Real Estate Agent Chooses Remodeling Over Buying a Turn-Key Home Every Time – Part 2

I’m back with the next article in the series, and we will get down to brass tacks about how to begin the process of remodeling by sharing what I’ve learned in starting the process of remodeling and what to do before even thinking of taking a sledgehammer to anything.  I’ll focus on three main things you need to consider:  1) What are your goals and what is your budget?; 2) Getting a conceptual design, and 3) Hiring the right professionals is everything!


As a Real Estate Agent in Silicon Valley, I’ve been in thousands of homes:  Some great, some bad, and some down right awful.  You probably have been in your fair share of an assortment as well.  Have you ever been in someone’s house when you’ve asked yourself, “What were they thinking when they did that?”  Let’s just say it’s a common question that floats around in my head every Friday during Broker Tour in Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mountain View.  Even luxury homes in Atherton and Menlo Park sometimes leave an impression (and not in a good way) when I tour them.  It all comes down to this question:

How do I [you] want to live in your home and what can I [we] afford to spend to get it to the desired lifestyle?


Should your ideal kitchen and bath be similar as exampled in “Part 1,” then great. If you are not sure and need help, browsing the Internet for ideas is a fabulous way to start!   Please have your budget nailed down ahead of time.  You can always make changes later.  Changes (aka “change orders” in the contracting world) costs money, but know you can make them if you are willing to pay once plans are drawn and approved and construction has begun.


If you need a little help with conceptual design (like I do), then I suggest signing up for an account on HOUZZ.  Watch out, as it can be as addictive as Pinterest!  HOUZZ happens to be in Palo Alto, like me, but that’s not why I love the website. HOUZZ is great for scouring through various rooms and adding “Idea Books” to your account that you can later share with your Architect, General Contractor, spouse, parents, or friends.   The ability to share what you like with your hired professionals is extremely handful and can actually save design time and money later on.   For my own remodel, I looked at upwards of 100 photos of family room ideas, as well as photos of bathrooms with unique or odd shapes (like the monstrosity we started with as a master bath).  Here is the photo of a conceptual family room design that spoke to my husband and I the most, and as you’ll see in later posts, the outcome for our family room was pretty spot-on.



HOUZZ has an assorted of professionals that have posted some of their projects to showcase them so that you’ll love their work and call them to do business together.   Clients of these professionals can also leave recommendations, which you can read.   I highly recommend cross-checking places like the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Yelp.  Referrals from friends are great, but I still check Yelp.


As I mentioned in Part 1, 85%-90% of buyers want to buy a home that is move-in ready.  Some of our clients who perhaps cannot compete with some of the multiple offer situations out there (where a home can sell for $300K – $400K+ above the list price and for all-cash) will eventually “get it” and realize that buying a home in a good location that has good “bones” but needs a “face lift” or remodel is the way to go.  My advice for them and for anyone who is going to hire a, Architect, General Contractor or anyone else who will be engaged in the remodeling process is to not be in a hurry to hire.  These people will be part of your life for a LONG time!  I also suggest using a prepared list of questions to interview each professional so that you stay on track and can logically compare the answers you receive.  Here is a great list of questions in selecting a General Contractor (written by an Architect):

In general, there are a lot of different types of business models in the remodeling industry.  We personally hired an Architect and Design firm, Studio3 Design, Inc. Bess Wiersema is the Principal, and she is great!  She had her own list of General Contractors, and we chose to interview three of her suggested professionals.  Even though I am in Real Estate and know and have my own sources that I refer and love, I felt it best to go with one of her recommendations since she has a long history of working with her contractors. That is vitally important when a project gets into the throws of the process. We interviewed three and selected Midglen Studios out of Woodside.  They did a great job—even through many complications that our house had (it’s originally built in 1921, and doing things like tying in old and new can be tricky).  Tony Curci from Midglen also did a few things right from the beginning, which is imperative in my opinion:

  1. He provided a professional proposal with a “Cost of Values” for each portion of the project (bathrooms, family room, cabinets, plumbing, etc.).
  2. The proposal was “Not To Exceed”  (unless you have change orders that YOU request or cause, a Not To Exceed bid means that you cannot be charged more for the job).
  3. He was flexible with my finish choices.  In other words, I was able to select and buy our finishes from personal connections I have in the business, and those line items were subtracted from the “Cost of Values.”
  4. Tony is very knowledgeable, respectful, and liked our dogs.  I know the last part sounds silly, but he showed immediate affection to Milliken and Minnie, which made us feel confident that he would make sure they were always secure and not let out by any Midglen’s crewmembers.


PLEASE NOTE:  Selecting the cheapest or least expensive professionals is BAD NEWS!  Do not, and I repeat, do not hire someone because they are the least expensive.  When we were younger, we did this on a previous remodel, and boy did it cost more in the long run!  Remodeling is not the place to cut corners as this is your home we are talking about—where you live and entertain, where your children sleep, and for what you may eventually sell and want the Highest Possible Price. It’s expensive to hire the right professionals and even MORE expensive not to!

It’s been a long article, but I hope you’ve found the information valuable. The next issue will be about permits, setting realistic expectations with your remodeling team, and breaking ground.

If you want to talk with me about my remodeling experience, just call as I am happy to share:  650-701-7822. If you want a personal introduction to any of my remodeling team, contact me and I’ll make an introduction for you via email.  Until next time!


Dawn Thomas