Remodeling Lessons from the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, in the northern Indian city of Agra is without question one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The majority of the structure—commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1632—took 11 years to complete and additions to the project went on for another 10 years.  Approximately 20,000 artisans were employed to create and decorate the building, which cost an estimated $827 million (in 2015 dollars). Roughly 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year.

Most of us don’t have the building or remodeling budget that Shah Jahan had. And we generally can’t afford to wait for 21 years to complete a project. There are, however some lessons we can pick up from this spectacular building.

  • Great Design Never Goes Out of Style: The Taj Mahal was completed more that 350 years ago, but millions of people flock to see it every year because of its exquisite beauty. When you’re considering a remodeling of your home, good design is an essential. Fads (including home design fads) will come and go, but quality design will ensure that you end up with remodeling results that still look good years from now. That’s why it’s important not to rush the design part of the remodeling process. Make sure you have a design you’ll be happy with when the project is done—and for years down the road.
  • The Importance of Form and Function: When you look at the Taj Mahal, it’s easy to imagine you’re looking at some grand palace. In fact the building is a mausoleum—a monument built to honor the memory of the shah’s wife. It is an enduring reminder of his love for her. When you remodel your home, you’re not building a monument—but you probably have a specific reason for making some changes. It can be easy to get wrapped up in details during the remodeling process, but it’s important that you (and your remodeler) stay true to the purpose for which you’re doing the remodeling. Focus on the function. What are you trying to accomplish with your kitchen or bath remodeling?  Make sure you communicate that to your contractor early on. Remodeling is all about making your home more comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Details Do Matter: As impressive as the Taj Mahal is from a distance, it’s the attention to detail—both on the exterior and in the interior—that really make this structure so remarkable. When you choose a remodeler for your home, make sure you pick someone who will pay attention to the details that make a difference when the project is complete. You don’t have to strive for absolute perfection, but you also don’t settle for “close enough.”

Three Important Documents for Your Home Remodeling Project

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were without question two of the most important documents in the building of our country. There are also some very important documents you should pay attention to when you’re remodeling your home.

1. Your Contract: The contract you sign with your remodeler spells out all the terms and conditions involved in doing the remodeling work. It covers price, materials, schedule, and a host of other things. This document exists to protect both you and us, so don’t be in a rush to sign it. Verbal communication about your expectations and commitments can be misunderstood. Your written contract spells everything out in detail and makes sure everyone involved are on the same page.

2. Your Plan/Design: The plan/design for your project is your chance to visualize how the new remodeling will look. This is helpful because sometimes seeing the plan/design laid out gives you a clearer idea of what’s really happening. And it’s better to make changes at the planning stage rather than during the construction phase.

3. Your Change Order Form: Let’s be honest, sometimes changes do happen in the middle of a project. Some may be small changes – some may be more significant. A change order form spells out exactly what the change is, what it will cost, and how it may affect the schedule. Once again, it makes sure everything is clear and all parties are on the same page.

These documents are essential to making sure your home remodeling delivers the results you want, so read them carefully before signing your “John Hancock!”

The Key to Keeping Remodeling Under Control

june_planningIf you’re thinking about remodeling your home you’re probably not considering anything that approaches the scope of what took place at the Truman White House. You may be thinking more along the lines of remodeling your kitchen, your master bathroom, or opening up space inside your home to give it a roomier, more spacious feel.

Your remodeling project, however, will share two elements with the White House renovation: A timeline and a budget.

As remodelers, two of the most common questions we hear are: “How much will this cost?” and “How long will this take?” The good news is that there is a simple key to keeping your remodeling project on schedule and within budget: Planning.

It sounds simple, but it’s so important. Good planning for a remodeling project begins with you. You need to figure out exactly what it is you want. This involves more than simply looking at great pictures on Houzz.com or HGTV (although, you can glean some really great ideas that way). Planning means identifying how you want your home to better fit your lifestyle.

Do you want to entertain in your kitchen? Do you want to do more gourmet cooking? Do you simply want more space—or more efficiency in your kitchen?

