You’ve seen television shows about it. You’ve flipped through magazines dedicated to it. You’ve heard horror stories about it. Here is the story of how my husband and I did it: The Dreaded Kitchen Renovation. We figured our home was so perfect in every way except for the horrible kitchen. We didn’t want to move so we took on this monster of a project.
Southern Hills and Slavens Elementary
In 2013, my husband and I bought a home and our dream neighborhood, Southern Hills. Centrally located and feeding into one of Denver Public Schools’ most highly ranked elementary K-8 schools, Slavens Elementary, we have always known we would raise our family here.
The house itself echoes the style of 1950 ranch homes that are found throughout this neighborhood. With three large bedrooms on the main floor, beautiful hardwood floors throughout, and a large backyard, this house was perfect for us except for one detail – the small galley kitchen at the back of the house. The kitchen itself wasn’t in bad shape, but the layout forced our family (and company) to spend most of our confined in there.
Being that real estate is my biz, I know that kitchen renovations match you dollar for dollar when you go to resell. That is opposed to basement finishes, which only garner a 50% return, and landscaping, which is about a 25% return on your investment. Bottom line: I knew that the kitchen renovation was our next project. And, the hardest part was knowing how to begin.
Step 1 – Budget
This is the toughest part for us. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by a beautifully detailed cabinetry and thick granite counter-tops. The shopping for the appliances alone is a dangerous endeavor – an up-sell at every turn.
Now, this is not a story of how we stayed under budget because, frankly, we didn’t. In the beginning, like most people, we had all these grandiose ideas of picking through scratch-and-dent inventory, making our own counter-tops, and begging a cousin to install the back-splash. But, in the end we found that it saved as the most time and heartache to just have it all done by somebody else. We did try to stick to the 20% rule, which basically states that when you are making a renovation to your kitchen, you want to stay within 20% of the value of your home.
Step 2 – Design
I’ve had many clients who decided to renovate their kitchen either for personal purposes or for resale, and they have been able to simply switch out appliances and put it new cabinets, while sticking to the original kitchen layout. In our situation, we knew we would need to take out two walls in order to open up the kitchen to the dining room and the living room.
This meant redesigning the entire layout of the kitchen, moving around appliances, electrical outlets, gas lines, and water lines. Of course, we had a collection of crazy (read: expensive) ideas we had collected online and in magazines. And we had bribed my husband’s brother, who is an architect, to give us his input and do a preliminary layout for us. But, it all came down to using a designer from the same place we got our cabinets. Gary, with Kitchens at the Denver, was perfect for the job. He had designed something very similar to what we wanted in one of his showrooms, so we basically just modified that design to fit the dimensions of the space. I had also heard wonderful things about designers at other cabinetry shops, especially Home Depot, who typically hire experienced independent designers that want the benefits that come with working with a larger company.
Step 3 – Contractor
This is probably the most difficult part of the whole project. Finding a contractor who would meet our needs as far as timeline and price was difficult. It’s so hard to even find a contractor who can start project in less than 9 or 10 months. They are all so busy with insane Denver Realtors renovating their homes along with a few civilians.
We knew we could pay less for somebody who could do a bulk of the work himself and use less subcontractors. But we decided to go with a professional remodel company that subbed out most of the work. We were particularly impressed because this group provided a construction time line and warranties for all the work that they do. They also took care of all the permitting process with the City of Denver. All in all, I think the premium we paid for this type of service was worth it. We had a point person to contact at all hours with any questions or issues. And we felt like the actual work was being done by the best in that particular field. No, the work wasn’t completed on time, and yes, there are some things that will have them come back to change. But compared to the nightmare issues that I have heard, we got off easy.
Of course, when you’re about to launch into a home renovation, you get loads of advice from just about everybody you know. Here is what we wish we had known:
1. Anticipated the extra money. We knew we would be spending more than we thought, and that things would come up costing us more money than our budget allowed, but not to the extent that it did. In no way did we expect the amount of money that we spent of eating out. At first it was adventure cooking on the grill and finding different foods to microwave. But about week 5, I was dying escape our construction zone for just about every meal. And on top of it, things do come up like, having to get a hotel room when the attic was ripped open… and when the boiler went out. Not to mention the fact that we had to buy 2 sinks because the first one was too small, or pay to have all the hard wood floors refinished because the color didn’t match. These little headaches were sometimes just too much to deal with on top of the regular daily expenses plus the small fortune bleeding out of our savings.
2. Anticipated the mental drain. I am not usually a person who gets stressed out about making decisions, I am very opinionated and I can typically make a stance and that is that. However, this whole experience was entirely that… a series of making decisions. And then questioning them. Sometimes staying awake at night trying to rationalize those decisions, and then seeking opinions, doing research, arguing with the contractor… and my husband… just to go back to the original decision. Exhausting.
Home Renovation is like…
Something about a major home renovation is like childbirth in the fact that you do forget. I actually can hardly remember the taste of drywall on my cereal or racing after my 18 month old before he got to the hand drill. And many times I stare over my kitchen island at the wide open space with the wonder that our dream is now reality.
So what’s next… the pink bathroom? Yikes! Oh my God, maybe we should have just moved!