5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Remodeling

I’m glad I found this when I did, it saved me from a few big mistakes!

If you’re considering a remodel in the upcoming year, you may be collecting ideas and getting excited about the possibilities, and maybe – just maybe – a little overwhelmed with where to start.

Over the past 15+ years I’ve helped many clients navigate the remodel process. And today I’m going to share with you the 5 common mistakes I see folks make, and how to avoid them.

I’ll share with you the questions every homeowner must ask – and answer – before moving forward with planning. These will help keep you from getting stuck when you are ready to move forward.

Mistake #1: Not setting a budget

This is by far the biggest mistake people make in the planning process.
Your budget is what will give you direction for both scope and design, and will allow you to confidently move forward, knowing you already know what the project is going to cost.

The very first step in the remodel planning process is to get very realistic and honest about what you are prepared to spend.

If you’re like many people, this seems counterintuitive because you don’t know what things cost and so it’s hard to know what is a reasonable budget. Many clients I’ve met have started out the process by shopping for ideas and getting quotes. Not only is this counterproductive, but it can also leave you very frustrated.

The bottom line is that there is a threshold of what you are able – and willing – to pay, and the clearer you can be from the beginning about what that is, the more effective your planning will be.

5 questions to ask when setting a budget

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What can we afford to spend?

What is the most you are able to spend on the project? Know this limit and set your budget so you do not exceed it.

2. How much do we want to spend?

In other words, what is the most you are willing to spend for this project? What is the value of this project to us? When determining this number, make sure to set aside a reserve of about 10-20% for unexpected costs, so that your total budget including reserve will not exceed what you are able to spend.

3. How are we going to pay for this project?

Know where your money is coming from. Will you be using funds from a savings account? Are you getting a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)? Are you refinancing the home and taking out a specific amount of money? It’s important to know that home remodels can rarely, if ever, be financed on credit cards or negotiated payment plans.

4. What is a realistic budget for this project?

Is the budget appropriate for the location, size and cost of the home? Particularly if the plan is for resale in the next few years, you’ll want to make improvements that contribute to the marketability of the home.

If you are having trouble setting a realistic budget because you don’t know what things cost, Remodeling offers a Cost vs. Value report that shows typical costs of different types of remodels. When you click an item on the list, the site provides a page that defines the scope of the project as well, since the word “remodel” is often very broad.

If you’re looking for an easy guideline for budgeting a kitchen remodel, my recommendation is to start is with appliances.

Appliances account for up to 20% of a project’s budget. Appliance costs can be estimated with an online search if you’re just getting started, and this can give you an idea of what is reasonable to expect.

If you’re looking at a $10,000 appliance package, you can safely estimate the overall cost will be at least $50,000. If you’re looking at a $30,000 appliance package, your project is likely in the $150K range or higher.

Keep in mind that if you’re moving walls and/or plumbing, your project’s construction costs can be higher (and so will your overall budget), but this is a quick and easy way to get an idea as to whether your budget is in the right ballpark.

5. Are we in agreement?

If you are making this decision with another person, take the time to discuss this in detail with them well before you start shopping for ideas, creating plans, and getting bids, so you don’t pursue a project only to find later you cannot agree to move forward. Make sure that you and any other financial decision makers are in full agreement about what the project will cost.


Mistake #2: Not setting a scope of work

The biggest way to avoid budget overruns and overwhelm is to define what the project will include, and what it won’t include.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the most important or critical part of this project?

Is there a piece that must be done? What is the reason for starting the project? What need or problem are you working to address?

2. What are my/our priorities for this project?

Make a list of all of the wants and needs you have for the space, and prioritize them.  This may include additional items or projects, such as a secondary space, an exterior project, or an upgrade to existing flooring, windows, etc. Some items will remain on the wish list for a separate project, or even a second or third phase, in order to contain the project to the budget you’ve set.

Scope creep happens when additional pieces of the project get tacked on because “we might as well get it done now” – or because of a lack of planning.

When you plan well, you decide before the work begins what will be included, and work to fit the prioritized pieces into the overall budget.


Mistake #3: Not hiring a professional

My best advice is to include a professional designer in your planning process as soon as possible – and be honest and forthcoming with your designer about the overall budget and your priorities. A good designer will take your budget seriously, listen to your needs, and provide valuable insight and direction that will give you the best overall solution within budget.