Do you want to create a spa-like atmosphere in your master bath so you can retreat? Or perhaps you’re thinking about the future and you want to create a master bathroom that looks beautiful but will also be easily accessible as you get older.

Another part of planning is creating a realistic budget. The idea here isn’t to see how cheaply you can build something. The idea is to determine what you can really afford to pay and still get the value (quality) you want. You don’t want to spend more than you should, but you don’t want to cut corners (which will end up costing you more later).

Once you’ve decided what you want and how much your budget should be – or if you have questions – sit down with us. As a professional remodeler, we’re trained to solve those kinds of problems. We may have ideas and solutions you hadn’t considered. And we’ll be able to give you a pretty accurate estimate for how long it will take and what it will cost.

Planning ahead yourself and then planning together with us will help you keep your remodeling project under control.

Great results, on time, and on budget

May is also a great month for home remodeling.

For some homeowners, however, facing a remodeling project feels like the Mexican army facing the French army: They feel overwhelmed and ill equipped. That’s when working with a professional remodeler like us really helps. We can help you come up with a “battle plan” for tackling what can feel like insurmountable odds.

Here are some of the key components of that “battle plan.”

  • Project Goals and Scope: We can help you map out exactly what you want to accomplish. You tell us what you want to achieve and we can come up with the plan for making that happen. You don’t have to figure out how to do it—that’s our job. We are trained to come up with solutions that you might not even consider.
  • Budget: Together, we need to arrive at a realistic budget for the project. Realistic is a key word here. You don’t want to pay more than you can or should. But your goal isn’t to see how cheaply you can get the job done. You want to get the job done right at a fair price.
  • Schedule: We can also provide you with a schedule for how long your project should take. While projecting an exact date is tricky, we will have a solid idea of when the project can be completed. If you have a specific date in mind (for a wedding reception or a birthday celebration), make sure you share that up front. That can alleviate a lot of stress later.

With the right remodeling team in place and some thoughtful planning, you can take on any remodeling project and end up with great results, on time, and on budget. Now that’s worth celebrating!

Everybody will cut you some slack

Two simple steps can help you choose wisely instead of foolishly.

1. Identify a Problem or Something That Needs Improvement: The whole purpose of remodeling is to increase the comfort and convenience of your home.

First you need to figure out what you don’t like (the problem) and then identify how you want things to improve. You don’t have to figure out how to make it happen. You just have to identify what the problem is and what you want things to be like once the problem is solved.

Here are a couple of examples of what that might look like:

  • Problem: Master Bathroom is crowded and dark and it’s a pain to get ready for work in the morning when sharing a sink.
  • Solution: More space; a double sink, and more light (natural light if possible)
  • Problem: Kitchen feels crowded, dark, and cut off from dining area. It’s not ideal for entertaining guests.
  • Solution: Open up kitchen space; redesign configuration for more efficiency; open up view to dining area; bring in more light.

 2. Establish Priorities: You may have several things you’d like to do, but what are your priorities? What should you do first? It can be helpful to think in terms of “Must-Haves” (things that are really essential) and “Nice-to-Haves” (things you’d like to do if you have the time and money). Let’s use the kitchen project above as an example.

  • Must-Have: A more efficient kitchen with enough room for family to eat together.
  • Nice-to-Have: A larger, dramatic-looking kitchen with top-end appliances, and more space to entertain guests.

Again, you don’t have to come up with the solution. You need to communicate your priorities to us. But go ahead and share your “Nice-to-Haves” as well. Sometimes we may be able to satisfy your “must-have” needs, and some of your “nice-to-have” needs at the same time.

April 1st may be a fun time to enjoy foolish pranks, but wise homeowners identify their real needs and then prioritize which ones to work on.

A brilliant person came up with this concept

More Than Hearts, Flowers, and Chocolates
Chances are that when you think of February, Valentine’s Day is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a nice image: hearts, flowers, chocolates, and romantic dinners.

