Renovation Reality Check: What to Expect When You're Renovating … – 5280 | The Denver Magazine
Local industry experts keep us honest about the financial, emotional, and practical realities of reviving your home base.
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When you zone out to a home-renovation show on television or flip through a design magazine, what you’re seeing is a highlight reel—a long and arduous project summed up in a zippy, 30-minute episode or a breezy, 500-word article. But trust us: Updating even the smallest space in your home is no easy feat—for DIYers or those who enlist seasoned pros. We asked local industry experts to help keep us honest about the financial, emotional, and practical realities of reviving your home base.
“It’s never easy to renovate a home, but the advice I have for anyone embarking on a renovation project is to plan well and plan on things changing,” says architect Craig Lawrence, principal at Rowland & Broughton. One area of potential flux: the cost. Here, how to plan a precise-as-possible budget.
Renovation costs are ratcheting up, partially because of inflation, which has affected prices everywhere from the gas pump to the pickle aisle. “In the past 18 months, we’ve seen overall prices for a project [in Denver] increase by 25 percent or so,” says Justin Bride, principal of Ascent Contracting, whose projects deal with every aspect of construction, from excavation and foundations to electrical and plumbing. “Some trades have increased more than others, some less.”
No matter the number of digits in your renovation budget, it’s best to leave some wiggle room. Lawrence recommends budgeting an additional 10 to 20 percent to allow for surprise costs throughout the process. To potentially cut down on unexpected fees, Bride recommends conducting initial site surveys—such as soil tests and structural assessments—so you know the unknowns from the get-go.
Decide on the details—like finishes—as soon in the renovation process as possible. A simple man-made quartz countertop has a very different price tag than, say, a Calacatta Gold marble slab.
If you’re concerned about recouping some costs when you sell your home, Bride advises focusing on renovating two key spaces: kitchens and baths. “Those are the rooms that seem to add a lot of value with nice, updated finishes,” he says.
DIYing your home renovation? Here’s what you can expect to spend on common projects in Denver.
$50,000 and up: A five-fixture primary bathroom remodel
$75,000 and up: A new, open-concept kitchen*
$250,000 and up: A swanky primary suite addition
$500,000 and up: Popping the top on a bungalow
*The National Kitchen & Bath Association says to anticipate spending 10–25 percent of your home’s value on a kitchen remodel.
The mental highs, lows, twists, and turns that accompany a home refresh are often enough to test even the most seasoned DIYer’s endurance. “You need to prepare to experience every level of emotion,” says Robin Bryant, lead designer at Factor Design Build. Here, the six stages you’re likely to experience while climbing the arduous mountain trail of a renovation.
After realizing that tweaking your current home will be more cost-effective than living out your Zillow-search-fueled fantasies, you decide to take the reno plunge. At this stage of the journey, you spend most of your time with your head in the clouds, daydreaming about the gorgeous results ahead.
“There are so many decisions that need to be made in a short time,” Bryant says, noting that her clients often experience “analysis paralysis” at the outset of their renovations. With countless tile, paint, hardware, and appliance selections ahead, who wouldn’t feel frozen?
Construction is underway, and you’re watching the bones of your vision take shape. “When our clients start to see the change and see things getting done, they always get excited,” Bryant says. “You see the most progress when you’re finishing out the building envelope.”
The cabinets are delayed (groan!), and you finally received the luxury light fixtures that took months to arrive—only to discover they were damaged in transit. It’s no wonder you’ve picked up that nasty nail-biting habit again.
“When we’re building out the interiors and multiple trades are working at the same time, that’s when things slow down,” Bryant notes. But the longer you wait, the more you accept that some things are simply beyond your control. Even your yoga instructor notices your newfound state of zen.
You finally reached the renovation finish line, and you can’t help but do a happy dance (and maybe shed a tear of joy). Relish this moment. All of your hard work was well worth it—and you didn’t even have to change your address.
To get through a renovation project with your sanity intact, be honest with yourself when it comes to what you can and can’t live with during the process. If you’re embarking on a whole-house remodel, moving out during the project is a must. But even a humble kitchen countertop refresh can leave you feeling like you’re camping in your own house. Consider what would make your family happiest until the facelift is complete. That might mean staying at the in-laws’ or booking a vacation—as long as you can be ready for a FaceTime call with your contractor at a moment’s notice.
Even B.C. (before COVID-19), renovation timelines were tentative at best, thanks to permitting delays and long waits for custom-made design details. But in the wake of the pandemic, supply chain issues are still wreaking havoc on homeowners longing for even a humble new sofa or fridge. “Prices and procurement timelines have increased overall, whether it’s due to circuit board shortages that are causing 12-month wait times for appliances or supply shortages stemming from tight labor markets,” Bride says. “The issues that were going on [because of COVID-19] are still hitting the construction industry hard.”
The takeaway: Pad whatever timeline you had in mind. If you’re tackling renovation projects yourself, focus on the most irksome rooms first before moving on to the less-imperative projects on your list.
And remember, the only thing you can count on is change. “There will be missteps by everyone involved: by your designer, by your general contractor, by yourself,” Lawrence says. “That’s just the way building is.” Establishing open communication and mutual respect from the outset of a project will help you weather those storms, as will an open mind. Lawrence recalls a recent project for which a late-in-the-game change yielded a showstopping mountain view from the primary bathroom’s tub. “By staying flexible,” he says, “you can seize those opportunities and roll with the punches much better.”
After Bryant’s clients envision the potential outcome of their renovation, “their second priority is always, ‘When will this start and when will this finish?’” says the designer, who offers the following timeline estimates—plus lead times for the design components that may slow you down.
Reader, I have misled you. Over the past two decades, I’ve penned heaps of breezy little articles that describe, in a mere 650 words or so, beautiful home renovations.
But it wasn’t until my family embarked on a full-scale renovation of a 1970s ranch in Littleton that I learned firsthand just how not-so-breezy a remodel can be.
My husband, Jason, fell in love with the property the moment he saw it: three-plus acres, mountain views, pervasive quiet. The house hadn’t been updated in a long time, and here, we thought, was the chance to create the home we wanted for our family of four. We sold our house in Observatory Park—a place we all loved very much—and moved into a rental. Given the shortage of residential general contractors (nobody could start our renovation in the nearish future), Jason managed the project.
So began an eye-opening experience. There were the achingly slow waiting periods for permits, the failure of a framing crew and an asphalt company to arrive, the disappointment when water crept under an improperly covered eave and dripped onto our newly drywalled interiors. Instead of watching Ted Lasso at the end of the day, we talked in circles about lumber deliveries that were full of warped boards or how we might solve for a 30-week wait for windows. (Whose idea was it, anyway, to renovate a house amid worldwide supply chain issues?)
But—but!—Reader, that once-visceral frustration has somehow faded into the background. After a year of blown budgets and back-to-the-drawing-board planning, our home is nearly done. And I love it desperately: the soapstone-topped kitchen island where my kids perch to chat during dinner prep, the golden light that filters through the French doors in the evening, the navy blue dining room that accommodates my big, beloved Theodore Waddell painting. A friend walked in and said, “If I didn’t know who lives here and someone asked me to guess, I’d guess you.” Those words alone softened the edges of my angst.
So, yes, I misled you. And yet, we both know that what we want from the pages of this magazine are stories that remind us that a home is worth the investment—of time, money, sweat, tears, and hours of wondering which white paint looks best on an east-facing wall. Ultimately, these are investments we are privileged to make, even in the midst of decision fatigue or irritation by a handful (erm, a pallet-full) of missed measurements.
Breezy and easy, my renovation was not. But it was, without a doubt, totally worth it.
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