Exterior remodeling may look easy on television, but it can be quite a challenge for beginners. Between cost overruns and shoddy work by shady contractors, home remodeling can be less than enjoyable to the unprepared homeowner.

Fortunately, that’s not the way it has to be. To avoid the nightmares that are all too often associated with renovating your home, plan carefully and use this resource as your guide.

Knowing Your Vision

Long before you sign any contract with remodeling services, it’s important that you have a clear vision of what you want your home to be like.

Why exactly do you want to renovate the exterior of your house? That may sound like an obvious question, but really get specific. Knowing why you want something will help you clarify how it needs to be done, which will help inform every decision you make in the remodeling process.

Your home may require significant maintenance or repair work. Maybe the roof leaks or your siding is torn. Perhaps your home looks outdated and it needs new paint or a new roof to keep up with the times.

Perhaps you very practically need more space for a growing family and want to add on to your home. Or maybe you want to make your house more eco-friendly with energy-saving features and upgrades — replacing standard windows with more efficient ones can save you as much as 15% on your energy bills.

Whatever your motive for renovating your exterior, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want done and why. This is the first step to getting a renovation you’re proud of.

Planning the Remodel

With a clear vision in your mind, it’s time to get that plan on to paper and figure out how it will be done.

To start the planning process, you should first write down a list of everything you thought about when you clarified your vision. Write everything down, even if you’re not sure it’s realistic or necessary yet. Just dump your ideas onto the page.

Then, you will need to organize this list into three categories: must-have priorities, things you would like to have, and “dream items” that would be nice to have, but which you can do without.

Must-have items are at the core of your vision. They’re basically the reasons why you need to remodel your home in the first place. No matter how else the plan changes down the road, these things will remain the top priority.

“Like-to-haves” are things that you may want or even need in the near future, but which you can do without for now. Maybe a priority item for you is replacing the roof, and something you would like to have is new gutters while you’re at it.

Finally, dream items are things which you may not need or even be able to afford. But they would be awfully nice to have, so you want to be aware of them anyway, just in case they turn out to be more feasible than you expect.

Now that you’ve organized your thoughts and ideas on paper, the next part of the planning process is to assess your budget. This is less exciting than “visioning” or brain-dumping, but it’s absolutely critical. In fact, the two biggest points of failure for beginner remodelers are failing to be realistic and failing to set an accurate budget. Now that you know your priorities, it’s time to figure out what you can afford.

You should set an appointment with a financial advisor to talk about what your spending limits would be. You’ll need to know how big of a loan you can qualify for, as well as how much of a monthly payment you can reasonably afford.

Through this process, you may decide to tackle one of your main priorities (such as a leaking roof that must be fixed), while waiting to do less critical renovations until you have more to spend (such as cosmetic enhancements like new paint).

Setting the Budget and Hiring the Contractor

Now it’s time to meet with a trustworthy contractor and define your exact budget. A remodeling contractor can help you figure out exactly what expenses are involved in your type of project, and what those expenses will be for you.

After this, you’ll be ready to make all your remodeling dreams come true.

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