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'Make it Right': Get home renovations right the first time

General contractor Mike Holmes, star of the popular television programs "Holmes on Homes" and "Holmes Inspection," is a major force in changing the way US homeowners think about the building industry. Now, bestselling author Holmes is sharing with Americans his essential guide for every homeowner: "Make It Right: Expert Advice on Home Renovations." Whether a homeowner is just considering a renovat
/ Source: TODAY books

General contractor Mike Holmes, star of the popular television programs "Holmes on Homes" and "Holmes Inspection," is a major force in changing the way US homeowners think about the building industry. Now, bestselling author Holmes is sharing with Americans his essential guide for every homeowner: "Make It Right: Expert Advice on Home Renovations." Whether a homeowner is just considering a renovation or is already in the process, this book walks them through the entire process from start to finish. Here's an expert.

Chapter One: Slow Down

So you're planning a renovation. Maybe you've been thumbing through decorating magazines, looking at the latest kitchens, with their fantastic stone countertops and the most amazing new stainless-steel appliances. Or you've seen a nice bathroom on a TV show, with a big tub and flashy fittings. Or someone on your street has turned their old basement into a fantastic home entertainment center.

Or it might be your dreams are a little more down to earth. You've found a house in the right neighborhood, but it needs work-the bathroom is tiny, and the kitchen is looking a little tired. Or the kids are getting a bit older and you want to turn your basement into a place for them to play. Whether you are going wild or taking a simpler approach, a renovation is a good chance to really put your stamp on your home.

Renovations can seem expensive, but they pay off in the long run. Check with your local real estate agent; chances are you'll find that a midrange kitchen remodel will earn back about 72% of the money you spent on it. And a mid-range bathroom remodel will get you back about 71%. It's the same with other renovations: an addition, if it is a family room, will make you back about 62% of its cost, and a finished basement will earn back about 70%. These are good financial arguments for fixing up your home.

Lately I've been hearing a lot of comments from homeowners who are deathly afraid of doing any type of renovation, and even more afraid of buying a brand-new home. I don't want you to be afraid. I want you to be informed when you make decisions about the single most expensive investment in your life: your home. I want you to have the tools and the knowledge that you need to deal with contractors and builders. The more you know, the better your home will be. And that's just as simple as ABC. If it's built right, it lasts longer.

Step One: Slow Down

One problem today is that when we want something, we want it right away. When we want a burger, we just go to McDonald's. And when we want a new kitchen, we think we can just pick it up.

Renovating isn't like that. If you are planning a renovation, slow down. The work can't start tomorrow, and you can't hire the first person who comes through your door. We're looking at a process that can take up to a year before the renovation itself begins. You must take the time to educate yourself before you even pick up the phone to call a contractor.

First, be sure that you've spent enough time living in your home to determine what you like and what you want to change. You usually need at least a year in a house – four seasons, day and night – to figure that out. Just like people, homes have personalities, and you should take the time to get to know your home's personality before diving in to make major design changes. In other words, sleep on it.

Whether you've just moved in or you've lived there practically forever, spend some time really educating yourself about what possibilities there are for redesigning your home or any part of it. Read design books and magazines. Go to the big box stores and take their seminars to learn about techniques. Surf the Web to find out about new products and why you might want to use them. Learn how much they cost.

And, of course, read this book. In my more than 25 years in this business, I have done hundreds and hundreds of renovations. I'm going to walk you through the process. If you slow down and educate yourself, you'll have a better idea of what it is you want and what you need, so that when you're ready to call in contractors, you can determine if they know what they're talking about and if they're right for you and your job.

Step Two: Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

It's probably fair to say that most renovations come about for a combination of practical and aesthetic reasons. You're tired of cooking in that poorly designed, dingy kitchen with no storage space, let's say –and besides, you sure would like to have a fabulous-looking kitchen like the one you saw in that design magazine last week.

Whatever your reasons, plan your renovation down to the last detail, being realistic about what you'll really need and how much it will cost. Here's a brief list of what you should try to accomplish during the planning stage:

- Make a wish list of exactly what you want. You probably have lots of ideas; now, consult books, magazines, and maybe an interior designer or architect to help flesh out your ideas. Think in terms of layout, space, storage, fixtures, and finishes. Educate yourself about the best products available today-the ones that will ensure that your home is waterproof, energy-efficient, long-lasting, and attractive.

- Take a thorough inventory of your home, either by hiring a home inspector or by using chapters 3 and 4 of this book. You might also consult a plumber, electrician, or heating/cooling/air-conditioning (HVAC) expert to help you assess the state of your home's mechanical systems. Any or all of these steps will help you determine what underlying issues you may be facing. Be prepared to spend on these fundamentals before you splurge on expensive finishes.

- Determine how much money you can afford to spend, whether you get there by saving or by borrowing. Lots of banks and trust companies will loan you money for home improvements. Be careful to consider, though, how the repayment costs will affect your monthly budget. With a total cost figure in mind, take another look at your wish list and, if necessary, make it more realistic.

- Begin compiling a list of the various professionals you might want to work with for your renovation. The most important one, of course, is your general contractor. The next chapter will tell you what to look for in a general contractor and will also discuss the role of design professionals such as architects, engineers, and interior designers.

- Decide when your renovation will best fit into your personal and family life, and coordinate your schedule with your contractor's.

As you go through the planning stages, you'll want answers to some key questions: What can you expect to pay, and how long will it take to finish the work? Here is a list of some of the most popular renovations and the time they generally take once the work begins. Bear in mind, always, that these are rough estimates. A number of factors-the age of your house, for example-can affect these times. And keep in mind that prices are always rising.

From "Make It Right: Expert Advice on Home Renovations" by Mike Holmes. Copyright © 2011

Reprinted by permission of Time Home Entertainment Inc..