To date, the largest project I have tackled was general contracting the construction of my house in Lincoln a few years ago. I had a very supportive boss at the time who joined in on the fun and shared a boatload of advice and tips along the way. The biggest surprise during that time was the number of decisions that had to be made at literally every turn.

For those of you about to embark (or even just considering embarking) on a large renovation project, I’d like to share a few tips and tricks I learned along the way. They may allow you to sidestep some of the mistakes I made and could help you plan a little better for the whole project. Let’s get started.

As I mentioned above, the constant requirement for decision-making was not expected. I somehow assumed that once we settled on the dimensions for the home, everything would just fall into place. Not so much. With the help of some friends, we laid out the kitchen, living and bathrooms with masking tape and boxes in order to get a feel for the room sizes. We walked around the house (with no walls or roof) trying to imagine where light switches should go and where the heater would be best located. Even the windows, facing Franconia Ridge, had to be adjusted a few inches higher than “standard” in order for the top of the ridge to not be cut off from the view. It seemed like every day there was another trip up to the house to chat with the (awesome) builder to answer more questions.

And the vast majority of those decisions tended to have budget as an undertone. The windows facing the ridge were (in my head) going to be triangle windows to match the angle of the roofline. Once I learned how much those cost, we installed standard double-hung windows that suited the purpose just fine. We raised the visible level of the basement in order to incorporate windows to provide natural light down there. That provided for a nice high ceiling, but added to the overall cost of the foundation. Each of those decisions had to be weighed with function and cost at the forefront of my mind. These little lessons taught me that better planning up front would have not only saved me money, it would have lessened the number of trips I had to make to chat with the builder.

Whether it is a new home being built or a large renovation project, the notion that “things can always be changed” should be eliminated from your vocabulary. While it is true that things can be changed after they are started, those changes tend to slow things down, cost more money and impact other areas of the project. As I mentioned, the builder was easy to work with. He also had enough experience to educate me on how a given decision would impact other areas of the home. An adjustment to the kitchen windows impacted the second floor level. A change in skylight location impacted the location of the half bath and the master bedroom walk-in closet. Once again, planning ahead and sticking to that plan can save you a lot of headache.

I mentioned that I was very fortunate to have a hardworking, trustworthy contractor build my home. That said, I still visited the job site (almost) every day he was there and we maintained an open line of communication throughout the build. “Whether your project is a bathroom renovation or a whole house, it is imperative that you visit the project site and maintain communication with the workers throughout the entire project,” notes Badger Realty agent Linda Walker. “Regardless of how much you trust them or believe in their skills, it is so much easier to move a wall or adjust a door placement during the process, versus after the final nail has been set,” she continued.

Lastly, and this is only if you are involved in the procurement process, there are a myriad of places to get items for your project that don’t involved the big box stores. My entire kitchen (counters, sink, stove and cabinets) was purchased from a friend who was replacing hers. The timing worked out great. The bathroom vanities, interior doors (solid oak) and all the flooring for the entire first floor were purchased at Regal Auctions in Franklin (Their next one is Dec. 1). I can’t recommend that place enough. If you get a little creative (and are patient) with buying the necessary items, you can save a ton of money and maybe even get items that were thought to be out of your price range!

Tackling big projects can be exhausting and fraught with loads of expensive decisions and stress. As with most things in life, proper planning prevents poor performance. Get some help and give some thought to decisions well before those nails start to get driven in. You’ll be happier with the process and the result. See you in Franklin.

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