6 Home Renovation Mistakes … and how to avoid them

Back in 2005, the hubs and I bought our first house together. Being young(er) and naive, we thought we’d live there for the next 20 years and raise our family there. We put a lot of love and sweat and tears into making that house our home. Except as the adage goes, when people plan, fate laughs — we ended up selling it just 4 years later.

Along the way we learned a LOT about how to work with contractors, how to manage budgets and what we’ll never do again!

Originally, we bought the house because of the great lot: it was a fully-landscaped almost 1/3 of an acre in the centre of the city.

The inside though, that needed some work.

The previous owners has done sporadic updates room-by-room: one room was dark chocolate brown, another was blue with clouds painted on the ceiling, yet another was canary yellow. The kitchen and bathrooms had been updated … but that was sometime during the early 1990s, so all the appliances and hardware were worn out and needed replacing and the cabinet and tile styles were seriously dated. In short, it was a mess.

Optimistically, we thought we’d tackle the projects in sequence, doing a little bit when we could afford it.

Then the oven broke.
And the dishwasher.
And the washing machine.
And in the depths of winter while trying to figure out why we were always so darn cold we went up into the attic only to find the “insulation” was actually sawdust. Yup. R-value of about 1.

So we hired a contractor. He had great ideas and we liked him. That was our first mistake — hiring someone because you “like” them, not realizing that the initial meeting is a sales-pitch like any other.

Now, several renovations later, we know we made lots of other mistakes as well, some small and some huge. These are the biggest and most costly ones:

1) Not getting multiple quotes — it usually costs nothing to have a few contractors come and review the project. With each one, you can determine where the actual costs and timeline of the work might be. If they are all similar, I’ve learned you’re probably best going with one who has been recommended by someone you know because word-of-mouth referrals really are the best — and most reliable. If the quotes are disparate, or if contractors tell you completely different things you need to ask more questions and review the nature of the work. If one is significantly cheaper than the rest, I’d suggest being cautious — a much cheaper quote is typically indicative of poorer-quality workpersonship or products or both.

2) Not setting a budget upfront — this lets your contractor know what you have to spend. If also lets him or her tell you if your budget is unworkable given the scope of the work. You both know that you’ll go over by 20-30%, but starting with a clear figure means you won’t go over by 100% … or more.

3) Not setting a deadline — this lets your contractor know when the work has to be complete. You both know there will be a mad scrabble at the end and that you’re unlikely to completely finish by that date, but it’s a good goalpost and helps keep everyone on-track.

4) Not setting workday expectations — will your contractor be at your site everyday, all day? Will work begin at 7 a.m. and end at 7 p.m. or be a 10 a.m til 2 p.m. affair a few days a week? When work isn’t structured it tends to fall behind. If the supervisor is only onsite for a few hours a day, the bulk of the work only tends to happen during those hours — funny that.

5) Not having a clear idea of what we wanted from the project — in my defence, when we did this renovation there was no such thing as Pinterest. But we learned the hard way that if you don’t really know what you want — down to the item and the exact placement — you won’t get it. Giving visual aides in the form of drawings or pictures and clear directions about exactly what we wanted would have saved at LOT of time and money.

6) Not saying “how much will that cost?”  — every time a contractor came up with a new, brilliant idea, we said “yes!” rather than asking how much it would cost and then factoring it into the budget.

In our case, our kitchen and flooring renovation, originally projected for 3 months actually took 11 months and cost about 75% more than we had budgeted for.

We didn’t get it all wrong though. We did end up with a beautiful home that showed (expensive, time-consuming) attention to detail. See more photos in the third album in the gallery.

So even though we made a bunch of mistakes, we still created something lovely. When we ended up selling, these features set the house apart from the others on the market. We know that because it took less than 3 weeks from when the sign when up to putting a sold sign on it!

Even 6 years later, I’m still kinda proud we took a sad older house and made it shine. That’s what’s so awesome about the renovation process and what keeps us coming back for more !

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