Main Content

Remodeling Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

As more homeowners take on the task of designing new rooms, choosing materials and hiring labor for the first time, they can fall into traps that cost time and money.

Here are the most common remodeling mistakes to avoid when renovating your home…

Remodeling Mistakes

Have a Plan Before You Start

Mistake: Not seeing the big picture.  When planning major structural changes, such as adding a room, take the architectural integrity of the home into consideration. Many homeowners are focused on adding space or want the house to look new, so the main concern is getting the work is done quickly and within budget.

Problem: Renovations that are out of character with the rest of the home can turnoff potential buyers in the future.

Scale back the wish list to fit the budget for quaility work; trying to do too much in your budget can lead to shoddy workmanship.

Strategy: First determine how much you can afford to spend in renovating.  Then draw up a wish list in order of preference.  Invite two architects and two contractors to provide ballpark estimates to find out what your money might realistically buy.

Strike a proper balance between solving your needs and achieving an appropriate level of quality for your type of home while working within your budget.  If you can’t get it all, postpone renovations on other parts of the house.

 Trap: Spending too much on the renovation project, making your home the most expensive one on the street, pricing it out of competition.

Choose work that will truly improve your lifestyle and make your home more attractive-without putting it beyond the reach of a potential buyer.  Doing too much can be a problem, you may be left with a home whose parts no longer work together.

Mistake: Being excessively trendy.  As the number of colorful home improvement magazines and TV shows increases, so does a home owner’s wish list.

Example: Heavy terracotta floor tiles in the kitchen…fancy opaque glass walls…geometric fireplaces…trendy colors and finishes.

Before committing to the latest design fad, consider the long-term consequences.  Ask yourself if you will be comfortable with this new style for the next 20 years.  When it comes to resale, conservative & timeless work over the long term.  Elegant, functional spaces and general neutral colors in the kitchens and bathrooms- always hold up best.

Mistake:  Assuming that you will pay what your neighbors did for the same work.  When home owners look for architects, contractors, carpenters, electricians, etc.  they usually call their friends for recommendations.  They also frequently ask what their friends paid for remodeling or renovation work that was done a few years ago.

With those estimates in mind, they are often shocked when they hear what the work will cost today.  During the 1990-1991 recession, business was terrible for architects and contractors.  They often worked at distress prices.  In addition, the cost of lumber has soared in the last four years.  Be prepared to pay 5%-15% more.

Mistake:  Not spending enough time hiring the right people.  It’s natural to want your renovations completed shortly after you imagine them. But it’s important  to be practical and take the project one step at a time.

Once you’ve talked to a few architects and contractors, ask three of each for bids- no matter how inexpensive the project.  Of course the contractor’s bids are solicited after the architect completes documents for bidding.  The contractor will hire electricians, plumbers, etc.

Ask each for three references, and be sure to contact all of them.  Key questions…

-Were you happy with the work and the working relationship?

-How long did it take to complete the job?

-Was the job completed within the estimated time?

-Did the contractor ask for many change orders that boosted the  cost of the work well past the estimate?

-Did the architect handle the smaller details
(electrical, lighting,etc.)?

-If you were starting again, would you hire them again?

 Important:  Don’t automatically choose the lowest bid.  This is a major temptation, but beware- a low price may result in low-quality work, wither because the caliber of the person is low or because the person did not understand the actual scope of the work and bid too low.

A bid is probably too low if it is very different from other quotes.  Most people who get three bids accept the middle one, it is reasonable.

Exception:  If the three bids are vastly different-say, $20,000, $40,000 and $60,000.  In these cases, you’re probably not comparing similar types of work.

Strategy: Eliminate much of this confusion by having the contractor bid after seeing a complete set of the construction documents prepared by the architect.

Another mistake people make is hiring a design professional whose skills are appropriate for a different type of work.

Example:  If you’re planning an addition to an elegant Tudor-style house, you should find an architect who has done work in the Tudor-style. Request photos of his work, or visit a home on which he has worked.

Strategy:  To find someone with the right skills, ask owners of similar homes, look in magazines or contact a historical society.

Mistake:  Not deciding on the details early enough.  Many delays are the fault of the contractor.  But some are caused by homeowners who haven’t selected fixtures, colors, etc.  Avoid delays by selecting your faucets, tiles and stones early  and making sure everything the contractor needs in its place.  Holding up a project for a few days because you have changed your mind about some element can add weeks to a timetable.

Example:  The contractor may have budgeted only two months to complete your job, after which he must move onto another project.  A two-day delay may cause him to stop working on your house for several weeks.

You may save money by ordering and picking up finish materials yourself.  Get a list of what you need from the contractor.  Bring samples home to make sure the new tiles work with the rest of the room. Ripping up newly laid tiles costs time and money.

Mistake:  Assuming you can live in your home while work is being done.  If possible, home owners should move out while extensive interior work is being done.  It’s not just a question of noise and workmen underfoot.  There will be dust, debris and furniture out of place.  There may even be hazardous materials around.

Strategy:  Arrange alternate accommodations at a residence hotel, which offers lower weekly and monthly rates than commercial hotels…or sublet an apartment.  If you do continue to live your home, be willing to make certain sacrifices.

Example:  Don’t make a fuss if you hat the music the workers play on the job.  You’ll have a happier crew that does better work.

Mistake:  Not overseeing the work properly.  It’s important to keep the tabs on how the work is progressing.  It’s your house, and there is a certain joy in seeing your plans come to fruition.

Avoid being bossy and looking over the contractor’s shoulder 10 times a day.  On the other hand, don’t be aloof or inaccessible.  If you’re not there to raise an important issue or answer questions,  the contractor may not bring it up or the project may be delayed.

Strategy:  check on the progress every day.  Raise any issues as soon as possible with the contractor.  If there are enormous conceptual issues involved, call the architect first and have him help you discuss matters with the contractor.  If you need to talk to the contractor about a serious problem, do it away from the crew so you don’t undermine his/her authority.  It’s also a problem if you and your spouse communicate different opinions and information to the contractor.  Couples should agree on their wants and needs in advance.

Strategy:  Determine who will speak with the contractor and workers.  Generally, the same person should handle this task throughout the job.

Whenever possible, hash out aesthetic disagreements with your spouse ahead of time so you’re speaking with one voice to the contractor. If you or your spouse have a question, both should sit down with the contractor and calmly go over the problem.

Filed under: real estate blog · Tagged with