Hiring a designer is the best way to avoid costly errors in your specifications, avoid confusion and stagnation, and avoid delays.

Designers also bring their years of experience to the problem-solving process, and often the solution they propose is something you may never have considered.

Whether you are looking for full-service design and project management, or a couple of consultations to keep you on track, look for an experienced designer whose aesthetic is similar to the look and feel you want for your project.


Mistake #4: Leaving decisions for later

Once you have a budget and general design concept, it’s very tempting to move forward and make selections as they become necessary. This puts you in a position of needing to react quickly when a deadline arrives and make decisions that may not be well researched, or even worse, to get stuck because you can’t make a decision.

Decision fatigue

Sooner or later in a project, you will become tired of making decisions. This can happen when you’re still planning the project, but more often this happens mid-way through a project when the detail work comes in and questions become more frequent. There are a lot of details that need to be spelled out clearly, and most can be done in advance.

A gift from you to you

When your home is under construction, life feels a little bit chaotic. All of your normal routines are put on hold and you find yourself making coffee at a table in the laundry area and eating cereal with the kiddos on the patio.

So my advice is this: Do your future self a favor, and create a specification binder well in advance so that when a question comes up during construction, you pull out your binder, look up the answer, and pat yourself on the back for being a rock star. And then go back to enjoying your cereal on the patio and listening to the saws and drills that will be the soundtrack to your life! (Need help creating your spec binder? I offer 2 levels of design services for just that!)


Mistake #5: Not getting it in writing

When you are hiring a contractor to complete your remodel, you’ll find that every contractor has a different way of bidding or quoting the work to be done.

The most experienced and professional contractors will provide a proposal that includes breakdowns of the work to be done. Too often, I’ve seen clients receive a 1 page estimate with a lump sum amount.

My advice? Ask for a detailed proposal.

When you sign a contract with a professional, it should spell out the following:

1. What is the scope of work?

The contract should spell out the area(s) included in the scope, specific items like windows and skylights with item descriptions, and what labor is included.

If there is a specification list, make sure the contractor has it beforehand in order to include correct pricing and information in the proposal and contract.

Never assume

There are often different ways to view a line item. For example, “painting” usually refers to the walls, ceilings and trim in the room that is being remodeled. It usually does not refer to walls outside of that room (even if the adjacent room needs an update), because they are not in the scope of work. If it isn’t specifically included in the contract, the only safe assumption is that it isn’t included.

If you are unclear about an item, be sure to ask the contractor. Make a list of questions, and schedule a meeting by phone or in person to review the contract and ensure you understand everything in it before you sign.

2. What materials are included?

And more specifically, what is not included? Which items will you need to procure, and when do they need to be on site?

Often a contract will include installation of an owner-supplied item. Whether it’s a miror, faucet, light fixture or knob, make sure you are clear on you’ll need to supply.

3. What is the project timeline, and what are the logistics?

When will the project start, and how long is it expected to take? Who will be on site and what times will work begin and end? Where will the portable toilet be located? Where will waste materials be stored? Where will work equipment be used and where will it be stored after hours? Where will the crew park?

It’s good to know this information in advance, and offer a heads up to neighbors about the upcoming project so they are aware of the increase in traffic, noise and parked vehicles. It also helps you to be aware of areas on your property the contractor may need clear access to in order to complete the work. Often the driveway, garage, adjacent rooms and even parts of the back or side yard areas may be needed for equipment and tool usage.

4. What is the payment schedule?

When is the deposit due? When are subsequent payments due? And how are change orders handled?

Typically contractors will bill for progress payments when specific milestones have been met. Additionally, they may require deposits and payments for materials according to the supplier’s payment schedule.

If a change of scope or detail is made during the project and results in a cost change, the contractor will issue a change order. Be sure to ask how change orders are issued and billed to avoid surprises.

Over to you, dear friends. What questions do you have as you begin preparing for your remodel?

What are you most excited about and what fears do you have before you begin? What overwhelms you, and what tools do you wish you had to make life easier as you plan? I’d love to hear from you. Drop a comment below and let me know!

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  1. These are all great tips! I wish I would have read this before we remodeled our whole house. We did set a budget and talked about ideas but we didn’t write them down. I loved the process of remodeling!

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