‘Do the research:’ Local experts offer advice for embarking on home renovations

Instead of moving out, many tri-state area homeowners these days are moving up.

A dearth of available new or for-sale homes, combined with high interest rates on home mortgages, has prompted homeowners to ease up on shopping for a new place to live and instead look inward to find ways to enhance their current living situations.

Area experts attest the strategy can lead residents to a more satisfying life within their current four walls while also enhancing their home’s market value.

The variety of projects being undertaken in the tri-state area is vast. Building permits issued in Dubuque in February included the construction of three new townhomes and four new single-family homes. The remaining residential-related building permits were for additions or alterations of current houses that included nearly $280,000 in construction value.

Among the renovations permitted by the city in February were new roofs, porch additions, new basement finishes, drywall installations, window replacement and bathroom remodels.

“Homeowners are spending more of their money on improvements instead of moving,” said Sara Post, a real estate agent with EXIT Realty Unlimited in Dubuque. “Improving the home not only enhances the living space, but it increases its value. Many can do this without breaking the bank.”

Locally, professionals are available to aid in this process. From real estate agents and design consultants to contractors and inspectors, they bring expertise and help homeowners decide what improvements are worth the money, how to conduct them and if a professional’s help is necessary.

Post said those who have opted to renovate their living spaces also are doing so on a larger scale than in years past. While some opt to slap up a fresh coat of paint (shades of green are popular, Post said) or replace fixtures, others have embarked on an all-out gut job of a space to install an entire new feel and aesthetic.

While these jobs lead to a full revamp, they do require more skills and planning.

“A lot of people can do it themselves,” Post said. “It takes patience and attention to detail and a willingness to learn … but it’s always good to consult with different professionals.”

For years, one of those professionals has been David Tranel, owner of Interiors… By Design in Dubuque. Opening originally in 1993 as The Floor Emporium, the business has evolved over the years, adding furniture, cabinets, countertops and window fixtures to its offerings. After navigating the Great Recession and other economic highs and lows, the business is now a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to improve their home.

Tranel said he and his staff have also seen an uptick in people wanting to freshen up their living spaces.

“People used to come in and want us to help with finding a paint color or tying in furniture,” Tranel said. “Today it’s much more than that. It’s space management, kitchen openness, maybe taking out a few walls between kitchens and dining rooms to open things up and make it feel more spacious.”

Agreeing with Post, Tranel said more people are opting to embark on larger projects.

“They like their location and neighbors and want to modify their home,” Tranel said. “It’s a lot of bigger remodels like kitchens and bathrooms. In some cases, they are trying to make spaces, like showers, feel bigger.”

Tranel said before seeking a contractor, though, it’s best to have an idea in mind. Using a local interior design business or the internet can be helpful.

“Pinterest can give (people) an idea for looks to see if something would work in their house,” Tranel said. “That helps when going out to look for paint colors, lighting and other things. But if you want to take out a wall and open things up, I would recommend a good consultant.”

Dennis L. Runde, who for 43 years has owned and operated Carpenters Construction Services, Inc., based north of East Dubuque, Ill., said many homes can be opened up by removing walls, but having the know-how is key.

Over the past handful of years, he said, the new-home building portion of his business has stayed consistent, while the number of home renovations he and his eight-person crew have taken on recently has spiked.

With many large projects, the scope can get too large for one homeowner to handle.

“Our business has grown because people want someone to general (contract) it for them,” Tranel said. “A consistent comment from customers is, ‘I don’t want to spend my time calling an electrician, carpenters, painters. They don’t want to make the calls. … If you get into the bigger jobs, it can get overwhelming.”

Finding the right pro is important when making structural changes to a home.

“A lot can do (projects) themselves,” Runde said. “It depends on the individual and how handy they are. Not everyone can do it. You’ve got to get things sized properly with roof loads and floor loads. Some people do demolition and painting and let (professionals) do the rest.”

Resources are available to help homeowners find the correct professional.

“Who’s really helpful is your local lumberyards,” Runde said.

Being established in the area and consistently busy, Runde — and other contractors — no longer need to advertise.

“Word of mouth is a big one for me,” he said. “We have a running (theme) in The (Galena Territory) where we built a house and then were passed on to another (resident) and then another.”

Post said a simple Facebook post can garner recommendations for trustworthy, skilled contractors as well. A real estate agent also can lend some advice.

“As realtors, we know a lot of different resources,” she said. “Family and friends ask me who I recommend. … We have large lists.”

Another vital component to any home renovation is obtaining the proper permits, which vary based on the location and scope of the project.

Many times, before commencing a renovation project — especially a large one such as home additions — home owners need to have an outline of the project, including drawings, dimensions and a site plan, before obtaining a permit.

Most projects in Dubuque — including new windows, plumbing, wall modifications, and more — require a permit. Contractors, in many cases, can file building permit applications on behalf of the homeowner.

In all home renovations, timing and organization are key.

“I do the research and identify the areas of the home that need the improvements and start looking for the solutions right away,” Post said. “If you are looking to have something done, look at the budget, research and plan.”