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6 key things to decide before your home remodel

Nick Rossi, of Newton, Mass., is a contractor who does home remodeling. (Steven Senne/AP)

Chandler Fox is president of Foxcraft Design Group in Falls Church. 

Insurance agents and investment advisers have always been adept at having “the talk” with prospective clients — asking personal questions about lifestyles, health issues, family growth plans, aging, work habits and other matters.

Your family should have that same kitchen-table conversation if you plan to remodel your home. Changing the flow, function or size of your home can significantly transform the way you live there as individuals and as a family for years into the future.

Over the past 25 years, we’ve noticed that when people decide to remodel their homes, they often may not have considered much more than what they want the kitchen and bathrooms to look like or whether they want to add or expand rooms.  We recommend taking a step back and starting the conversation with details about how people plan to live, work and play in their home.  Start this way and you’re much less likely to have surprises or disappointments when the project is done.

We often guide clients in this conversation at our first meeting.  Based on the hundreds of families we’ve worked with, here are some of the most important parts of the talk that you and your family should have before considering a remodel:

• Consider if you plan to live in your home five years, 10 to 20 years or a lifetime. If it’s short term, decisions are easier and you’re not as likely to make big changes.  But maybe you plan to be there for 10 to 20 years, or you consider your house a “legacy” home that you want to keep in your family for generations.   If so, you may need to give consideration to the space needs of current and future toddlers, teens and aging parents.

Also it may affect your choice of materials.  If you plan to keep a house long into the future, buying the best quality materials such as metal roofs, durable floors, copper downspouts and stone surfaces (inside and out) that will last 100 years might make sense.

• Determine the quality of life issues that make you want to remain in the home. Maybe you need more space or a different configuration of your main level.  Should you move or remodel? We’ve told potential clients on some occasions that the needs of their family simply can’t be met by remodeling the current home and that they should consider moving.  But that’s a last resort.

The reasons to stay put and remodel may be quality of life issues.  You’ve put down strong roots and love the neighborhood. What experiences do you want your children to have? The kids are settled in their school, and have nearby friends and love their local sports teams.  Your doctors, neighbors, friends and other trusted service providers are also part of your local community.

• Evaluate the health and physical needs of your family members. This is where things get more personal.  If you or someone else in your home who, because of age, plans to “age in place” — that is, stay in the home rather than move to a retirement community — living on one level and avoiding stairs may be the best option.

The same is true if you have a family member with physical challenges. What some clients opt to do is turn an unused dining room or living room on the main level into a master bedroom/bathroom.  This, in addition to installing ramps, handles, light switches at wheelchair level and other amenities, is a great permanent or temporary solution.  It’s often called universal design and many remodelers have experts on their teams to help clients make decisions on meeting these challenges.

• Analyze your family dynamics and flow. You like your house but everyone in the family is now bumping into each other in the kitchen, the hallways, the only upstairs bathroom, etc.  The kids are in high school now, maybe your parents have moved in with you or some other family dynamic has changed.  These situations can cause stress in a family.

In this case — and, in fact, at any time that you plan to remodel — the flow in and around rooms must be considered.  Even without moving walls, traffic patterns can be vastly improved. Does someone in the family need a quiet office away from the hub of family activity?  There are many options on any level of a house for creating one. Maybe start with that unused dining room until you need that space for something else. Is there enough storage space in each room so you’re not tripping over belongings?

• Assess your energy needs. If you are in the house for the long term, also consider smart energy upgrades.  Depending on which upgrades you choose, these can pay for themselves in just a few years.

• Calculate the costs of renovating vs. buying another house. Moving typically costs about 8 to 10 percent of the value of your current home. Out of pocket costs includes moving expenses, closing costs, broker commissions and other items that have no direct impact on your quality of life.  Add to that the expense of new carpets, additional furniture, painting and redecorating and a few modifications to the new house and the costs add up even more.  Also consider whether the new house is going to need major repairs or a new roof or HVAC system in the next three to five years.

At the same time, make it clear what you can afford and can’t afford in a remodel. The remodeler should be able to give you options to help you get most of what you want at a price that fits into your budget.

How do you start the talk  even before you ask a remodeler to come over and discuss your options?

We usually suggest that you make a list of all of your family members’ needs now and as many as you can predict for the near future and very long-term.  Prioritize that list.  What is critical to improving your lives?  What is cosmetic?   Once you have most of those answers, you’ll be much more comfortable when you start the design and building process.