Experiences and lessons learned in the trenches

Conventional wisdom used to be that if you could survive hard travel for a month with someone, your chances for a successful marriage were high. But anyone who's gone through a remodel together as a couple would add a new twist: If you can remodel a home with a partner, your relationship should last a good long time. My wife and I survived ours.

For first-timers, remodeling can be more challenging than expected. Everyone says it will cost twice as much and take three times as long as you think. What they don't say is that you'll have to make 10 times as many decisions.

That doesn't mean remodeling can't be fun. Here are 10 tips culled from contractors, designers and experience to make the process of remaking a home flow more smoothly:

1. Plan ahead: As with a wedding, think about what you want, what you can afford and what your priorities are. Know it will cost more than you expect and have some reserve cash. Don't overextend; that makes it more stressful. If it's a major remodel, consider living outside the home when the work is being done. Read books or go online to see different options. And go to friends' homes to see what's worked for them.

2. Budget time, not just money: Remodeling is like taking on a part-time job. You may need five hours a week, you may need 15. Be sure to budget this time, so you don't feel rushed or harried. You'll need to peruse books like Sunset's kitchen design guide, browse the Web, shop for materials and furnishings and meet with your contractor.

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