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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smith

Remodelling - where to start?


Vegemite jar with word Start on label.
Photo by Start Digital on Unsplash @startdig

Where do I begin?


“This room needs a facelift.”

“Bought a new-to-me house but it needs work.”

“Old home needs fixing.”

“Like the place but it would be better if…”


If you’ve had thoughts like these about your place and want to take the next step, what do you do?


Do you start by updating the room you like least? Or do you refresh the kitchen, or bathroom, or both? Where do you spend a limited budget? Do you do what will add value or do you update what would work best for you? How do know what will work best for you?


Whether it’s just one room or a whole house or apartment, there’s a lot to think of when deciding to remodel. Where do you begin?


First steps


Work out what you want to achieve.


When deciding, you need to ask yourself some questions about what you want to achieve.


Five questions:

1. What matters most – budget or outcome?

This isn’t just a matter of not having enough money to spend on the project. Some people want to keep costs down, so they make decisions on that basis regardless of the outcome. Others have a vision of what they want to achieve and then need to decide how to make it happen. Your answer to this question will determine how you think about the project and impact your choices along the way.


2. Is this project for me/us or am I already thinking about a resale value?

The way you think about a project might differ if you’re planning to stay for a while. If you’re already thinking about moving on soon then you might make different decisions when choosing what to do and how much you want to spend.


3. Who do I have to consider – everyone who lives here or is it just my/our room?

If you want to remodel one space that only you, or you and your partner use, do you really need to consider the tastes of anyone else? If your project impacts other people, how much weight will you need to give to their needs, tastes and preferences?


4. When do I want to start?

Tomorrow? Next month? Three months time? In the summer? Some small changes could be done very easily and rapidly, but larger, more complex projects take time to plan and execute. It all depends on what you want to do, and the availability of materials, products and trades. What seems simple may surprise you – last year we upgraded our television, and it took six weeks to arrive!


5. How much do I really want to do?

It’s time to ask yourself some challenging questions. Do you really want to knock down that wall between the dining and living space, knowing that it will take a few months to complete the project and your budget means you can’t move out? How prepared are you to live with the chaos? Are you the kind of person that rolls with it when something goes wrong? How will you feel if there’s a significant delay on the project and it takes far longer than you estimated to complete?


Beyond cost and decision-fatigue, people often don’t realise how stressful it can be to see a project timeline blow out, or the mess that a remodel will make. There are ways to manage these stresses, but I think it’s worth considering how much you are prepared to take, before you begin.


Break it down


Beat the overwhelm by breaking the project down into manageable parts.


When deciding what’s possible for you, it helps to create an overview of the project. Start with a list of the rooms (or spaces within a room) that you want to change and another list of the rooms that will remain the same. For example, you might want to keep the entrance, living room and dining area as they are, but remodel the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. You can treat these as three separate parts of the one project.


Questions to ask:

  • Which space needs the most work?

  • Which room is hardest to live with and which one is bearable, for now?

  • Can you rank the rooms in order of need, cost and time to complete?

  • If you do the kitchen first, what alternatives do you have for preparing meals? Can you set up a microwave oven in the dining area and use the laundry to clean dishes?

  • If you do the bathroom first, do you have a second bathroom that everyone can use, or can you use the laundry?

  • Can you upgrade the laundry into a mudroom with shower and/or toilet facilities, with a view to using it when you remodel your bathroom?


This helps you to see the full scope of the project and make decisions about how much you can do, how much time it might take, and how you want to take things forward.


Maybe you’ll change your mind about what you want to do and scale it back. Perhaps you’ll realise you can take on more than you thought. Thinking about how you’ll structure the project helps you to make choices about what you will tackle first.


All at once?


Just get it all done. Makes it easier to schedule trades. Cost savings of gearing up for the project once.


For more complex projects, it you have the stamina, time and budget, you might to choose to do the whole project all at once. This is a big deal. Someone will need to manage the project and oversee all the elements. If you have never done this before it can be a substantial challenge. I’m sure you have seen building and renovation shows where the owner decides to project manage while working their day job. Inevitably they get someone else on board or take time out of their regular work (or quit their job!) to manage the project.


Take time to think about how you want to do this. There are advantages of getting geared up to do the project all at once – a larger job is more attractive to trades, you schedule people once and don’t risk losing them for the next stage of works, and you can schedule all your purchasing.


You can also deal with any unexpected circumstances – like finding out you need a new roof – early in the full project. Imagine doing the ground floor in stage one only to discover when you get to the first floor in stage two - months later - that you have a roofing problem. You need a new roof and now your lovely new, finished ground floor won’t be watertight!


Bite size chunks


Do what you can, when you can, and when you can afford it.


If doing it all at once isn’t for you, there is no reason why you can’t break the project down into more manageable chunks.


The key is to prioritise and listen to the advice of a designer, builder or general contractor. Your priorities will depend on what you set out to achieve but also what elements of the project need to be in place first before the rest can go ahead.


Setting a budget


The law of averages plus contingency plus distance. Scheduling trades.

Patience required.


Everyone wants to know how much for the whole project and rarely will you find a single, definitive answer. There are good reasons for giving a ballpark figure. The project scope might change. People change their mind about what they want to do. Unforeseen challenges pop up along the way – remember that roof?


People working in trades are often super busy and it’s not always easy to schedule them when they’re needed on your project – particularly if you’ve picked a busy time of year, you’re in a busy location, or you’ve been impacted by scheduling delays.


Good news is you can get a rough room by room or whole house cost estimate from various websites. You can also get a sense of how much trades will charge for their work. Then you can create your own ballpark estimate for the work and compare it to what you’re quoted.


Add in a 15% contingency for unforeseen hiccups and tack on a healthy extra amount if there’s going to be distance involved (for the work itself and deliveries of products and materials).


Now you have a sense of the possible costs, you can decide on your budget and the scope of the project, as well as the way you plan to take it forward.


Next steps


Speak to a professional. Line up the funds. Council permits? Check your insurance.


In order to feel comfortable with the choices you make, it makes sense to do a little bit of homework first, so you know what you want. Then you can talk to a professional to get some advice on the next steps.


No matter what you choose to do, you’re in the driver’s seat. This is your project, so you get to choose the route you take.


If you want to talk to someone about your idea for a project, then please send me an email or give me a call. I’m happy to have a no obligation chat with you about what you want to do.

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