Remodeling Reality—10 Ways to Improve your Next Remodeling Project

March 2015 View more

House Plan Remodeled

Contrary to the magical transformations we often see on our favorite TV programs, remodeling projects do not typically happen in a single weekend or offer a one-size-fits-all design solution. Unfortunately, the reality can be a long, messy, and potentially budget-breaking experience. Award-winning and notable Naperville designers, architects and contractors, however, identify some of the most common mistakes homeowners make and offer their insights to help make your next remodeling project a successful one.

Inadequate Planning

Even if you have an eye for design, a professional who can ask the right questions can help you find design solutions best suited for your unique needs. “Work with an architect or designer to help you navigate through the process,” advises Glenn Zagon, architect and owner of Crimson Design and Construction. “They tell you what fits or what’s realistic or not. Trust me, the cost of hiring a professional to assist you will save you time and money in the end.”  Designers are educators, helping clients think through every detail from use of space and lifestyle, to long-term needs that might change and evolve over time.

Not Doing Your Homework 

Happy Couple Dream New HomeHomeowners often neglect to ask key questions before selecting a professional designer or remodeling service, often relying on word of mouth. “They should be asking for references, to see work we’ve done and to ask if we have insurance,” said Pamela Coslet, co-owner with St. Charles-based Vineyard Chic Kitchens. “Others just don’t do their research on contractors or even visit their websites.”

Unrealistic Time Expectations 

Homeowners tend to plan too late and start construction too soon. Planning a project takes time—as much as eight weeks—to evaluate and explore the answers to questions an experienced designer knows to ask. Ordering materials and getting the myriad of permits and inspections completed takes time too. Custom kitchen cabinet delivery, for example, can take six to ten weeks, and permits can take anywhere from two to eight weeks. “People don’t tend to take the time to get educated on so many things,” said Janice Teague, senior designer with Drury Design. “It saves time to get educated on pricing and available materials and what is appropriate to them as far as function or the aesthetic. People get so anxious to get a new kitchen and want to hurry through it, but taking your time is the best thing you can do to ensure the best result.”

Unrealistic Budget

Thanks to TV ads and home improvement programs, people often underestimate the cost of a remodeling project. Costs differ from place to place, and TV programs typically omit key expenses like labor. As a result, homeowners are often unrealistic in their budgets. “Establish a budget, talk to architects and contractors to get a feel for pricing,” Zagon advises. A helpful website Zagon recommends to find the average price of remodeling projects is a Cost vs. Value site at

Unrealistic Expectations on Investment Return 

When properties once appreciated rapidly, getting a 100 percent return on a remodeling investment wasn’t surprising. “Today it’s more like 65-70 percent so you have to be realistic,” cautions Ted Kawczynski, president of the Kitchen Master. “You don’t want to splurge too much unless it’s for the rest of your life. Rule of thumb? Don’t spend more than 15-20 percent on a kitchen compared to the value of a house.”

Wrong Priorities

Couple with blueprints.Professionals warn there is always going to be compromise in any project so it’s important to have the right priorities when trying to save money or stay within your budget. “I think it’s a mistake when people do the Band-aid fix where you have 25-year old cabinets that are not great and you think you can sell them with granite counters on top of bad cabinets,” said Ann Stockard, designer with Normandy, Design-Build Remodeling. “That’s a mistake of money not well spent.” Other mistakes to avoid? Making remodeling choices based purely on the lowest cost, not researching materials carefully, and updating the wrong items. 

Poor Selection of Materials

Whether it’s too little research or uninformed planning, homeowners frequently make mistakes when it comes to selecting appliances, materials, and fixtures. They buy a double oven when it’s only used once a year; they choose commercial grade appliances when Consumer Reports says mid-range performs well and requires less servicing; or, they choose impractical materials like costly marble when those like granite are more durable. “Another mistake is using cheaper materials to cut costs,” said Mike Ducato, general manager of family-owned Reliable Home Improvement and Supply. “Cheaper box or cabinetry materials, or ready-made cabinets is cutting corners for aesthetic appeal over quality. It’s a mistake.” Other professionals cite buying ovens smaller than 30” that won’t fit most roast turkeys, or installing less than one can-light per five feet. People also don’t consider age-in-place needs leading to design sins-of-omission like wider door openings for mobility or arthritis-friendly lever faucets and designs.

Poor Aesthetic Decisions

It’s an important question: design for yourself or design to sell? For those who aren’t sure, Zagon, says avoid the tendency to focus too much on resale, given that many clients end up staying longer to enjoy their houses. He recommends looking at pictures online like or magazines for ideas to find your style and pick what you love. But for resale design, it’s important to stick with the stylistic expectations in your neighborhood, going with neutrals and avoiding extremes.

Poor Design Layout

Unfortunately, when planning is inadequate, homeowners can find their new sunroom is too small for their furniture, or their kitchen functions poorly. “Explore a couple of layout options before pulling the trigger on your remodeling project to check for bottlenecks, adequate clearance around workspace and a good work triangle,” Stockard said.

Outdated Ideas

When it comes to resale, it’s important to know what’s hot and what’s not. For example, the heyday of the kitchen desk has passed, replaced with discreet drawers and landing zones for notes and recharging phones. Trendy is fun. But for resale, classic is a safe way to go—think solid classic Shaker cabinets, a stainless steel sink, granite counters and neutral paint.

Whether your remodeling project is big or small, finding the right people and learning what updates are right for you means the home you have can always be the home you wanted.