Considering Home Improvement

The things all Home Owners should consider before venturing out on a Home Improvement Project

For one thing, it’s never as easy as it looks!  The Things Home Improvement and Reality TV Shows Neglect to Mention.

Even after several hours of watching your favourite home improvement show, and weeks of mentally preparing yourself to take on this challenge.  And, as much as you might think you’re a self-proclaimed expert on the matter.  Hold some strain!  Most homeowners, old and new take on the perception that with the help of a few neighbours or relatives that have a pretty good idea of construction that they can make the necessary repairs or upgrades to their homes without the cost associated with hiring a qualified building design contractor.  This is usually the first and most costly mistake.

From past experiences I’ve seen homeowners literally in tears, after a project has gone terribly wrong with a gaping fissure down their living room wall, which could have been avoided had they factored in the cost of getting the project handled the right way by hiring  professionals.  In cases like these it ends up costing the homeowner more to rectify the problem presented along with having to complete the original upgrade.

It pays to remember that reality TV shows are just that, shows that are designed to entertain viewers, first and foremost.  I’m not saying that the repairs and remodels conducted are not real but most times the time given to complete the projects are abridged and adjusted to help manage the shows production time constraints.  A project that they list as taking 8 weeks to complete with six guys working diligently in the background, would realistically take three and a half months to complete with six guys on the job.  But, in reality the viewers never see the twenty guys working off screen on the same project to have completion by 8 weeks.

I remember many years ago as a new graduate I got an email one day from an online job placement service that I subscribed to back then, one used by the trades called Coroflot, that I had been selected for a pilot project and the employers (who were not mentioned at the time) were in search of  a Home Improvement Designer to spearhead their project.  Needless to say I was elated to be even considered, so I packed up my portfolio, put on my best ‘designer’ outfit and headed for Connecticut and presented myself for the interview.  To my shock it didn’t look like much, a huge warehouse type of building, with a small desk and an under-dressed person who immediately stuck some papers in my hand while greeting me and told me to quickly memorize the contents.  As I sat and looked around, only to realize that this was a script for a casting and that all the other under-dressed people that were coming in were all actors and actresses.  Not to my knowledge then, but we were all there being screened for the first ever Home Improvement Reality TV Show to be aired on American TV.  Needless to say I never got past the interview process – I’m no actress!  But it goes to show that when Reality TV for Home Improvement Shows first began none of the then said ‘Home Improvement Designers’ were even qualified Designers.

So, if you want to get working on improving your home and surroundings, start by formulating a realistic budget.  Your home in some cases is your major biggest investment so, why put it in the hands of just anybody to conduct repairs or upgrades?  Next, determine how much of your budget is allocated for building materials needed to complete a single phase or the entire project and then set aside an allocated amount to pay a labour force.  Keep in mind that the cost for the labour force is nothing less than an additional (60 – 80%) added to the estimated cost of your building materials.  Now that you have done that, add another (15 -20%) for contingency.  This takes care in the event of social economic shock like unexpected price increases in materials, or an increase in fuel prices which affects building material costs tremendously. Also, for any unforeseen repairs that might pop up during the project and were not allocated initially.  In this event a rider agreement should be prepared along with your original agreement to include any additional work and all parties involved should sign in agreement to continue without upsetting the flow of production.

It is wise that homeowners acquire a quote from a reputable licensed building contractor.  If the extent of your repairs or upgrade is going to have a huge impact on your daily living arrangements, you may have to weigh the odds on whether it is feasible to remain on site while your upgrades are being made, can you cope with the intrusion or does it make better sense for all involved to vacate the premises while your upgrades are being conducted.  Factor in occupants that suffer with respiratory conditions, asthma, those sensitive to dust, younger children and babies and the mobility of the elderly during this time. Though referrals are sort after by many homeowners, it is also a good practice to have an agreement signed by the contractor of your choice. Make sure they provide you with a detailed scope of work, ensure to read your fine prints so you know what you are getting is exactly what you paid for and that all parties are covered throughout the project.

