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What reality TV doesn’t tell you about home remodeling

Posted: October 20, 2014 2:33 p.m.
Updated: October 20, 2014 2:33 p.m.
Scot Zimmerman/Renovation Design Group

A reality TV remodeling show doesn't quite share the entire process.

Everyone knows reality TV isn’t actually reality, right? We know an hour in real life is never that entertaining. There is a lot of editing, slicing and dicing behind the scenes to put those shows together.

However, the pop culture of home-remodeling reality shows has a lot of people believing that the TV version of remodeling is reality or very close to it. Yes, those projects really happen, but they are missing a few truths regarding remodeling and are misleading the masses in the process.

Time

Sorry, folks. You can’t just go in and look around your house, say, “I want a door here, a window here” and boom, one hour later, it’s done.

Obviously, in a one-hour TV show, you can’t comprehensively show how a remodel really happens, but you need to understand a large project takes months of planning and more months of construction. While it would be nice to go on a weeklong vacation and have a newly remodeled house waiting for us when we come back, that part is not reality.

While most people are rational enough to understand a home renovation will take longer than a couple of weeks, that same majority still seriously underestimates how long it really will take. Most projects take a bare minimum of six weeks of design and planning to create a master plan, eight to 12 weeks to complete a set of construction documents, another two to eight weeks to obtain a permit, and four to 12 months for construction (depending on the size and scope of your project).

Other scheduling factors to consider include the fact that good contractors are usually booked out two to three months before they can schedule in a new project. In addition, weather and the time of year will impact construction schedules. Many contractors give homeowners the option of either dedicating more time (and budget) to the project for those wet, snowy and blustery days or waiting until spring.

Whichever way you look at it, you are not going to have a remodeled home overnight. Fast projects take months, and more involved projects could take a year or more to complete.

Planning

Now, we love a good home remodeling show just as much as the next person.

However, being architects, we can’t help but roll our eyes sometimes. These TV renovation gurus stroll in, start brainstorming, and -- voila! -- construction starts.

The extent of the design portion of the project is a brief conversation between the designer and his or her assistant, without the messy complication of including the client. Two design options may be presented, one of which the client immediately and completely accepts. Easy-peasy, right?

The design process clearly isn’t entertaining enough to get screen time, but it is misleading to gloss over it.

In addition, if you are changing anything structural in your house, such as moving walls, doors or windows, changing the roofline or adding on, you will need structural engineering in order to obtain a permit. A contractor needs plans and engineering to estimate the cost and know how to build the project.

Permits

Another issue of remodeling that is almost always overlooked in a reality TV show is the permitting process. The hours and money spent on acquiring the proper permits is definitely not the glamorous part of home remodeling, though it is reality.

This reality goes hand-in-hand with the concept of preparing plans because you need plans to get a permit. If you hire a professional architect to handle your design, he or she will help you get the necessary permits and deal with the city and/or county as well as any regulations you may have in your particular neighborhood.

Financial returns

Many remodeling TV shows end by detailing how the money invested in the project has not only been immediately recouped but has substantially increased as well.

In our experience, this sort of instant gratification is not the norm. Contractors who are “flipping” a house for immediate resale need to restrict themselves to the improvements they can include in the revised cost of the house -- simple fixes, such as new paint and carpet, one type of generic tile used throughout the house, or a kitchen remodel restricted to new countertops and cabinet faces.

A serious, extensive remodel of a personal residence usually goes much deeper and costs more per square foot. This type of investment will exceed the immediate gain reflected in appraisal or market value and will require some years of appreciation before reaching the break-even point.

Reality check

Even though the reality shows are fun to watch, please don’t expect remodels in real life to mimic those you see on TV. Remodeling can be fun, exciting and an amazing experience for you and your family if you don’t have unreasonable expectations. If you keep reality in check, then your home can turn out just as beautiful -- or even better -- than one on TV, even though it will take more than an hour.

(Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com.)

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