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The first step in planning a home improvement project is establishing your goals. What are you trying to achieve? Are you tired of your old bathroom, leaking faucet, moldy tile and rusted bathtub or has your family grown and you can no longer all fit in your kitchen? It could be as simple as a bathroom makeover or as complicated as a kitchen or a family room addition with master bedroom suite above. Do you simply need to repair your patio or do you wish to create a larger patio and outdoor kitchen? This is where your dream becomes an actual wish list. At this stage, specifics are less important than establishing the scope of the project. A rough budget is helpful as well. This will help you determine what kind of professional help you need to achieve your goals.

Who will help you turn your dream into reality? You may be able to work directly with a contractor on a simple project such as rebuilding an old deck or a bathroom renovation, but more complicated projects will need the assistance of a professional designer or architect.

A designer can assist in creating a fresh look for your home. They can help in picking finishes, fixtures, fabric and furniture. A kitchen designer may be all you need for replacing cabinets and appliances for a kitchen makeover, but more involved projects often will require the assistance of an architect.

An architect can help with space planning, relocating interior walls or adding new space to your home. He or she can help turn your dream into an actual space with walls windows, doors and a roof. Your architect can help determine if there are any architectural or zoning constraints to your project. Usually if a building permit is required you will need an architect. You can check with your local building department if you are unsure whether an architect is required for your project.

Once you have determined that you need the help of an architect or designer, you will want to choose someone whose work reflects your own visual style and design sensibilities. Look at their work and see if it is what you would like to have in your home. Ask to see their portfolio, web site or projects in your community. Then ask yourself if you feel comfortable working closely with that individual. What is their reputation and are they well regarded in the community?

To get started, develop a program based on your goals. Start with a list of your wishes and requirements. Be specific if you can. For instance: “My dream kitchen has a large farmhouse sink, small prep sink, two dishwashers and professional range.” Put together some visuals from magazines or web-based images from sites such as Houzz. Some of us are more visual than others. Don’t be ashamed of your level of visual or design skill. This will help your architect or designer develop a vision of how your project will look. We are here to help reflect your personal style.

A very critical item at this point is to put together a firmer budget. Three factors that often come into play are: what savings or other funds are available for the project, how much can be comfortably borrowed, or how much do you think the improved property will be worth? It is important at this time to discuss your budget with your design professional. Dreams and pocketbooks don’t always match up and this might be the moment to try and scale back. All the effort and expense of developing a design that is too ambitious for the budget is no fun for anyone.

Open communication is key and your feedback is very important to your architect or designer. Feel free to explore more than one design concept. My most satisfying projects are those where the final design is a collaboration of my and the clients’ ideas. Enjoy the process. It can be fun. Remember if you need a little extra time at this point take it. It is cheaper to design on paper than in the field once construction has started.

Now that you have finished developing the Construction Documents it is time to bid the project, assuming you don’t have a contractor that you used in the past and wish to use again. Once again it is important in choosing a contractor to look for a good fit. A contractor that is great at bath renovations may not have the skills to handle a large and complicated addition. Again, what is their reputation and have they done other work in the community? Do your personalities mesh well together? Four to five bids are enough to determine the true value of the project. Reject bids that seem too low to be realistic. All too often they are indicators of future problems. Remember, construction bids typically do not include owner-supplied items such as cabinets, appliances, tile and plumbing fixtures, so budget accordingly. Also, remodeling is not a perfect science; reserve an additional 10 percent for possible extras such as fixing hidden framing or plumbing problems.

Now sit back and enjoy the show. While remodeling can be stressful, with the right choices and a good team of professionals a successful project is well within reach. Good luck and try and have fun. I still enjoy the process.

(Editor’s Note: Herbert Feuerstein can be contacted at 914-355-2200 or hefarch@optonline.net)

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