Early summer in Charlotte is beautiful. Our neighbors are out in their yards, taking full advantage of the peaceful piedmont weather before the full heat of midsummer slows us down. And, inevitably, we’re all looking back at our houses, noticing what winter did to the roofs, spotting the stains on the siding, and thinking of the ways a new front door or updated windows could enhance the beauty.
2020 is an ideal time for home improvement projects – most of us have spent more time in our houses than ever before, and know intimately how we live in their spaces, and what needs improvement. A slow economy means prices are manageable and contractors are eager to work with you.
But a major project can be a daunting idea. Here are a few preliminary steps we recommend to help you bite off something you can chew.
Talk to a Realtor
Return on Investment isn’t everything when it comes to a home improvement project. You’ll want to make the changes that make you love your home. But, particularly with more extensive and expensive projects, the renovations that make the most long-term sense are the ones that pay you back.
No one knows how much a project will enhance your home’s value as well as realtors, who see the value of each home sale every day they report to work. So, ask one.
If you already know a realtor, then you already know an expert you can call who will answer your questions about which home improvement projects really pay off in your neighborhood. If you don’t know one, you’re not out of luck. Real estate is a business built on relationships, so most realtors are happy to have a quick conversation with someone they don’t know. It lets them show off their expertise, and be first on your mind if you ever do decide to sell the home.
The North Carolina Association of Realtors has a simple search tool that will help you find a real estate agent in your community.
Spend Time with the Space
You’re going to live with the changes you make to your home for a long time. There’s no harm, and a lot to be gained, from giving extra time to the planning process. The flow of how we move through a home, and how we use countertops, cabinets, and furniture, doesn’t always unfold the way we imagine it will when we’re designing a space. So mock up your changes.
A favorite trick of ours -- use inexpensive and non-marking painter’s tape to show where new appliances or furniture will sit, and spend a few days living in the old space with the new space superimposed over it. You may realize that your design ideas fit your lifestyle perfectly…but you are just as likely to reimagine them once you see how you’d truly live in a space.
Doing it Yourself? Make a Budget and a Schedule. Then Remake Them.
The harsh truth is that a do-it-yourself project will take longer and cost more than expected.
It’s easy to get excited in the planning stages, and overestimate your capabilities, or underestimate the disruption to your life that a home improvement project can bring. A detailed plan helps prevent this.
Make an itemized budget – not guesstimating, but visiting home improvement stores to note the precise costs of each tool and material. Make an itemized schedule, showing what you’ll get done each day. Then, put them away and let them sit for a few days.
Revisiting the schedule and the budget after a little time away helps you realize which items you might be better off without, which excite you even after a little time to let the ideas marinate, and, maybe, which are likely to take more time than you first expected.
Background Check Contractors
If you’re hiring someone to work on your home, you want to be certain they’re worthy of your trust. Letting someone into your home, and trusting that they’ll do work that lasts, is nerve-wracking. It’s worth taking the time to check their references.
Start with the Charlotte metro area’s chapter of the Better Business Bureau, which will have records of any complaints involving your potential contractors. Then, once you’ve eliminated anyone whose history makes you uncomfortable, ask for references you can call, and make a few calls to other homeowners who can tell you in detail about what to expect.
Get Blueprints of your House
Depending on the age your home, you may be able to get your hands on drawings that help you, or your contractor, know what lies behind the sheetrock. Mecklenberg County’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency has drawings for all buildings that are, or have been, commercial, and for some residential buildings. A Public Records Request for drawings will tell you if your house is in their archives.
Obtain the Necessary Permits
Many projects involving structural changes, or the construction of accessory buildings like sheds or detached garages, require government approval in Charlotte and Mecklenberg County. The county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency makes it easy to determine whether your project requires permits, with a Homeowner Internet Permitting portal that breaks down the requirements, and lets you apply for permits all in one place.