Your home is your castle and whether the upgrades you plan on making are for your own enjoyment or your plan stems further to putting your house on the market these home improvement ideas will certainly give you a better appreciation when planning your budget.  Keep in mind the actual cost of your project will vary some based on many factors including the scope of work to be carried out, the location and demographics of your home and the quality of the materials that you select. The experience of your contractor is another important factor; a contractor with little experience in purchasing may cost you more in raw material wastage.

One important element is the maintenance of your home.  We here in the Caribbean do not pay enough emphasis on the upkeep of our investment.  We tend to adopt the notion ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it…’ preventative maintenance is import for the overall life and durability of a sound and worry free dwelling. It’s good practice to give your home an overall inspection every few months, check your outdoor as well and your indoor plumbing, check your foundations and  walls for signs of cracks, if your electrical is outdated, make the necessary arrangements to have this corrected quickly.  Rotting eves, leaks and fascia boards should be replaced before serious damage sets in that can cost you more in the long term.

And lastly, but by no means least, have a realistic view of the timelines.  Even though you may be given an expected timeline of let’s say (6 – 8 weeks) for completion.  No one can predict ‘Acts of God’, bad weather can severely delay a project and in some cases it could actually help like with the setting of a foundation.  But this is not the case if you are trying to get the cover onto a roof, so it would be wise to keep these in mind.  Also, inflationary shifts can hamper projects especially if they are long term, lasting several months to a year.  Spending costs could increase during this time which is why it’s always good to have a contingency fund.

Question:    Home improvement on a tight budget – what are some of the ways you can improve your home without the expense?

One of our favourite ways of conducting a home improvement project for a client on a tight budget is to recommend what we designers call ‘Face-lifting your Home.’ This is more an uplift than an upgrade and is better suited to most persons on a tight budget.  In the industry we have a term called ‘staging’ and what that is, is basically outfitting your home with props, the same way real estate professional do when trying to woo a potential client to purchase property.  So, why not ‘stage’ your home for your own enjoyment?

Let’s start with organizing – Remove the clutter, it’s easier to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings when you remove all the unnecessary  materials that take up space and often times hide the beauty of fine pieces of furniture, or accents.  So the first step is clear your clutter.  If it doesn’t belong in that room remove it.

Second – Mask it!  Ah, the joys of paint!  A good paint job will hide many ills; a great paint job could make you fall in love with a room!  There are numerous ways to enhance or highlight walls in your home by simply choosing the right wall finish.  Colour washing techniques and wall textures using many applications are all the rage, and one of our favourites is ‘Wood Paneling’ – by accentuating a wall with a beautiful mosaic wood paneling and adding ambient up-lights on either side creating an alluring backdrop for your furniture, is definitely a conversation piece for your guests.

Three – Trick the Eye!  Most homes are not as large as we’d like them to be, and if they are the furniture does not always compliment the space, some end up looking cramped in the space and others lost completely in the expanse.  So, how do we fix this?  Simple – plan your layout, know your space.  Unless you plan on buying new furniture or use the ones you already own, you need to ensure that your furniture is in keeping with the purpose of the room.  You won’t put a sofa in the kitchen, but you can add some stools to a peninsula creating a dining experience to entertain your guests bringing them closer to you in your element while showing off your culinary skills.  Another way to create space is to ‘float your furniture’ keep your furniture 3 -4 inches away from walls in a small space and this will give the illusion that the walls are further away than they actually are.  Use large mirrors to expand a room, placed strategically they reflect light, colours and add dimension.

While we are on the topic of furniture a good make over shaves tons off the cost of buying new furniture, try re-vamping the old ones.  An old chest of drawers or coffee table that is sturdy but has lost its appeal due to wear and tear doesn’t have to be thrown out, with a little creativity and a trip to the paint shop you can make it look like new.  This is especially true with older chairs and sofas.  Look up a good upholsterer, have an idea or carry a picture of what you think the new piece should look like and find out what your options are, you may be able to add plush ribbed cushions as a plus when having a piece re-upholstered.  Or enhance an old living room set by replacing the old legs with newer ones and changing the upholstery making it look completely new.

