Home improvements done right the first time!

You've just bought a house, moved in, and now you want to turn your real estate investment into a home...

Or, maybe you've been free-wheeling your property's maintenance for years and need better results. Today's home owners find themselves in either situation. Then they take their list of problems and begin to look for ideas in design magazines and online platforms to solve each issue as money becomes available. What seems like a budget-wise approach to attack expensive repairs is the most costly road there is to property management and the result most often - a 'hodgepodge”.

Let's face it – most Americans consider their home their most valuable asset and hope to live comfortably while preserving their money, even gaining if they've bought wisely. Unfortunately the marketing tactics for high-cost home products - “buy now while it's on sale” or “free in-store design” muddies the landscape we must navigate to purchase building materials and services. Gleaning home repair and renovation ideas from TV shows and other media, project by project, does not create a cohesive design for your real estate investment despite how easy it appears. A well thought out plan that makes your home visually pleasing and functional is the only way to protect your investment and make your money work for you. Here are the steps to take;

Step 1 - Look at your home critically and create a list of the things you love, and those you don't!

What are the qualities of this residence that made you think you could live here? Inventory these characteristics which you want to show off along with the ones you'd like to lose. Then start asking your friends and family for names of professional designers who they know from experience can turn your ideas into a strategy.

Step 2 - To prepare for a meeting with prospective design consultants, create a vision board; a collage of photographs collected from design projects you hope can be borrowed for success at your house.

A file of images on your iPad, what Houzz.com calls an “ideabook”, can work too. Sit down and make a wish list, expressing, for your housemates and professionals alike, what you want to “see” happen with your home! Illustrate your aesthetic needs through images and your requests can be easily translated into three dimension - or nixed depending on reality. This is the part of the process where your mind's eye gets tested. We all have an imagination for visual outcomes, though the non-professional doesn't have the experience to know if their wishful thinking will work.

It is not uncommon for homeowner's to mine contractor's off-the-cuff ideas, shared onsite during “free” consultations. Your property is too valuable to ad lib renovations and construction in this way. Architects and designers undergo rigorous training. They learn how to put their imagination to the test with finished results. The plan that you will design together is a road map and an insurance policy; it will clearly define the work for your builder and yourself (the DIY'er) and prevents repeated spending for construction materials and labor which fails to satisfy your list of wants and needs. Your contractor is the craftsmen who will build your dream. So listen to and heed their thoughts about the plan gained from their experience building and their detailed knowledge of the site.

Step 3 - Have real expectations!

I know what you're thinking – “Involving an architect, architectural color designer, or interior designer will just swell the cost of the project for this modest property.” No, not if you hire great professionals from referral, budget your requests, and direct their attention to the parts of the project you do not have the skill or time to do yourself. If you are clear about your skill set, your budget, and can accept a professional's considered advice, your collaboration can create a well-defined document for your project to be implemented over time economically.

“Don't paint companies and roof shingle manufacturers have online tools to see how your home will look with different choices of color and design for free?” Often my clients comment that they know what they like when they see it; we all do. Unfortunately, the trial and error approach to building and renovation that many practice, is expensive. You are right to be hopeful that the internet graphics and design platforms provided by manufacturers might help you avoid the cost of a design fee. Manufacturer's design tools rely on digital photography that is not able to provide accurate color or contextual information critical to making good decisions for architectural design. Remind yourself of the inaccuracy of photos of family or from trips that you have shot yourself. Onsite demonstration with sample materials is the only well-founded predictor of design outcome. The sad fact is, the more you are unsatisfied with your choices, the more materials you will buy. If you've made some costly mistakes in the past shopping online or relying on advice at the paint store counter, seek the help of someone who does this as a profession, is not selling you anything, who will meet you on site and can give you the real context for the visual properties required to make a good decision. And be prepared to take the time that a light tested, site appropriate answer takes for great results.

Step 4 - Assemble a team of designers who you feel have the skills you need to create a plan.

An architect can make design, system and structural assessments and suggest changes to the building's envelope and the interior. An architectural color designer will look at the overall plan for the exterior and help determine the materials and colors that will define your architecture in its landscape. On the interior, color design adjusts light conditions and refines atmosphere for energy efficiency, comfort and style. Interior designers will work with you on floor plans, design built-ins and recommend furnishings that will make the best use of your space while adding your style. Some of these professionals have skills which overlap, but you can benefit from a collaborative approach by employing the best professional for the specific need.

Trusting designers to create a plan for the vision you have for your home is a leap of faith. Hire only those individuals who have a portfolio of projects which match your sensibility so you are both speaking the same visual language right from the beginning. Design professionals are trained to take your ideas and turn them into plans. Share your budget limitations and your desire to do some of the work yourself. Your family's biggest investment will benefit from the time you devote to assembling a team to work with you. Home design done right using both professional help and DIY is a winning combination.

The biggest value for your money in renovation and construction is design. So keep watching HGTV, pouring over magazines for inspiration or making image portfolios online - it's free to start the planning process. Then hire well-regarded design professionals to make site-specific drawings and schedules. You will be surprised how easy it is to make decisions that reflect your own ideas and then communicate them to your builder. Don't buy the illusion that suggests that you can shop your way to a fine finished home. And most importantly, the time-honored process of architectural design will translate into real property improvement worth your investment of time and money and will provide you with a home you will love.