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Tips for Planning a Successful Home Renovation

Thinking about remodeling your home? A design/build/realty expert weighs in with what to consider before you do.

If you’ve been keeping up with the current sentiment in the housing, building, and real estate markets (like with the help of our 2024 Trends Report: Top 5 Things of Note in the Renovation Era), you’re probably aware that there’s a renewed emphasis on remodeling and renovation. And if you’re thinking about embarking on a project yourself, where should you begin?

We met recently with Heather Fox, co-owner and co-founder (with her husband Brad) of Foxwell Shoppe + Studio, Fox Homes, and Fox Realty, Minneapolis-area retail, design, development, and real estate companies. With two decades of experience in the real estate and building industries, and a hand in almost all aspects of the housing market, Fox has a unique perspective on points of emphasis for homeowners who are renovation curious. She shared these remodel considerations:

Time is of the Essence

First and foremost, Fox said that while people shouldn’t launch into a project without careful thought, time is of the essence, not just from a logistical perspective, but from a cost one as well.

“I think the biggest thing is planning far enough in advance,” she said. “We often have people that come to us and they want all of the work to start in 30 days, but there's a lot that goes into it. If they're thinking about doing a project next year, now is the time they should really be planning.”

And it isn’t just that building, renovations, and permits take a while, it’s that they just keep getting more expensive. Putting off your project waiting for prices to go down probably isn’t going to happen, Fox added.

“In my time in this industry, which has been about 20 years, I have not seen construction costs ever go down,” she said. “Maybe they fluctuated a tiny bit when the price of lumber went down from its all-time high. But, generally speaking, the price of construction is only getting more and more expensive.”

A mix of rising labor and material costs means getting the ball rolling as soon as you can is probably a good idea.

Practical and Personal is In

So, you’ve decided a renovation is right for you. The next step is prioritizing the changes you want to make. The Foxes are used to guiding people through this process, but they’ve seen some changes recently. Projects are not just about updating fixtures or redesigning spaces for aesthetic reasons, there’s a renewed interest in mindful improvements that benefit how you use your spaces every day.

“Selling and buying something else is not quite the same as it used to be,” Fox said. “So people are investing in their homes and in practical spaces and really thinking about, space-wise, the things that will make their home work for them longer term.”

Knowing what project scope works for which homeowners is something that comes with experience, and it’s where Fox guides, but then steps back and really considers the individuals. In the end, it’s their home, so they need to feel comfortable about where they invest their time and money. Fox offered this perspective for how she helps clients get to that place.

“I think it's prioritizing what is important in your home because it is different for everybody. It’s really listening to the client and to what they need.”

Consider Trends Without Being Trendy

With the rise of usable spaces versus flash-in-the-pan aesthetic updates and a hyperfocus on the individual, you’d think what’s trendy would take a backseat in the decision-making process. And you’d be right, but only to a point. Fox is still seeing some trends pop up that are worth considering, even if your project skews toward long-term, make-this-space-future-proof-for-us.

The First Trend: A Return to Pantries

“Oftentimes if somebody is doing a kitchen renovation, they want to have a space where things are hidden away,” Fox said. “So we add large walk-in pantries. It’s a space for all those extra dishes, for food storage that’s hard to fit in a cabinet. Overall, a spot where it can be a little bit messy and the rest of your kitchen looks completely clean and put together.” 

Second Trend: It’s Still Open Floor Plans

While the demise of the open floor plan has been reported elsewhere, especially in light of the pandemic and an increased desire for personal spaces, Fox is still seeing an interest in open floor plans. She suggested this may be due to the particular life stage of many of their clients (young families, primarily), but it’s still worth noting.

“I think people still want open floor plans,” she said. “Especially with smaller children, they want to be able to be in the kitchen cooking and see their kids playing Legos on the living room floor and their other child can be sitting at the kitchen table working on homework.”

When asked about offices, reading nooks, and those work-from-home spaces that are all important for a lot of homeowners today, Fox agreed they’re definitely on the priority list, but often as part of a larger, open concept.

“As far as living, kitchen, and dining, those tend to be popular still as open concept. But then you can put that smaller office off to the side and let that live on its own.”

Third Trend: A Pop of Color

Maybe it’s another example of turning the page after the pandemic, where people grew tired of a sea of white, gray, and beige, but Fox is seeing infusions of color throughout the home.

“One of the big trends that we're seeing is people are embracing color, and not just on walls, but also with tile and cabinetry,” she said. “It used to be white, maybe gray, and now we're doing maroon, blue, green, and all these different colors in cabinetry, and also in tile and countertops. There's a lot more movement and some really beautiful things.”

Fourth Trend: Window Variety

Black windows are never going to go away, but where they were specified in the vast majority of the Fox team’s past projects, more recent renovations include a variety of window choices.

“As far as windows, I think one of the more surprising things is that for a while it was black windows, black windows, black windows, interior and exterior,” Fox said. “And now I feel like we're at a 50/50 point where a lot of people are trending back to white and wood, too.”

“Wood is becoming more and more popular again in cabinetry and other places, like wood trim and wood doors,” she added. “We're seeing all of that mix together a little bit, too, which is really great.”

Window Decisions Can Change Up a Whole Project

As far as renovation considerations go, according to Fox, one choice has an outsized influence on the rest of the plans: Windows.

“Windows are truly one of the very first things we have clients talk through in the process. For example, we want to know what the kitchen is going to look like, of course, but do you want your whole backsplash to be a window? Because that changes how we're going to lay out the whole house. Or if you live on a really tight lot with nearby neighbors, we need to be a little bit more strategic about where we put windows so you're not in a fishbowl.”

“So really, from that first meeting, we're talking about, ‘What do you want your house to feel like? What do you want it to be?’” she said. “And a lot of that discussion revolves around windows and doors.”

To Move or Not to Move

In the end, maybe after all the careful considering, you think you just want to move. Or build something new, from scratch. But are you sure sure? Fox has seen this play out time and again.

“With the right budget, we can change anything as far as a house goes, right?,” she asked. “The hard part, the thing you can't change, is your location, your specific street, your neighbors, your schools. Are you able to walk to the grocery store? Things like that really matter to some people and don't matter to others.”

And at that ultimate love-it-or-list-it moment, Fox has a sixth sense.

“Usually, we kind of know from the beginning: They're going to end up staying in their house and renovating. They just love it too much and it's going to be too hard to replicate what they have.”