Four – Spruce up your kitchen.  It’s one of the most popular spots in your home; give it a lift by adding some under-mount cabinet lighting.  This relatively low cost addition is a brilliant way to add – sass to your kitchen without the expense but you should enlist the help of your local electrician to do a simple looping of the lights so they all turn on at once with a simple switch.  Another quick fix is to update the old hardware, buy a new faucet and replace the old hardware on your cabinets with new ones, add a little polish and wha-la!  Your cabinets look like new.  Also re-surfacing your kitchen’s backs-plash tiles or counter-tops using large (2’ x 2’) modern Spanish Porcelain Tiles or Pre-fab Solid Surface counter-tops is cheaper than going for granite or quartz.  It can save you lots of money and change the entire look of your kitchen.

Five – Powder Room Make Over.  If you still have that old vanity or single pedestal sink, and those unattractive tiles and grout mirrored with unsightly dis-coloured caulk in your powder room, then consider a simple upgrade by purchasing a new ‘Vanity & Sink Combo’ at your home improvement store. They have many to choose from that come in different colours, shapes and sizes to fit most vanity spaces; invest in a new faucet, clean out and replace that old dis-coloured silicone or caulk, knock off those old back-splash tiles and at this point you can go a little over board with price and choose some really exquisite tiles, remember you are only covering a small area of ‘back-splash’ so it’s okay to spend a little more.  Use some accents, matching towels, a plush new floor mat, or a teak step mat for those wood enthusiasts!  Some new shower curtains and consider repainting the entire room anchoring all of your accents.  Top off with a beautifully stenciled painted pattern to one of the walls.

Six – Update Lighting Fixtures.  This is a very important element of your home’s design and great lighting will bring your home to life!  Replace ordinary flush mount ceiling fixtures with new hanging pendants or chandelier fixtures that add elegance and class to your home.  The same can be done for wall mounted lights by purchasing elegant wall sconces, but, you will require an electrician to install the new fixtures.  Ask the electrician to have task or ambient lights installed in a location that may not have had one previously.  Lamps are stylish and add illumination that covers those sometimes dark areas in a room or can be used to light task areas for a specific function.  Outdoor lighting fixtures can also benefit from this upgrade.

Seven – Introduce Crown Molding, but if your budget doesn’t allow for you to have it install throughout your home, then settle for having it installed in just the living room and see the difference it makes  in perking up this high traffic spot.  While there are many other types of moldings you can add to your home, to keep cost effective crown moldings add a touch of sophistication without going the extra mile.  Now, they are not as easy to install as they look, so have your Home Improvement Specialist give you a cost on having them properly installed, because badly installed crown moldings are unsightly.

Eight – Uplift your Entrance, one of the first things that catches your eye as you look at a home is the entrance.  Most people spend a lot of money in choosing the right entrance door to their house, which is why an upgrade to this feature could make a vast improvement on the esthetics of your home. Choose an entrance door that reflects what you want people to know about you.  A Sturdy strong Natural Wood Entrance or An Artistically Rustic Wrought Iron design or the combination of both can portray a daring even formidable personality. And, a Bold Brightly Coloured Entrance way can prove that you like standing out from the crowd.

Nine – Curb Appeal.  Homeowners tend to forget that there is a direct connection with their outside landscaping and the inside of their home and it is important to maintain the synergy in their surroundings.  Mirror two shrubs in heavily potted urns on either side of your entrance way to give the look of grandeur and for designing your garden have a floral and shrub plan prepared before you start.  Make a sketch of what you would like your garden to look like or go online and choose one of many options available, do your research.  If you plan on making it a do-it-yourself project, then visit your plant nursery and get the necessary plants and fertilizers needed to start your garden.  If you don’t have a green thumb or a vision then it’s better to enlist help from your local garden shop that offers landscaping assistance at an affordable price.  Their professional team will work with you to create a garden you can personalize and enjoy.