It wasn’t always that way. The Old English term for February was Solmonath – or “mud month!” The folks at Hallmark are eternally grateful that this particular moniker didn’t catch on.

For a lot of homeowners, dealing with mud is a much bigger problem than picking out flowers or chocolates. And mud isn’t something that’s restricted to one day in February. It’s something many of us face throughout the year.

Of course that’s why some brilliant person came up with the concept of the mudroom – to keep mud (and other dirt) out of the home. But your mudroom doesn’t have to be dirty and dingy. Installing larger windows can really brighten it up and make it a more inviting entrance into your home. And it’s a logical place to add increased storage in what could be considered “wasted” space.

It’s also a great place to put your washer and dryer so that you don’t have to haul laundry down to the basement and back up again. And if you’re a dog owner, you might even want to install a sink for washing the dog (which you can also use for other clean-up projects as well).

Maybe the Old English were onto something after all. February may not be “mud month” where you live, but it’s a good time to think about adding a mudroom—or remodeling the one you have to get more out of it.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Looking Back and Looking Forward
 
Even those of us who don’t write out a list of New Year’s resolutions tend to look at January as a time of new beginnings and fresh opportunities. In fact, January takes its name from Janus. In ancient Rome, it was Janus who guarded the gate to the New Year. He was often depicted as having two faces (as shown here on this Roman coin): One looking back at the old year and one looking forward to the new one. The beginning of a New Year is a great time to think about new beginnings for your home. But like Janus, you may want to take a quick look back at your home (and specifically how you’ve used it in the past) before you start making plans for the future.

Coming off the holiday season, you probably have some pretty clear impressions of what it was like to entertain larger groups of people. What did you like about hosting company in your existing home? What was frustrating? Would you do more entertaining if your home was better able to accommodate guests?

Perhaps the first home remodeling project that comes to homeowners’ minds is the kitchen—because so much social activity revolves around the kitchen today. Would having a bigger—or even just a more efficient—kitchen make it more enjoyable to host guests in your home? A redesigned kitchen can have a huge impact on your whole home. And while this involves more than just a “face-lift” that a fresh coat of paint provides, it also delivers a lot more in the way of enjoyment.

Or maybe you felt a little cramped in your family room over the holidays and you’re thinking it would be nice to open up the space between your kitchen and your family room. Creating an open, airy space like this is something else that can change the whole character of your house.  And while it may sound a bit intimidating (and you don’t want to start knocking out walls without having a professional check the structural integrity first), there are few renovations that have such a dramatic affect.

So as you enter the New Year, take a cue from Janus and give a quick look back at what you liked or didn’t like about your home and then look forward to what you’d like to change.

The problem with winter sports is that—follow me closely here—they generally take place in winter
– Dave Barry

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of imagination

Hang With Care!

ChristmasStocking

We all know the line from The Night Before Christmas (actually entitled, A Visit From Saint Nicholas): “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…” But where did the tradition of hanging stockings originate?

Nobody knows for sure, but the most popular legend describes a poor widowed man with three daughters who was afraid that (due to a lack of dowry) his daughters would never marry. When St. Nicholas heard about the man’s plight, he slid down the man’s chimney at night, and filled the girls’ stockings (hanging by the fire to dry) with gold coins.

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of imagination 

In some households in the US, emptying the Christmas stockings is a bigger deal than opening the presents under the tree. Even though they’re smaller, stockings are often filled with lots of surprises—some of them quite valuable.

Remodeling a home—instead of moving to a new one—is a bit like that. It may not be as big a deal, but you may find that your existing home is full of surprises that you didn’t expect.

The kitchen you thought was too small and dark can actually be turned into a delightful room that’s fun for work and entertaining. That attic space that seemed unusable could actually end up being a spare bedroom or study. And that basement—you know, the one where the kids never liked going alone when they were little—can end up being a great family entertainment room for watching movies as a family.

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of imagination—and expertise. If your existing home feels a little cramped or “tired” this holiday season, give us a call. Tell us what you’d like to see happen. We may have ideas you haven’t thought about and solutions you didn’t know were possible. Plus, we’ve got the tools, skills, and experience to turn those ideas into reality.
 
