executing your own move-in?

With that being said, you can do as much or as little of the move-in process as you desire, so talk to your designer about options. The “home reveal” is undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated moment of the entire renovation journey and your designer is just as excited as you are to unveil your new home. The reveal can be as simple or elaborate as you would like. In many cases, it is fun to have your designer help facilitate and plan a housewarming party on the day of the reveal, or to have a quiet, romantic dinner ready to go for you and your loved ones.

Phase 8: Ongoing care and maintenance

Two very important final aspects to consider during the move-in process are the best way to care for your home, and proper organization of your records. Designers will organize a short list of who to call when things are spilled-on or damaged, and the architect and landscaper will have a list of numbers for who to call when you’re ready to plant new things for the garden and so forth. A “best practice” is to set a date on the calendar a few weeks out from moving in to conduct a walk-through with your design team. It’s a good time to review any post-move-in items or questions.

Make sure you have a safe place to store your plans and blueprints, in case you need them for reference later on. Put aside a day yourself, or task your house manager to coordinate all the items and info you need from your team while your project is still fresh on everyone’s mind. For insurance purposes, keep a list of items and receipts for everything you have purchased, and update your home owner’s policy to cover your new furnishings. Records to keep on file include renovation plans, team invoices, construction and furnishing invoices, appliance record books, alarm codes, wi-fi codes, passwords and anything else involved with your new home.

Renovations can be overwhelming but with the right team, I’ve seen them be a very positive experience as well. Armed with some manageable expectations and a better understanding, I hope your next one goes smoothly and that dream room or house becomes your new reality!