Question:     How can one carry out home improvement on a rental, given the constraints?

Take for instance the long term renter, who has renter most if not all his/her life and probably does not qualify for a mortgage or in some instance because of the nature of his/her employment it is much more feasible for the individual to rent only short term accommodations.  First things that come to mind are:  “Will my landlord approve of me making changes to his house or apartment, and two:  “Why should I spend money on a home that isn’t mine?” To answer those questions simply, it is ‘Your Home’ and sometimes improvements are needed to make where you call home that much more comfortable.

Offer to take care of the Improvement Costs:   In long term rentals, where repairs are needed and the landlord may not be in the position to make the necessary upgrades the tenant  could come to an agreement with his/her landlord to provide the funding for the project and have the cost deducted from their monthly rental agreement.  If the tenant is managing the home improvement  repairs this gives them more leeway to choose the details they want, like paint colours, floor treatments or new cabinet styles for more extensive upgrades like refurbishing of bathroom or kitchen repairs.  Get your landlord’s consent in writing if you are making changes that are prohibited by your lease agreement and have your landlord sign a written document giving you permission to make these modifications.   Enhancing your home’s security features can also be upgraded in this manner.  Persons wishing to spruce up their rental homes can take advantage of the following:

Paint your Walls and Furniture
The easiest and most frugal way to personalize a rental space is to paint the walls, if you enjoy bold and daring colors or even pastels consider painting a small space or accent one or more walls.  Try changing the colour or the finish on a piece of furniture this adds an interesting spin to the rest of the room.

Lamplight It or Dim It!
Lamplight is cozy, romantic and easy on the eyes; it’s perfect for creating the right mood when entertaining so, switch off the overheads and turn on some lamps.  Adding dimmers to your light switches lets you adjust the mood in any room and having control over the lighting lets you make each room your own.

Add Wall Art
You need to personalize your space, after all it’s your home.  How does the saying go?  “Home is where you hang your hat…” well you need to hang a few interesting pieces of artwork that speak to you as a person.  Hanging pictures of family & friends, graduation ceremonies, or your cousins wedding photos whatever your choice make the space your own.

The Floors have It!
The floor you inherit may be depressing and the only thing stopping you from taking a torch to it is the fact that it isn’t yours.  Thanks to new and exciting floor finishes that can be installed right over existing ones without disturbing the old surface; you can have a beautiful wood floor finish to admire for as long as you stay in your rental.  Engineered wood grain floor finishes come in countless styles and board width sizes that are pleasing to look at and a perfect feel under your feet.   They can be installed as ‘Floating Floors’ that go down right over the old one with a cushioned pad that causes no damage to the original floor what-so-ever.

Treat your Windows
They’ll be glad you did! There are endless window embellishes out there so you don’t have to settle for simple.  If you want to go different and not have store bought window drapes then go back to the old days when every holiday would meet you with a trip to the Sew Shop with fabric in hand and have your own personal window treatments made-to- order.  Not only do you ensure that no-one else turns up having your same design, you get to add your own sense of style to your home.

First things first, collect and categorize your décor items for each room you wish to decorate.  “Remember, furniture is furniture, but it’s the accessories you place in a room that makes a space your own.”  – Analee Achee-Hoyte.  Twenty percent of your décor should be apportioned to the purchasing and placing of accessories and ‘tabletop’ touches.  The right placement of accessories define a room and give it that ‘Designer’s Touch.’

Go with the Flow
Without making serious changes to the structure of your rental, you still have the ability to enhance your surroundings.  Just as the seasons change so can your décor keeping the mundane at bay so change as often as you like and as much as your budget will allow.  A bright and happy home makes for a bright and cheery personality. Keep looking for ways to enhance your décor, splash in the brilliantly bright shades of orange throughout your décor this thanksgiving and move into the warm and inviting appeal the holidays bring with its glamorous table dressings; and beautifully adorned window treatments.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with colours, textures and the appeal aromatic scents add to your decorating experience.