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Undertaking a renovation can be, in a word, traumatic.
First, it’s an investment: According to HomeAdvisor, a kitchen remodel—the most common home renovation—costs an average of $22,000, and even a smaller-scale remodel (like a bathroom redo) averages around $10,000. Beyond that, there’s the tricky task of managing a workforce that could consist of designers, architects, contractors, and subs for a project where you may or may not have any technical expertise. (Not to mention: You may already have your hands full managing a couple of kids and a dog.)
That being said, if you can navigate a renovation smoothly, it can be one of the most rewarding investments you can make in your home. Just consider this list of renovation mistakes to avoid and how to get around them.
Rushing the Job
You’ve seen enough home improvement shows to know that it’s possible to build an entire home in a week. But TV is not real life. For your own renovation, allow time to plan, to do each step thoroughly, and to address the unexpected.
“You have to respect the enormity of it all,” says Dan DiClerico, HomeAdvisor’s renovation expert, who says that with proper planning, a 3- to 6-month window isn’t overkill for a big project. Building in enough time—and cushioning it with a few extra weeks—will give you room to plan a project, assemble a team, and work through anything that comes up with less stress.
Neglecting the Team Dynamic
Speaking of assembling a team: Depending on the project, this may include an architect, specialty designer (like a kitchen or bath designer), contractor, decorator, and more.
Get these people together as early as possible. “Often people make the mistake of working with the architect and getting far into a plan before consulting the contractor, and then you realize the project is out of budget,” DiClerico says. The sooner you assemble the team and get them working together, the better you’ll minimize or eliminate the risk of issues coming up later.
Ignoring Your Gut
As you assemble the team, do your homework and interview multiple contractors and other pros. They may have good working relationships with people they can recommend to you, but DiClerico stresses that you should meet contractors in person and talk to at least three to five people before committing.
“Every meeting is going to be an education; you’ll learn about the project and yourself,” he says. “But listen to your gut!” If you feel like that initial meeting seemed overly rushed, or they were rude or condescending, those feelings will only multiply during a renovation. Move on.
Communication is key: with your workforce, between the team, and with your partner, too. “The project can become a kind of blank canvas for any issues that exist in the relationship,” warns DiClerico. “Go in with your eyes wide open!”
If you have a strong rapport with your contractor, that person can help you and your partner work through any disagreements. Avoid having side conversations without each other. It’s also important to establish with your contractor how best to communicate. “Whether it’s by text, phone, or an email once a week, you want to know how to reach them once the work gets underway,” says DiClerico.
Thinking You Know Best
“HGTV and Pinterest are great for inspiration, but not for information,” says DiClerico. If you’re into home improvement shows, remember that they only show a portion of the project. Similarly, you may want to shop for your own tiles or lights online, but “there’s a big difference between choosing things you like and choosing items that will perform properly,” he says.
Enlisting a professional designer to guide your choices could cost between 5 and 20 percent of your total budget, but it’s worth it to make sure you’re getting good-quality design and that all the elements will truly function together.
Forgetting to Budget
Speaking of which: You’ve got to pick a number. Since the general rule of thumb is that it’s going to cost more and take longer than you think, make sure you have a big enough cushion in there that you’re not breaking the bank (adding an extra 10 to 20 percent more to the initial estimate is a good start). “If by some miracle you come in under your number, you’ll be happy to have a little extra for decorating!” says DiClerico.
As a general rule, you’ll want to spend more on things you interact with—like cabinets with doors you’ll open and close dozens of times a day—versus things you use less, like decorative tile.
Neglecting the Plan
It’s important to have a thorough, written plan before you start work. “If a contractor ever says they don’t do that, run in the opposite direction!” says DiClerico. The plan should include precise details, down to every single product with the model number and choice of finish. And once you have the plan, stick to it. “The four most expensive words in renovating are, while you’re at it…” laughs DiClerico. Even minor changes can drive up the cost and push back the timeline.
That being said, know that things will inevitably come up, and adjustments will have to be made along the way. Get them documented and try not to worry. “It’s probably never going to be perfect or work out exactly as you imagine,” says DiClerico. “So go easy on yourself and take the long view.”
Ayne-Monique Klahre, REALSIMPLE