By David Wulff, AIA

Many people go into a renovation or remodeling project with unrealistic expectations. Unlike on our favorite renovating shows, gut jobs aren’t completed in 22 minutes. Most of them take months—even years. I like the current advertisement on TV where the contractor meets with the homeowner and says he will do the demolition then return in a few months. Although not all contractors are like that, you need to expect the unexpected. If you want to retain your sanity, be prepared!

Set Priorities

It seems simple, but the first question you need to ask is: “Are you renovating for resale or for lifestyle?” One of the most common misconceptions homeowners make when it comes to home upgrades is avoiding renovations that may not be perceived as increasing value of the property.   For example, upgrading kitchens and bathrooms is the first thing many homeowners think they must renovate for the biggest return on investment. However, I say customize your home so it works for your family’s lifestyle—don’t skip on that home office or backyard oasis just because it feels more personal or too small of an upgrade.

The second question is establishing a clear list of needs and wants. Determining priorities can help you decide on the proper scope for your renovation, and make effective choices in order to stay on budget. Writing everything down before starting can help you get a clearer picture of what you need. Separate what’s on your wish list and what are your must-haves. Prioritize these for future budget editing. You might want to consult with your spouse on this point. I have met with numerous couples over the years that never discussed everything they wanted to do when renovating.

Set a Budget

Establishing a budget up front is key to determining the scope of the project the homeowner can comfortably take on, and maintaining their other financial goals. Setting a realistic budget for a home renovation can be a daunting task—perhaps that’s why nearly a third of renovating homeowners don’t set a budget at all. After you set the budget, add an additional 15 – 20% contingency for unforeseen conditions that may arise.

When working on a smaller budget, cosmetic upgrades can make a big impact on your home’s overall appearance. Cosmetic upgrades do not have to be expensive, and they can freshen up any room. For example, updating your wall color, lighting fixtures, and refinishing flooring can make a big difference in any interior space. Upgrades to vanities and sinks and faucets can go a long way in the bathroom.

If the initial number you set is too high, don’t be afraid to break up your project into phases, Have the entire project designed out in detail; then let your budget decide the most responsible way to do it in reasonable chunks.

Stay on Schedule

Homeowner stress, anxiety, and worry can run high when renovating. With so many moving parts, it is understandable for anyone to feel worried. It’s important to be properly equipped with how to handle unwanted emotional stress that can overcome you mid-project. The last thing you need is to have your worries diminish the pleasure you’ll get from the new renovation.

Focusing on the endgame can help reduce worry during the project.   There is a reason you decided to renovate, whether it be more room for your family or because your lackluster kitchen needs a fresh look. When you’re able to envision the endgame, it’s easier to think more positively if you run into any temporary obstacles. In the end, keeping the big picture in mind can help not only reduce stress, but also keep the project on schedule.

DAVID H. WULFF, ARCHITECT welcomes the design challenges presented by new projects and is dedicated to developing innovative design solutions to meet every project requirement.

David H. Wulff, AIA 167 Trails End, Lake Lure, NC 828-625-5537,