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Home Renovation | A Two Part Series on Remodeling

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Move or remodel?

Based on the number of dumpsters positioned in your neighborhood, it appears people are choosing the latter.

The red hot Denver housing market has not only been good for sellers but has also played favorably for contractors and architects in the metro area. Instead of choosing to move into higher priced homes, many homeowners are opting to undertake heavy duty renovations and home improvement projects to upgrade or increase the size of their existing homes.

According to a recentHouzz survey, the home renovation backlog in Denver is 5.9 weeks. The study also indicates that larger scale and higher end projects are the most sought after home improvements.

Doug Walter, a Denver-based architect, sheds some light on the remodeling craze in the Denver metro area and what you can expect from any home renovation projects you decide to undertake.

How often should a homeowner consider making upgrades to their home?

This question has no standard answer; it’s dependent on your budget. If you have a windfall or large savings account, you might consider a large scale remodel that fixes everything all at once. If your budget is tight, you’ll want to prioritize your projects and tackle them one at a time as money allows. The highest priority should always be items that affect health, safety and welfare (like roofs, plumbing, electrical, heating). Once you’ve tackled the emergency repairs, only then can you indulge yourself with that luxury bath remodel. Since all homes start deteriorating the moment they are built, a program of continuous maintenance is a smart strategy.

If you don’t know the condition of your home’s systems, it may be smart to commission ahome inspection, and let a pro assess these systems and point out critical issues. When you go to sell someday, you can show buyers this inspection report followed by receipts for the work you had done to fix things.

How does the type of neighborhood in which you live determine the improvements you make?

Yes, and no.Denver’s real estate marketis red hot. Even sleepy neighborhoods are starting to “pop.” Are there scrape offs in your neighborhood? This probably means that the value of your home is primarily the value of the land beneath it. I’d be hesitant to over-invest knowing that the next buyer may be intending to scrape it. Are there more dumpsters and pop tops in your neighborhood? This is a good sign, and you can probably invest whatever your want (within reason).

In neighborhoods where folks are adding on, likeCountry Cluband other historic districts, the homes are generally more substantial and worth expanding. If homes on your block are selling for $400 per square foot, then adding a second story for $250 to $300 psf makes economic sense.That’s what drives remodeling activity in such neighborhoods.

Look at, but don’t be paralyzed by return on remodeling investment surveys, which by necessity averages all neighborhoods in a city together. The best-known such survey is Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs Value” study (

Is there a best time of year to make improvements on your home?

Actually no; Denver’s climate is so benign that construction goes on 12 months a year. Even in winter, 50 degree afternoons are common. The only two things I don’t recommend doing in winter are painting the exterior and pouring concrete slabs outside.

My favorite time to start a remodel is actually in January, for several reasons. First of all, if you do the demo and dirty work in January, you’ll probably finish by summer and you’ll have the chance to landscape. Often contractors are busy in the fall with projects promised for a Christmas completion; they then come back from New Year’s looking for new projects.

The only exception to this preference is akitchen remodel. For these, I’d suggest a spring to summer start, because no matter how complete the temporary kitchen we set up for you elsewhere in the house, it’s glorious to cook and eat outside.

Any suggestions on how people might be able to cut costs along the way?

Group as many small projects together into one larger project to attract the interest of the contractor.  Projects done separately will cost you much more than one, well-coordinated project

Work with reputable contractors and architects or designers who can guide you through the process. There is no substitute for experience.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remodeling clients have a need to believe things will cost less than they actually do, and this leaves them vulnerable to slick talking salesmen who promise what they know they can’t deliver.

“Stack the deck”: that is, if you are putting on an addition, for sure put a full basement under it, and consider a second story over it, if your home is two story; this additional space will be considerably less per square foot than the initial addition.

Ask your contractor which products you can shop for and supply on your own. Often this is tile, light fixtures, and plumbing fixtures. Shop the big box stores, the internet and independent vendors to find the best deal. There is a great advantage to buying local, as it makes it easier to replace any defective product. Some clients have even shopped atHabitat’s Restore, where they sell not only slightly used product, but new products that was overstocked or over ordered by contractors.

Buy name brand products and don’t shop only on price. Research your choices online looking for consumer reviews. All countertop fabricators have “boneyards” out back, with partial slabs of granite, marble, and quartz left over from prior jobs. These are available at a considerable discount.

Can you get by with a nice shower, and skip the tub? Terrific: you probably just saved $3-4,000. Speaking of baths, does each bedroom need their own bath, really?

Read Part II: The Top Home Remodeling Projects (and why they are worth it) where Doug outlines his Top 5 picks and why he chose them.

Since 1979, Doug Walter Architects has been locally and nationally recognized with over 140 awards for their work on older homes, for designing additions that “fit” a home’s unique style, for singular custom homes, for enthusiastic participation in trade and professional organizations, and a large body of pro bono work for charitable organizations. Contact Doug at

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