A dream house doesn’t have to be entirely out of reach. Photo: The Rostad Team of Coldwell Banker ©2019

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ―Henry David Thoreau

Welcome to January. Last month, you cooked up your dream home in a heady mix of holiday punch, gingerbread and champagne. Now, both metaphorically and literally, it’s time to build those foundations. We’ve written often on this blog about how to get started on a house remodeling project (for examples, see “How to Choose a Contractor” and “Choosing Appliances for a Kitchen Remodel”). Carefully choosing a licensed contractor, budgeting attentively and understanding local building laws are all important preliminary steps, but they aren’t the first things you should do. So, how do you actually start? How do you translate the airy structures of December into your very own castle on the ground?

The best answer is, “Start with a lot more questions.” Whether you’re planning a custom-built mountaintop home or you just want to renovate your bathroom, start your house remodeling project by fully understanding your hopes, goals and action steps. Here are some of the many questions you should ask yourself:

Why am I planning to remodel my house this year?
Maybe you’re hoping to increase your home’s value. Maybe you need to take care of some deferred maintenance. Maybe you’ve been longing for a luxury bathroom and a kitchen filled with light. Investment, maintenance, wish fulfillment…your motivation for remodeling probably contains a little bit of all of these. But however it breaks down, being precise about your motivation will help you when it comes to making the (many) hard choices that are ahead.

What is my long-term vision for my home?
If you’re building that custom home in the mountains, this question is critical. But it’s also important for those with smaller aspirations. For example, if you’re replacing your foundation this year, it’ll be helpful to know now that you’d like to install a bathroom in the basement someday. How many bathrooms do you need? Can you borrow space from the kitchen for a laundry room? Will your remodeled garage accommodate a tiny yoga studio? Take the time to map out a long-term plan for your home, even if, realistically, you won’t have the time or money to complete it all.

What is the scope of the project?
Now that you know your long-term vision, get a sense of what you want to do this year. What do you want to achieve in the next three months? In the next eight months? By next January? How much money do you have to spend on the project, and where will that money come from? It’s not a bad idea to ask yourself what you would do with an extra $100,000—this kind of dreaming can spark the imagination and allow you to more clearly understand what you want. But be sure to get realistic, too. How much can you accomplish with what you actually have? (Remember, you’ll have to pad that budget—even the best-planned remodeling projects often cost more than expected.)

What do I want my remodeled home to look like? What do I want it to feel like?
Do you love mid-century modern design? How about a homey, country-style kitchen? Maybe a Nordic living room is more your style. Identifying the styles, design trends and colors you like is essential to being satisfied with the finished product. Get clarity you can share by creating a scrapbook or using a website like Pinterest to save online images (if you’re not already a Pinterest user, check out our “How to Pinterest Your Home” guide).

How will I use my new space?
Let’s say you want to remodel your kitchen. Ask yourself: Will I be serving gourmet dinners for 10 once a month? Will I be feeding my family of four every night? Be honest with yourself about how you need the new room to function. Maybe you’ll mostly use the new refrigerator to chill wine while you store shoes in the new oven. In that case, the high-end appliances probably aren’t necessary.

Desired functionality is also important for less glamorous remodels. Whether you’re replacing your HVAC system, painting your garage or anchoring your foundation, you need to know precisely how your new systems are going to help make your home work better for you.

What are my next steps?
Now that you have a clear sense of your destination, you’re ready to make the map. You can find links to most of our “How to Remodel” posts on our Remodeling Resource Page. Good luck making your dreams come true!

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