From kitchens and bathrooms to master suites and
basements, many people are choosing to remodel their
entire home instead of moving to a new one. But
converting an existing house into a dream home can
easily turn into a contracted nightmare that drains your
savings and drags on for months. Before you rent the
dumpster, you better have a plan. We asked local
industry professionals for their step-by-step guide to
tackling a whole-house remodel.
Meet the Pros:
Michael Wade (MW) — owner, Wade Design & Construction Inc.
Ron Klassen (RK) — principal and lead designer, Wallner Builders
Mike Slawnikowski (MS) — owner, M Design Build
Diane Wellhouse (DW) — executive director, Milwaukee NARI
Deron Butler (DB) — founder and principal
architect, Joseph Douglas Homes
Matt Retzak (MR) — project designer and coordinator, Bartelt. The
thing’s first. Who is a whole-home remodel best suited for?
MW: People who tackle a whole-home remodel generally fall into
two categories. First, there is the owner who has been in the house for
a while and loves the location, schools, neighbors, mature trees, and
all of the things that made them fall in love with their house to begin
with. All that is left to complete the dream is the house. A whole-house
remodel gives them that. The other group consists of new owners of a
house that has seen better days but is in a great setting. Work can be
done before the move-in to re-create the house to offer the feel and
amenities of a new house.
1: List and prioritize.
RK: Make a list of what you want to do and why. Prioritize the
list in case the budget isn’t enough to cover the whole scope. Get
everyone who’s involved to agree to the list. Consider and list any
issue that is causing difficulty — tight spaces, too little lighting,
insufficient natural lighting, too hot or too cold in the space, etc.
Get it all on the table. Then put it in front of a design professional.
We’re always happy to give someone a ballpark on the investment and some
thoughts on what they should consider. We’d rather help someone “get
real” early on than see him or her get into a jam later.
2: Set a budget.
MS: Develop a rough budget. Think about the amount of money you
want to spend on your remodeling project. While you can’t be expected to
know what a remodel will actually cost, once you identify your budget it
will help you be more realistic about what you want versus what your
investment will get you. It’s best to take the approach of successive
approximation. We like to have an initial meeting with the client to
discuss goals, their wish list and their budget. We then have a second
meeting to discuss an estimated cost range based on our previous
discussion and their dream project. The third step is to hire an
architect, make selections and conduct a project walk-through. From the
information gathered from the walk-through, subcontractor input and
client selections, a contract price is developed. Clients should also
figure in 10 to 20 percent for unforeseen issues that may arise or “as
long as you’re here” allowances. And don’t forget to budget for
alternate living arrangements during the project.
3: Find a contractor.
DW: Find two or three contractors whose work you like and read
the statements on their websites. Set up a meeting and interview them
and loosely discuss the project. A good fit for you is someone you like
and trust and who will advocate for you.
Note that good contractors are also interviewing homeowners. The
relationship is a two-way street. If the contractor doesn’t feel the
homeowner is a good fit for their business, work style and process, they
may politely decline the project.
Things to look for are if they are members of industry-specific
organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI),
how long have they been in business, do they have a website (and confirm
the project pictures shown on their website are their work and not that
of a manufacturer or supplier partner). Check if they have
industry-specific education or certifications, required licenses,
insurance and samples of work they have done on projects similar to
yours. And make sure they have a process they can describe, with
contacts and contracts for each stage.
4: Break ground, practice patience and consider alternative living
is the best place to begin the work?
DB: Begin with the most visible areas and the areas that will
most disrupt normal living in the house. Start with the kitchen, dinette
and family room. Then move on to the master suite improvements, and
finally, things like secondary baths and other living areas like
long will the project take?
MW: The duration of a whole-home project really depends on
several things — like the age of the home, construction type, scope of
the project, whether the owner is living in the house at the time, etc.
Most of our projects are completed to the point of being livable in six
to 10 months, meaning the kitchen and bathrooms are operable, the floors
are finished, finish carpentry is complete, and most of the painting is
completed. Sometimes there are a few minor elements outstanding and are
being completed as quickly as possible. A project may take more or less
time, as there are many variables.
advice do you have for surviving the construction phase?
MW: It is a better situation for all involved if the owner lives
elsewhere during construction. However, if the owner is going to live in
the house, a small living space can be maintained throughout the
duration of the project. Set up temporary kitchens, so cooking can still
be done during construction. Dust control and cleanliness are probably
most important. Zipper doors, HEPA air cleaners and frequent cleaning
can all make a difference.
MR: Living in the home during a whole-home remodel
can add time and money to a project. For example, a plumber may need to
come back several times to accommodate the living needs of the
homeowners rather than being able to rip everything out at once.
DB: We always suggest that owners vacate the home during
construction, but this rarely happens. Those who leave homes have a much
better remodeling experience. Those who decide to stay are
inconvenienced for months, which tends to wear on even the most gentle
of souls and puts unnecessary and unproductive pressure on the general
contractor as well.
will the project cost?
MR: Generally $200 per square foot is a great
average. If you’re looking to touch the entire house, you can expect the
remodel to cost around the same as a new home.
RK: In our
world, we develop specs and a budget around the client’s wishes and look
for multiple ways to solve their issues. Seriously, there are so many
variables — which rooms are included, size of those rooms, scope of
work, finish levels. It’s probably wise to assume it’s going to start at
$100,000 and go up from there. There’s almost no limit to the
Remodeling with an
eye to resale? Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts from Instyle Homes’
Director Hannah Boyd.
1. Overall, go for a timeless look in both fixtures and finishes and
make any work match the character of the original house.
2. Paint colors: Look at the light in your room and work with colors
that set a perfect backdrop. A warm gray or beige works every time.
3. Flooring: Hardwood is the best choice. If you have a large space, use
wider boards. Use custom stain, but not too orange, too dark or too
shiny. Stay in a chocolate palette with a dark tint patina. White oak is
also a solid choice.
4. Fixtures and hardware: Although gold is having a small comeback, stay
away from shiny gold or silver. For a timeless look go with rubbed
bronze or another dark metal.
5. Kitchen: Painted shaker-style cabinets with a wide border are
timeless. They have been the choice of English farmhouses for centuries
and never look dated. Granite or quartz countertops add value to a
kitchen, but keep in the light coloring palette with minimal veining and
movement. Nothing too busy.
6. Bathrooms: Always go with glass doors instead of shower curtains and
add a double sink whenever possible. Don’t go wild with decorative
accent tiles. Keep them simple and neutral. For added visual interest,
you can lay out the tile in a way that adds character, such as in a
We also asked our interviewees to weigh in on the biggest mistakes
people make when entering a whole-house remodel.
MW: The biggest mistake you can make is underestimating the cost.
Hand in hand with that is “scope creep.” The five most expensive words
in remodeling are: “While we are at it ...” My best advice is to make a
great plan (including the financial plan) and stick to it. That being
said, be sure to allow for contingencies, because they will arise. There
are many hidden conditions in houses that may come to light after demo.
You will need funds to deal with them. The items may include structural
concerns created by a previous remodel that do not satisfy current code,
or electrical or mechanical work exposed during demo that no longer
RK: Misjudgment of reality is probably the
greatest pitfall. TV shows depict projects happening virtually
overnight, and some give ridiculously low values for the investment
needed. Sometimes that leads to unrealistic expectations of the project
in terms of time and money. It hurts to burst someone’s bubble — yet
reality can be a real shock, unfortunately.
DB: Updating for resale. The best remodeling projects only
recuperate 50 cents on the dollar. Remodeling is best justified if the
buyer is staying the in home for several years, in which they can enjoy
(the improvements) while modestly increasing resale value.