06/05/2012 10:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tips on Having a Happy Renovation

Having a happy renovation really sounds like an oxymoron, like having a happy Monday or a happy visit to the dentist. I must preface this by saying it didn't start off so happy for me. In an attempt to save others from the costly and (seemingly) never-ending horror that renovating your home can be, I wanted to share my story. So here is what I learned:

Like most things in life, being prepared makes all of the difference. A little thought, planning and research can help to avoid most common catastrophes people tend to encounter. First, you should have a general idea of the level of renovation you'd like to accomplish; this will allow you to determine exactly who you will need to do the work.

I used a contractor, a designer with architectural skills, as far as being able to do drawings (if your designer cannot draw their own plans, you'll incur a big additional expense, so make sure your designer has this skill), a stereo guy (whom I have used on other projects), a window treatment guy (whom I have also worked with), an electrician, and a plumber (both of which my contractor found). Being in the real estate business, I am often asked for referrals for contracting... design... etc. I pride myself on being able to connect my clients to anyone they may need... What do you need? I've got a guy for that!

I interviewed three contractors; this is always my approach when hiring anyone for anything. Always talk to a few different professionals in every category. Unless you were recommended by a past client, ask to speak to a few of their customers. Ultimately, I went with John Zoric, who came highly recommended by my best friend (his standards are up there and he doesn't tolerate any bs). Through this process, I met with a guy who had stepped into his family's business with several years of experience, came very well dressed and had a good team. But I felt there was that extra layer of costs to me with the way the company was set up.

The second guy was just way off the charts in his estimate of the project not even in the ball park of the other two. But what made me choose John at the end of the day, is that he is the owner of his company and he is on the job site everyday getting dirty, in the ceiling, sanding the floors, in the game offering us design solutions. Quick side note I had one of those iPod docking stations at my apartment and I took it out once the construction began.

John noticed it was gone and wanted to make sure I had it. Wow, talk about attention to detail. He also has a respect for the level of work and he jumps in with amazing recommendations and solutions. For design, I was originally using a friend who... let's just say didn't work out and is no longer a friend. I spent a fortune paying for architectural drawings that she couldn't do. I started getting those warnings signs early on so I nipped it in the bud. I hired Drew McGukin, who is just two years out of design school, but he was working on my friends' house in the Hamptons and my friends where very happy.

So Drew it is, he knew we were on a tight time frame. So that is an important question to ask, what other jobs are they currently doing? This will determine if they have time to give your project the attention it needs. Drew and John never worked together before, but I think they will in the future. It's total team work, everybody including myself is enjoying the process of seeing my new place come alive. I will show you before and after pictures. Here are the befores:





Stay tuned for the "afters" in a future post, as of right now, here is what it looks like now:

It should be completed by first or second week in July. And even though drew is only two years old in the business I feel he is a rising star his talent, skills, and demeanor are a perfect combo. I remember going to look at bedding at Ann Gish, we narrowed it down to a certain look, but it was lacking something. Drew came in the store and within 20 minutes with only a few adjustments the bedding totally popped. Ann was even amazed, she said "who is this guy?"

So here are some recommendations of questions to ask: What other projects have you done? Do you have a specialty or a certain style? Can you do architectural drawings or will we need an outside firm? Do the renovations require the project to be filed with the DOB (Department of Buildings)? How many other projects are you working on now? How do you charge? -- there are design fees, fees for overseeing construction, staffing fees and purchasing of furniture, kitchen, accessory fees.

You definitely want to be clear so you can try to stay within your budget. However, be prepared to run over as projects can typically go 10-20 percent over budget. You'll want to check out their website and other work they have done. If you can go visit a home that is ideal, if you can't, at least speak with some of the people who have worked with the person you are considering. If the person you are considering has been in the business for years and only has one reference or doesn't have a website... beware, (Red flag! Red flag!). So, if you take a little time to do your homework and ask the right questions, you too can have a very happy renovation. To obtain my list of recommended professionals, email