'Remodeling syndrome' costly


CALL IT "remodeling syndrome." It's a common cause of mental paralysis among homeowners: They know they want to do something about the house, but they can't figure out where to start.

And even when they have a good idea of what they want, they often have no idea how much it might cost, or if it is possible.

Anyone who consults Ron over this quandary gets a stock answer: You can do anything you want. The real question is, is it worth what it will cost to do it?

One of Ron's clients wanted to remove some walls between her kitchen and what would become a breakfast area. Yeah, sure, take out the wall. Except that it's made of brick, it's 1-foot thick, and it supports a second-story brick wall above.

Ron has removed such a wall from an old rowhouse in Highlandtown. The house and its next-door neighbor were used as an appliance store. The owner wanted to combine the two spaces into one large showroom.

To accomplish that, Ron's crew built temporary walls on either side of the wall that was going to be removed. Then they knocked out the wall and hauled it away. It was possible to take this wall down because it was an interior wall, and because the joists of the second floor were embedded deeply enough in the brick walls to support the above wall.

Once the wall was removed, they installed steel I-beams and posts to support the upper wall. The wall below the posts (the basement wall) had to be reinforced to support the posts.

So, to answer the homeowner's question, yes, she could remove that bearing wall in the kitchen. But is it worth spending $10,000 to $15,000 to do it? Ron's client didn't think so.

When you're thinking about a project, you need to be sure to think it through. Planning a project is a process. The larger the project, the more complicated the plan will be. If, for example, your project is to replace some windows, the plan will be simple -- but you should still have one. And for a major renovation or addition, planning by a professional is recommended. While there will be some costs involved in hiring a professional to help, a good plan will pay for itself in the long run.

The design/development process typically begins with an idea, a need or just something that you want. The homeowner above wanted an informal eating space. Maybe you want an updated kitchen or bath, or maybe you just need more space.

The first step in the design process is to refine your idea of what you want. Then you can begin to establish a realistic budget. If you don't have savings, you may consider refinancing a mortgage or getting a home-equity loan. It's important to know, before you begin the project, where you will get the money. Design and budget go hand-in-hand at this point, because there is no sense in designing something that will cost more than you want to spend.

A preliminary "ballpark" price will help determine the feasibility of pTC the project. How far apart are the project's price and the amount you are willing to spend? If you're under budget, you can pocket the savings or upgrade finishes. If you're over your budget, which is most common, you have to make a decision: To reduce the scope of work, to increase the budget, or to abandon the project.

If you determine that the remodeling project is feasible, you move on to the next step -- drawings and specifications. This is where the character of the project takes shape, where design details, such as floor plan, cabinet layout, interior and exterior finishes, and so on, are worked out and prices established.

The final step of the design/development phase is getting working drawings (which the contractors will use to build the project) and written specifications (which include the details, down to brand names of accessories).

If you still have some questions about the feasibility or desirability of the project, you may want to think of it in another way: Should you stay put and remodel, or should you consider moving to another house that has the features you want? We'll talk about that choice next week.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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