Make sure your project doesn't fall prey to these common remodeling pitfalls

kitchen remodel

By Randi Jo Gause

Who doesn't dream of turning their home into a dream home? If you've finally found the time and the budget to take on a home remodeling project or two, you've likely set your sights on the two most popular rooms in the house.

"Kitchens and bathrooms are the most commonly remodeled areas of the home because those are the two rooms that you get the most return on your money when you sell your property," points out Amy Moore, principal interior designer at Trailboss Solutions.

But while the value of remod eling your kitchen and/or bathroom is a no-brainer, it's also a big undertaking, and mistakes can be costly and frustrating. To help you avoid the pitfalls that often snag unsuspecting homeowners, here's some advice to help you set realistic expectations and see positive results.

Pitfall 1: Poor planning

Get a plan. People who do less homework before they began their home-improvement projects tend to face more problems. Start by critiquing your current kitchen or bathroom. What works? What doesn't? Then ask yourself questions about how you are going to use the space. For the most effective design, try to match your plan to your lifestyle – to the way you actually work and live in that room. Create a planning workbook. Keep a file of clippings of styles and products you like. Set a spending limit.

Pitfall 2: Trying to do it yourself

Perhaps you've watched so much HGTV and Martha Stewart that you've fallen victim to the do-it-yourself phenomenon. There are plenty of projects that do-it-yourselfers can handle, but when it comes to big remodeling projects, you're better off hiring a professional. Amateurs can make costly mistakes that, if not corrected, can devalue the house when it's time to sell. Not to mention you'll be stuck living with the poor workmanship every day.

In the long run, hiring a professional designer and/or contractor will save you both time and money, explains Moore. "It's just like using a travel agent. Oftentimes they can get you to places you've never dreamed of before – and for less than you could find on your own."

An experienced professional can help you navigate the challenges of staying on budget, on time and locating materials that will work best in your space.

Pitfall 3: Settling for the first contractor you speak with

You don't know one company from another, but that's no reason to select one by tossing a coin. Do some research. Not only should your contractor and/or designer fit your budget, you should be confident that they can accommodate your schedule, and that they're properly licensed, reliable and experienced.

Be sure to get more than one bid on the project. And get everything in writing to avoid complications later. Bids should include itemized details on materials, labor and time needed to complete the project. Know that contractors' bids can widely vary due to the quality of materials, amount of labor, etc.

Also, ask to see the work they've done. Talk to other homeowners who have used the same contractor you are considering. Ask the right questions: Was he within his estimate? Did she finish on time? Did they keep the job clean and did they tidy up nicely afterwards? Were his workers polite and on time? Do you have any complaints? A little time spent on researching your contractor can save you a lot of headaches later.

Pitfall 4: Settling for the cheapest estimate

With contractors, go with someone who's highly recommended and experienced in your type of renovation, not the cheapest guy.

The contractor you choose should be an expert in kitchens and/or baths, not roofs.

"Lowest isn't always best – oftentimes it just means you will be hit with multiple change orders as the project progresses," warns Moore. "Make sure all the estimates that you gather have a detailed scope of services, so that you can easily compare bids and select the one that addresses all of your needs."

Pitfall 5: Setting an unrealistic schedule

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your new kitchen or bathroom. No matter how well you plan ahead, unforeseeable events can interfere with your plans. Delays in receiving materials or other unplanned circumstances can affect your perfect schedule.

Placing a contractor on a condensed timeline can compromise the quality of the work performed. "The true professionals in the industry will set 'real' expectations for their clients," says Moore.

The key is building in sufficient padding time to accommodate mishaps or delays. "On any project, add 10 percent or more to your schedule to make sure that you have time to get everything completed," recommends Stacey Dean, from Grayling Construction. "There is nothing worse than having your mother-in-law show up before that bathroom remodel is finished." Synchronizing expectations with your designer and contractor is the foundation for good communication, and can smooth the emotional process of remodeling.

Pitfall 6: Doing a partial remodel

Try to conduct a full remodel on individual rooms, rather than a partial remodel. For example, don't replace your kitchen countertops without replacing the cabinets or floors.

"We see this often, then have the homeowner be unhappy with the results because the same old cabinets, lighting plan and layout are still there," says Dean. Oftentimes, the renovations or additions don't flow well with the room's former features, which leaves your original vision less than fulfilled. In some cases, the replacement of one element actually requires other modifications. For example, a cabinet replacement may require moving outlets and lighting fixtures to accommodate the size or location of the new cabinets. In these cases, the initial plan for a partial remodel can result in a costly mistake.

Pitfall 7: Remodeling both kitchen and bathroom in one fell swoop

Don't bite off more than you can chew, as the old saying goes. The kitchen and the master bath are the two hearts of the home, so compromising the functionality of both simultaneously is a risky commitment. Particularly with children, the situation can be very frustrating and trying on both patience and relationships.

"It is much easier to work around one major shut down at a time. This allows the client to better enjoy the process and see their dreams take form," explains Scott Allen, from Trailboss Solutions. Unless you're willing to move out for the duration of both projects, stick to one project at a time.

Pitfall 8: Changing plans

Every time you ask for something to be changed, there will be a delay and a cost. The same holds true for unexpected events, such as newly discovered mold inside the walls. Try to control the number of changes that you initiate during a project. If you want to make a change, ensure that the change is made in writing and that it is signed by both parties before work begins. Ask for a revised timetable and budget in the event of any unexpected occurrences.

When planning your next remodel, keep these tips in mind, but also know that even the best-laid plans can go awry. So remember to stay patient with the process. Take deep breaths and keep the lines of communication open. Before you know it, you'll be relaxing and enjoying the comfort of your luxurious new kitchen or bath.