Oh, and we promise to use the door instead of coming through the chimney!

Wishing you a great holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

As we enter the New Year, keep in mind…

Your home and property are always good places to invest your dollars. Give us a call (402-617-6240) with any project questions – we are here to help. Thanks again!

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Trust your instincts when hiring a contractor

Most importantly, you have to feel that the contractor is right for you. You have to determine if the contractor will meet your expectations. If you get a bad feeling, invest the time needed to make sure they are the contractor for you.

The dierence in price between dierent contractors equals the value you receive or the experience that you will have.

Why is there such a difference in price between the contractors you are interviewing? Contractors all pay about the same labor rates, get materials from basically the same handful of suppliers, and pay the same fees for specialty trades. So what is the difference in cost? We believe it is the value you are going to receive when you hire that company.

Example:

Company [A] is a one–man operation with little or no insurance, works for wages, never mentions a warranty, hand draws a kitchen design on a napkin, pays his helpers cash under–the–table, uses the cheapest trade con-tractors out there, and has a one page agreement. His price for Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s kitchen is 40% less than Company B.

Company [B] is heavily insured,charges the right amount to ensure that they are in business 10 years from now should warranty issues arise, offers a written 5 year warranty, uses 3-D computer design soft-ware, pays their employees better than most… with great benefits, uses top–rung trade contractors who also warranty their work, and has a clear and thorough contract.

Which company offers the best value?

As a buyer you have many needs, wants, and expectations.

In the same way, each contractor offers their own way of completing a project and meeting their clients needs. It is very important to find the perfect fit for you. We hope that this guide enables you to find that contractor and begin a lifelong relationship with that company as you transform your home. We wish you the best as you begin your journey!

Asking The Right Questions Upfront

It is crucial that the contractor is reputable and can prove to you that he will honor the promises he is making to you up front.

Client’s Three Biggest Fears

Michael C. Stone (2007)
  1. Will they do the job I want them to do?
  1. Will they do the job at a fair price?
  1. Will they do the job in a timely manner? 

 

When interviewing a contractor, ask: Does the contractor…

  • Offer at least a 1 year written warranty?
  • Respond to warranty calls immediately? What is the process for doing so?
  • Have a guaranteed price using a fi xed–amount contract. Is this a 1-2 page agreement or a thorough detailed contract covering what is included, and more impor-tantly, what is NOT included in the project?
  • Provide an upfront production schedule at contract signing so that you know what will happen each day throughout the duration of your project?
  • Have written agreements with employees and trade contractors to ensure performance?
  • Institute a Pre–Contract Meeting for each project to ensure that everyone that is involved in the production phase of the project is familiar with the details, consequently eliminating “surprises” and possible change orders?
  • Have a list of outstanding references that you may contact on your own?
  • Acquire permits and use licensed trade and mechanical contractors (e.g. Plumber, electrician)
  • Have a license and certified staff for performing RRP Lead renovation required by the EPA on all homes 1978 and older?
  • Practice clear communication in a timely manner consistent with today’s technology?
  • Have a license and bond as required in your city?
  • Have written testimonials from past clients?
  • Show clear and well–done photos of past projects?
  • Possess at least 1 million dollars in liability insurance coverage and require that all trade contractors possess the same, in addition to their own workman’s compensation?
  • Have a clean reputation on the internet? (i.e. Google the company name)
  • Offer unique and attractive designs?
  • Have a detailed systems/processes to carry you through the sales–to–design–to–production phases of a project?
  • Have an idea of how long the project will take to complete, and also how long the design and planning phases will take?
  • Have a bid that is extremely low? Why?
  • Seem trustworthy and reliable? Does he or she put you at ease?
  • Communicate well with you, including listening?
  • Have a plan for how he or she will respect your home and your family?
  • Have their office located near you? The further away a contractor is the harder it is to properly service you and give you the attention you deserve.