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Daniel Barton, Renovation Design Group
While the stairs remained in the same location, the walls dividing the original kitchen, living room and dining room were removed to create a beautiful, spacious great room. This is a photo taken before the renovation in Jodi Morrison's home.

One of our clients, Jodi Morrison, hired us when she was ready to buy a house. She knew she wasn’t going to be able to find her dream house sitting on the market waiting for her. Her budget didn’t quite align with the neighborhood she had selected, so she was prepared to look at those homes that needed the most work.

She wanted to live in the established neighborhood of Millcreek, but also wanted a modern design concept for her home. Therefore, she knew a remodel was in her future, and scheduled an architectural consultation. She had narrowed the selection down to two homes, but wanted to know which one would be more conducive to her dream plan. She also wanted to know which home would give her more bang for her remodeling buck.

As the consultant, the architect was able to help her decide which house best suited her needs and would lend itself to the most efficient and cost-effective home remodel.

They began by looking at the structural systems of the two homes. Though most homes can be reshaped to fit an owner’s preference, the cost obviously varies depending on how extensive the structural changes are. Morrison was able to choose which house would be more advantageous to transform into her style of home.

“The bone structure of this house was in better shape,” Morrison says. “It was more conducive to a cool remodel.”

The architect also helped Morrison determine which house would ultimately be a better investment considering the neighborhood and the post-construction appraisal of the home. In consultations like this, real estate professionals should be used to determine return on investment and potential home values.

Morrison ultimately chose a sturdy 1965 house in the Millcreek area. The master plan gave the house an exterior facelift, expanded the footprint slightly, and gutted the interior of the house to replace the outdated finishes and create a modern open concept.

Morrison was also able to save money throughout her remodel by doing some of the work herself. With the plan already in hand and a genial contractor as her mentor, she was able to do the demolition herself, in addition to providing a lot of the finishing work.

She was not only brave, but smart as she had direction in the form of thorough construction plans. She broke into the first piece of wallboard in May 2010. She and a group of her friends vented their frustrations on her house with sledge hammers. Morrison says it was actually kind of therapeutic slamming down walls. (You can appreciate how important it was to know which walls to slam down, can’t you?) We can see the appeal, especially as it saved a couple thousand dollars off her entire construction bill.

She took on the painting, tiled the bathroom floors, and did a little of the plumbing. She installed her garbage disposal and toilet, as well as the handles on her kitchen cabinet doors. They were little projects, but they definitely added up, saving her hundreds of dollars in labor alone. However, those savings didn’t come free. Doing it yourself costs time, sweat, tears and (hopefully not too often!) even blood.

It worked for her because she was willing to learn and brave enough to try something new. Morrison is a self-proclaimed perfectionist and had the time to dive headfirst into her project.

“People say ‘Wow, you are so brave,’ but it really isn’t too hard if you are willing to learn — plus I had the time to dedicate,” she says.

Her advice: “Have a really good plan upfront. If you are going to do some work yourself, pace yourself and take the time to do it right.”

She isn’t a flipper but estimated that she would be ready to sell five years down the road. However, her plans have changed. “I have come to love my home,” she says. “I mean, I put my heart and soul into this house. My house was built with love, detail, attention and a plan. It’s killer. Honestly, it is just so much fun.”

She says you can penny-pinch and bargain-shop your way to your dream house. “Just be patient and wait for good deals.” This type of construction takes much longer than standing back and letting the pros move in, and requires a certain breed of contractor who is willing to work with a DIY homeowner. It also requires a set of construction drawings that will keep the project on track and focused on the end goals.

There are still a few things to be done on her house, but she says ultimately the dust has settled on the inside projects and she couldn’t be happier.

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 [email protected]