WASHINGTON — Julie Friedman, 40, and her fiance, Jonathan Spector, 48, were on a mission last fall to find a home that would comfortably fit the two of them plus their combined five kids.
They were well aware that any house might need some tweaking to fit the bunch, so they brought along Howard Kandel, who is a design builder — a contractor who both designs and remodels homes.
Thanks to new technology, little needs to be left to the imagination when it comes to home building, renovations and purchases these days. Remodeling companies are using 3-D home-design software to present computer images of what a renovated home could end up looking like.
“At the end of the day, very few people have the imagination to be able to look at a set of plans and have any idea of what that’s actually going to look like,” Kandel said. “We can throw in furniture and wall coverings, paint colors and different materials and literally build it probably to 90 to 95 percent of what it’s really gonna look like.”
Friedman, who is a landscape designer, always wanted a rambler with a U-shaped patio.
“I wanted to feel like you would walk out of the back of your house and be surrounded by the garden, surrounded by the house,” she said. “And somehow we just found it.”
Vision comes to life
Her dream home was on the market in Rockville, Md. But there was one problem: It was short two much-needed bedrooms. Cue Mr. Kandel.
Using a 3-D home-design software package called Chief Architect, Kandel showed Friedman and Spector a lifelike rendering of what that house would become if they converted an unwanted formal family room into two extra rooms for the kids.
“It really felt like what your home was going to look like,” Friedman said. “Some of the girls’ rooms were going to be these bright fun colors instead of just a plain white room, so he was able to change the color of the walls and change the color of the furniture.”
Companies such as Kandel Construction and Bowa in the Washington area work with real-estate professionals to help buyers visualize their dream homes.
“We’ll reach out to Realtors and say, ‘If you have somebody who’s seriously looking at this house, but they don’t have the vision to understand that they want to do this, this or this, let us help,’” said principal/owner George Hodges-Fulton of Bowa.
Along with images of the remodeled house, these firms provide shoppers with estimated costs so they can determine if a house is still affordable if it needs renovations. “Most of the time, that gives confidence to the consumers so that they’re able to purchase the home and move forward,” Hodges-Fulton said.
The cost of having a design builder produce the 3-D renderings, determine the full scope of the renovations and figure out a preliminary budget can range from $500 to $5,000 depending on the size of the project, Kandel said. His firm will hold that money as a retainer and use it toward the overall budget if you hire them to also do the construction.
Conversely, Bowa sees this work as a marketing expense and does not charge for the service. It’s a wise investment, Hodges-Fulton said. Many times, after house hunters gain the confidence to buy a home because of Bowa’s input, they will hire Bowa to do the rest of the job.
You don’t have to be shopping for a new home to benefit from this technology. Robyn Futrovsky, 53, and her husband, Mark, 56, had lived in their home for 21 years before looking last year to make their laundry room bigger and update the kitchen and family room.
The couple had asked for proposals from a few different companies, but Futrovsky said that she didn’t love the flat architectural plans the others presented.
“Howard (Kandel) did the plans, but along with them, he also said, ‘Before you look at this, let me show you what this looks like in 3-D,’” she said. Even though Futrovsky is a freelance interior designer and familiar with architectural plans, the 3-D renderings helped sway her.
One project was to remove a superfluous back staircase, which would give the family room three extra feet.
“Three feet doesn’t sound like a big amount of space,” Futrovsky said. “It was hard for my husband to visualize, and to be quite honest, it was difficult for me to visualize how 36 inches was really going to give me a larger family room.”
To help them appreciate his vision, Kandel decorated the digital room with digital furniture, placing two chairs with a game table in the corner.
“I was like, ‘Well that’s not going to work, because you know my family is six people and there’s four chairs,’” Futrovsky said. She asked Kandel to put a sectional in the new space, and suddenly the room was transformed perfectly.
For nonprofessionals who want to attempt to virtually rebuild or decorate their homes, Chief Architect offers software starting at $59. Of course, there are apps for that, too. Check out Home Design 3D for iPad and iPhone, or BuildApp for Android.
But professionals advise that you give them a call. “Not to be a tech nerd, but it’s garbage in, garbage out,” Hodges-Fulton said. “If a person who’s using a software doesn’t understand software or frankly doesn’t have the creativity to ask the software to generate what they’re envisioning in their own head, it doesn’t work.”
The DIYer versions of the software can help you communicate more easily with your builder, said Scott Harris, Chief Architect’s vice president of sales and marketing. Ninety percent of customers who use Chief Architect’s DIY software “Home Designer” use it to give their builder ideas of how they’d like a renovation to turn out, he said. The builder is then able to develop formal designs from there.