Triangle Business Journal, Spring/Summer 2006

Room for Improvement
What's slowing down the pace and driving up the cost of your renovation project might be you


Elizabeth Forsythe was sad to see her home renovation project come to an end.

No, the paint fumes haven’t made her delirious.

She actually enjoyed the creative chaos that transformed her 1,000-square-foot Five Points cottage into a 2,300-square-foot home complete with a home office with a bath for Archetype, the graphic design and marketing business she runs with her husband, Tom.

The contractor [Archwood Building Company] finished the job three weeks early and within budget.

Remodeling fever is likely to grow as residents of the Triangle’s best neighborhoods decide to stay put but add needed space and features. According to the National Association of Home Builders, Americans spent an estimated $210 billion on residential remodeling in 2005.

“People are choosing to stay in their neighborhoods,” says Hank Wall of Wood Wise Design & Remodeling in Raleigh. Many love their schools, are attached to their neighbors and have invested money and sweat in their yards. “They want a house to fit how they live.”

Gregg Kunz of Renaissance Bath Design & Renovation suggests investing time up front during the design and planning phase to help avoid the delays and hassles that can be associated with remodeling.

Kunz’s most important advice for homeowners? “Keep a sense of humor,” he suggests.

Renovating a home can be a wonderful or disastrous experience. For Desiree Gentle, remodeling a guest bathroom was a nightmare. The contractor she hired installed the floor and shower tile incorrectly, left a leaky toilet and sink, broke molding and tore wallboard.

Elizabeth Forsythe had the opposite experience. Her contractor, Archwood Building Co., also added a second-story porch, a music room/den, a laundry room, a sitting room, a family room and a second downstairs bath.

The Forsythes had the advantage of working with a contractor who is also a client of their marketing business, so they weren’t strangers and had some experience communicating with each other on projects.

Those who have to search for a contractor can use word-of-mouth, job signs and references to find a good fit. “Call recent clients . . . to gauge what a company’s crew is like,” Wall suggests.

That’s what Pam Gay did when she needed to reface the kitchen cabinets in her Raleigh home.

She saw signs for Cornerstone Kitchens of Raleigh throughout her neighborhood and visited those homes to inspect Cornerstone’s handiwork. Pleased with her neighbors’ testimonials and the cabinets she saw, she hired Cornerstone Kitchens for the job.

When choosing contractors, homeowners and professionals agree that you should have everything in writing and fully documented.

Request that the contractor review all details. Ask if the contracting company cleans up or provides dust protection—which is very important because most people remain living in the home while construction is taking place.

A big challenge for many homeowners is managing all the selections. “Homeowners tend to go over budget,” says Wall. People tend to overspend when selecting fixtures and tiles because there is so much to choose from.

To aid in that process, Wall provides his clients with a checklist and list of selected showrooms. He also has employees meet homeowners at the showroom to help them keep to their budget while choosing fixtures.

Forsythe says meeting deadlines for selecting materials helped keep her home addition project running smoothly.

Kunz suggests homeowners have two budgets—one detailing how much they’d ideally like to spend, the other tallying how much they are willing to spend for their dream home.

Also consider long-term goals. Do you plan to sell soon or stay for another 10 years?

“If moving soon, have an eye on resale,” advises Kunz. “If the family is going to stay long-term, do what they want.”

Some homeowners enjoy doing their own home renovations and save some money in the process.

Sources such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and Web-based guides make it easier for homeowners such as Gary Zwerin to remodel.

Zwerin, whose house is on the market, remodeled his Raleigh home because one of the bedrooms was poorly designed.

“It takes longer (with) only one person but you save so much money,” says Zwerin. “If you have the time, you save 80 percent.”

He says the renovations made his home more functional and, hopefully, appealing to buyers.

Zwerin found the Internet to be helpful for online comparison price shopping. Plus he discovered essential how-to remodeling articles.

Kathy Hasinger also went online to find specialty items to decorate her pub in Cary. Hasinger converted her one-car garage into her own personal pub because there weren’t many taverns in Cary when she moved there.

Other renovations to the home include a bathroom that was remodeled using tiles and cabinets from The Habitat for Humanity of Wake County ReUse Center in Raleigh. The center sells surplus and salvaged building materials at a discount.