It took Kathy Foley of West Toledo 10 years to cook up her new kitchen.
She started with frustration over a dysfunctional layout and lack of counter space, light, storage, and electrical outlets. Then she spiced things up with a bushel of dreams: pictures from magazines, tips from television programs, ideas borrowed from the Parade of Homes and home remodeling trade shows.
Finally, she boiled it down to the features she was determined to have and those she'd like to have if she and her husband, Will, could afford them.
"I spent 10 years planning and dreaming," Mrs. Foley says. Now that it's done, she says, "I love my kitchen. I love to cook. My husband asked me, 'Can we go out to eat ever again?' "
Ten years might be an unusually long planning phase, but people in the business of building and remodeling say that spending time on research - identifying your needs and wants, and establishing a budget, among other things - improves the odds that your project will be successful.
"If they do the homework prior to our first consultation, they feel like they are involved in the project and things run more smoothly," explains Steve Cox, Ohio sales manager at KSI Kitchen & Bath on West Central Avenue, which handled the Foleys' remodeling.
"The problems that arise when the customer is not involved is simply both parties are not on the same page. The designer knows what is going on but the customer gets confused. They either do not get what they want or they decide just to bail out entirely," Mr. Cox says.
KSI recommends that home-owners spend at least three hours doing research before they visit a designer or contractor. The company's "planning checklist" includes:
●Collecting ideas from magazines, kitchen and bath showrooms, house tours, design sites on the Internet, and people who have recently gone through a remodeling project.
●Defining your style (Country? Contemporary?) and your lifestyle (How is the room currently being used? How would you like to use it?).
●Identifying "must-have" features and those that would be "nice to have." Designers would like to get a project budget up front, "but quite honestly most people have no clue what a kitchen/bath remodeling project costs," Mr. Cox says via e-mail. In the absence of a budget, designers start with the customer's wish list, then scale back with less expensive options as necessary.
Jim Mossing, president of SMB Construction Co. on Jackman Road, advises home-owners to start by deciding what they're going to spend, if possible. Some people are aware of what things cost, he explains, but others "tend to get sticker shock, especially if they've owned their home for a long time."
When you meet with contractors to get estimates, let them know how much you have to spend, he continues. Be wary of hiring someone whose price is very low: "We see that a lot. It's obviously too cheap and they can't finish the project," Mr. Mossing says.
Your homework should include checking out a company before hiring. Mr. Mossing suggests talking to the Better Business Bureau, Home Builders Association of Greater Toledo, Toledo Home Remodelers Association, and previous customers.
Joe Bublick, president of Bublick Roofing & Construction on Secor Road, says homeowners should consider how long they're going to stay in their house. "If they're thinking about spending $50,000 and they're only going to be in the home for two years, that doesn't make sense," he says.
Next, Mr. Bublick says, they should think about what kinds of improvements would have the greatest lifestyle value - adding a bathroom or a family room, for example, to a small house occupied by a big family.
With all the information available today on home building, remodeling, and decorating, "It's easy to get an education before you do a project," says Mr. Bublick, who adds that he once did an entire house based on pictures the customer had clipped from magazines.
"The ones that really don't know what they want - they're the most difficult to work with. Sometimes they just can't make a decision," Mr. Bublick says.
But even the most well thought-out plans can be derailed once the project begins - as Mrs. Foley discovered when the contractor opened the wall behind the sink and found a leaking pipe and rotted wood. "It threw off the timing of the project quite a bit, but we were prepared to do the kitchen and I wanted to do it right," she says.
Mr. Bublick echoes that thought: Plan on the project taking twice as much time as you thought it would, he advises, but don't dwell on setbacks.
"They will never remember how long it took if it was done right," he says.
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