I'm doing it. It's happening. My house is getting a makeover and there are no TV cameras to capture it, no host to give a play-by-play, no viewing audience in the millions. The single 1940s floor gas heater I've huddled around in the winter will be gone, the ancient metal casement windows replaced, the outside insulated, the inside reconfigured.

It was a hard decision to make about eight months ago when I was considering buying a new house and moving. But the rising housing market in Albuquerque put most houses in my neighborhood out of reach. All I really needed was one more room and more energy efficient features. And to get the #@%! washer and dryer stack moved out of my already small kitchen.

If you've ever asked among friends and acquaintances around here, you've probably heard countless horror stories about satanic contractors that take your money and leave gaping holes where your windows once were or fly by night construction crews that never finish the job. But it doesn't have to be like that. Here's what I've learned about starting a remodel in the Duke City:

Architect:
Hire an architect or designer with construction management knowledge. Someone who can do your plans, advise you, help you locate contractors for bids and check in on the actual construction as the process continues. I went with Base8 and have been delighted with the care and attention to detail during the design process.

Contractor:
Investigate your contractor. You don't need a private detective following them around on Friday night, but do check in with the Better Business Bureau, find out if previous customers are happy and do a web search for reviews. My contractor for the project is Pennington Builders. They've left a long list of satisfied customers in their wake and I expect that trend to continue with me.

Time:
It takes longer than you think to get to the ground breaking. Revising plans, making big decisions, checking on permit requirements and getting bids takes a ton of time. Good contractors usually have full schedules, so you'll have to be patient on when they can fit you in.

Moving:
You might have to move out. I was hoping it could be staged in pieces so I wouldn't have to completely clear out the house, but that didn't work out. Be prepared to find a willing friend or family member to take you and your pets in or look into a short term apartment situation.

Windows
Windows are expensive. Divided light windows that looked in keeping with the original windows that were on the home were very important to me. You can save a bit if you go with vinyl, but you may want to pay more for wood with divided lights.

Heating
Hydronic heat may be an option for you. I had no idea that there was a choice besides forced air (radiant floor heat was not a viable option for my particular house). I'll be kicking it old school with a modern twist by going hydronic with a super efficient boiler and sleek radiators that are the new versions of the radiator systems I grew up with in Victorian-era houses in Illinois. Retro!

Sacrifice:
Construction costs are sky high. Your bids will come in higher than you think and you need to be prepared to either scale back or put more cash in. In my case, the second bathroom and pergola I had wanted weren't as big a necessity as the heating system, windows, insulation, restuccoing and music room.

While the real estate market has eased a bit around here, many current home owners may find a remodel to be a better option than buying a new (or new used) place. This shouldn't be as epic as Chantal's famous DIY kitchen rehab, but I'll let you know how it turns out in about four months!

CC Photo Header by gullevek.

Views: 6

Tags: construction, contractor, remodel

Comment by chantal on October 23, 2008 at 10:52am
But do you have a soul sucker in your ceiling ;-) ? Thanks for linking to my kitchen rehab. I hadn't revisited that nightmare in quite awhile and hope that yours is far less eventful!

These tips are great. My friend in Chicago is undergoing a major rehab right now and had her contractor go bankrupt, running away with their big ole downpayment. And then, the bank put a hold on their home equity line amidst the recent market terror. Ack.

Any drawings from your architect you're willing to share? Keep us posted on the progress.
Comment by Adelita on October 23, 2008 at 11:10am
What an unbelievably timed piece for me! I have just decided to add on to my house - need to remodel the kitchen, add a bedroom and bathroom. Thanks so much for all the information and please keep us informed of the progress.
Comment by jeff on October 23, 2008 at 11:16am
soul-sucker - that's a good one.
a good rule of thumb for remodels is to budget a 10% contingency that isn't to be used to upgrade fixtures, as much as one may be tempted....

hard costs have continued to rise, but there is much more competition among contractors right now.
Comment by Edith Grove on October 23, 2008 at 3:49pm
NMGolfHacker - good points. I went in expecting the bids to be higher than I had anticipated. There's a lot that goes into contracting and materials costs have continued to rise.
Comment by Steve Whitman on October 23, 2008 at 7:39pm
I'm trying to finish up on the work I'm doing on my GF's house right around the corner from you. The place with all the glass block. I got out of the building trades 20 years ago and doing this project has reminded my why ;^( But it will be great when its all finished. Good luck with yours - it was a good idea to move out - living in a major remodel is no fun!
Comment by Camian on October 25, 2008 at 5:02pm
Great post, Edith.

I am in the construction business as a residential designer/contractor consultant, and I will tell you that a construction project - whether from the ground up, or as a remo - is one of the most trying things that a person or a family can take on. The staggering costs, the endless choices, the never-ending decisions, and the multitude of personalities all take their toll, especially for those not accustomed to the business. I usually come in as close to the beginning of a project as I can, and work as a client liaison and designer. I am very knowledgeable about both the building process and the large array of materials available. I work to educate my clients on what each decision entails for installation, costs, and maintenance, come up with innovative designs that are beautiful and functional, but also to facilitate communication. Often times, contractors can speak not only a different language than the clients, but may also be impatient about explaining what is going on, what is coming up, and what to expect. My job is to be the construction expert and designer, that can talk shop with the contractors and suppliers to make sure that everyone is on the same page with their expectations, and that my client feels that they are well informed and getting the look that they envision. I would surmise that most jobs end badly because there were expectations that were not clarified by the various parties, and everyone ends up walking away angry and frustrated.

I firmly believe that if people are going to spend large sums of money on projects, they should have fun with it! I work hard to take the stress out of the building process by helping everyone communicate well, meet their budgets and time lines, and end up with a completed product that is stunning and timeless. Construction is a huge exercise in patience and problem solving. The one thing you can count on, is that NOTHING ever goes as planned! You just have to keep breathing and taking each thing in stride....

I know this turned into a bit of a plug, but I love what I do, and your post just exemplified the reasons why I keep on doing it!

Best wishes for a beautiful, smooth-running project!

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