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The Top 20 Renovation Mistakes New Homeowners Make

Congratulations! Escrow has closed and you have the keys to your new home! Now comes the

hard part: making it your own. Whether you’re in for a gut renovation or just trying to redecorate, there’s a lot more to designing a property than you might think. I have considerable

experience and wish to share the most common blunders that new homeowners make, so that you won’t follow in their footsteps.

1. Starting renovations too soon

If possible, live in your house for a while before making any renovation plans. You must live in your home for long enough to learn it’s flow, where the groceries land, where the laundry wants to go, how the sun hits it, and where the choke points are. These are just a few nuances that take on clarity only after living in your home for a period of time.

2. Underestimating costs

Most jobs will cost more and take longer than you expect, so when budgeting, always add a 15-20% contingency to your project cost estimate. If you don’t have the funds, reduce the scope, or if possible, break it up in phases. Completing a project under budget is preferable to dealing with the stress of having to come up with additional cash.

3. Expecting everything to go according to plan

Be prepared for the unexpected, especially if your home is older and has architectural or historical significance. Who knows what’s behind that wall you’re opening? New construction is more controlled, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing. Therefore, that 15-20% contingency is critical. Planning is vital, but it’s impossible to plan for the unknown.

4. Not hiring a designer from the start

A good interior designer or architect will ask you a lot of necessary questions about your needs, desires, the way you live, and your budget. If they don’t, find someone else. Listening skills and curiosity are crucial.

They will often come up with ideas and solutions that you had not even considered, and it’s critical that you consider many options prior to making a commitment and moving forward.

Just because someone is a good designer doesn’t mean they’ll be a good fit for you. Do you have the same aesthetic? Priorities?

5. Going for the lowest bid

Make sure your plans are clear and detailed enough to get good estimates from reputable professionals. I suggest obtaining a minimum of three proposals and reviewing them closely to ensure you are comparing apples to apples. Lastly, check at least three references before making a final decision, and visit your candidates’ job sites to find out if you like what you see in terms of cleanliness and vibe.

And remember, ask a lot of questions; there’s no such thing as a dumb one. Besides, it’s your money and you should understand and be comfortable with the dollars spent.

6. Waiting too long to consult a general contractor

Ask a contractor to look at plans in the schematic stage rather than ones that are already detailed and finished. This way you can find out if your project is in the right budget ballpark before falling in love with a plan—and paying for a complete set of biddable drawings. It’s also a good way to meet potential contractors, get their input, and not waste your time and theirs.

7. Pretending to understand a design scheme

Most people can’t read blueprints. Instead of eyeballing it, lay out a room, building, or garden for real. Painter’s tape can be your best friend; taping out a space works better than any sketch or design app for understanding how things will fit.

8. Making too many changes along the way

Changes that seem simple to you may require a lot of work on the back end, so be sure you check with your designer or builder even on slight adjustments. Moving a light switch a few feet can cost $1,500 and add significant time to the project.

9. Not setting up a timeline

Work with your contractor to put together a working calendar that includes due dates for items you have agreed to purchase and deadlines for making decisions. The last thing you want is to feel immediate pressure to select an important fixture or paint color.

10. Not thinking outside the box, literally

Gutters, grading, and roofs may sound boring when there are chandeliers to obsess over, but you’ve got to build a solid envelope if you want your house to hold up. When given the option of working on the outside or the inside, start with the outside. There is no point in putting in a new floor if the roof is about to leak.

11. Dismissing interior spaces

On the other hand, interiors are often an afterthought. New homeowners frequently think they can do the finish-work themselves or throw their old couch into a new room. However, if you want to love your space—and increase its value—make sure you leave room in the budget for working on interior design and décor.

12. Underestimating psychological stressors

Any building project in your own home is fraught with tension and disagreement, which is why I suggest that couples first take on a smaller project, like building a birdhouse! Seriously. You might be surprised how different your styles, ideas, and approaches are. If you can’t complete a smaller project without great difficulties, a larger and more costly project should give you pause.

13. Skimping on quality

Spend good money on things you touch every day, such as door hardware, faucets, appliances, and kitchen cabinets. The tactile experience sends a daily reminder to you and your guests about the solidity and quality of your home.

14. Splurging where you should save

On the flip side, don’t get locked into the idea that the biggest items should cost the most. Nice throw pillows can dress up a mid-range sofa while a statement light fixture can embellish a low-end dining table. Re-glazing tile is far more cost-effective than replacement, and sisal rugs are economical and impactful.

15. Replacing windows

Think long and hard before you replace your windows. If they’re original to the house and are in half-decent shape, they can and should be resuscitated. Furthermore, adding storm windows can do the trick when it comes to energy-efficiency. Anyone claiming that you will earn your money back in energy savings by installing replacement windows is either misinformed or looking for your money themself.

16. Not knowing measurements

Once you know what size couches, tables, and sconces you need, write them down and carry that list with you everywhere. You never know when the perfect item will jump into your path, and you don’t want to fall in love with a 94-inch sofa when you can only fit an 84. While you’re at it, jot down your door widths to make sure any new purchases fit through the front door; you won’t believe how often this gets overlooked.

17. Buying miniature rugs

Undersized rugs are the most common mistake. Your carpet should ground your furniture so that, at the very least, the front legs of the upholstery are on the carpet. Don’t fret if a standard size doesn’t work, as your local carpet shop can adjust any broadloom into a different size and shape.

18. Not getting everyone on the same page

If you are purchasing appliances, lighting, and other items for a renovation, print out all your specs and/or installation instructions, put them in a binder for the contractor and the subs, and keep them onsite so everyone has access to them. Bonus: when you go to sell, this conveys to potential buyers how much you care about your home and it will help you get top dollar when you go to sell.

19. Trying to be your own general contractor

Aside from their experience with construction, materials, and sources, general contractors have something else to offer: established relationships. You won’t have much sway over an electrician compared to somebody that sends them work on a regular basis.

20. Working on too many rooms at once

For anyone on a budget (i.e. most of us), I suggest that you focus on the living areas first. The place where you spend the most time should really serve as the focus of your energy and investment. Then, when the budget allows, move on to the next space. Doing a little here and there in multiple rooms will leave you feeling anxious and frustrated.


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