Our advice below relates to general home remodeling mistakes. We have separate posts that cover bathroom and kitchen remodeling mistakes.
And what we cover here are just the mistakes. Elsewhere on this site, there is plenty of related positive “how-to” information.
We have broken these mistakes down into the loose categories of Costs & Budgeting, Planning & Design, Contractors & Professionals, Permits & the Local Authority, and Safety & Insurance
Cost & Budgeting Mistakes
1: Failing to budget
If you don’t set a budget, you are setting yourself up for a remodeling failure. You can’t set a realistic plan for what you want to do without having at least some idea of what it is going to cost.
Just imagine setting out on a remodel of your only bathroom.. You have gotten all the demo done. Everything is out of there, and you are down to the studs. And then you suddenly find you don’t have any money left to buy what you need to put into the bathroom. So now you literally don’t have a pot to pee in!
Joking aside, it is almost guaranteed that your project will cost more and take longer to finish than you initially thought. So you must dig in and create a budget. Not doing this is probably the worst of the home remodeling mistakes you can make.
2: Not doing the necessary research
Before you jump into a remodeling project, you must research exactly what is going to be involved. You don’t want your dreams shattered by finding out too late that you couldn’t afford it in the first place.
There are plenty of places online you can find the “ballpark” numbers to expect. So give yourself this reality check before you get serious about a remodeling project. Homeadvisor is a great place to start.
3: Not being realistic with your budget
A realistic budget is one that allows for “contingencies.” Contingencies are those “unknowns” that we can’t identify at the outset.
In any remodeling project, you should expect the unexpected. This could be anything from defective construction or rot in load-bearing structural elements. This kind of thing can only get uncovered when drywall is taken down during demolition.
Another unexpected might be the unavailability of a particular appliance that you had planned and budgeted for.
And yet another kind of unknown is the “change of mind” we may need to make down the road and that may also cause an expensive change order in the contract.
In our experience, a homeowner is wise to allow 20 percent of the budget for contingencies. So we should expect the unexpected and allow for it. And, if we are remodeling a very old home, we would make the contingency 30%.
We like to encourage our clients to look at it like this:
- Budget for the “We must have these things in this project,” and add the 20% contingency as an insurance to make sure we achieve the “must-have.”
- Notionally, “spend” the 20% contingency on “We would really like to have these things” once the project is completed..
If you do this, you can really focus the mind on bringing the project in on budget and have a built-in reward for doing so.
4: Being too frugal
Don’t try to penny-pinch your way to your remodeling objective. You will disappoint yourself if you do.
In fact, there are false economies. A good example is flooring. While it is true that ceramic tile is cheaper than vinyl, it is not that much cheaper. And the labor cost is pretty much the same.
So you might as well go for ceramic tile. You will like the result better (even with an economy quality tile), and so will your buyer when it comes time to sell.
And then there is the temptation to get in over your head with a DIY project, to save money. If part of your DIY project is beyond your skill level, hire a professional to do it. You will get a better result, and you won’t risk actually hurting yourself physically.
5: Overspending on little-used areas
Focus your budget on rooms that get used most. Typically this is the kitchen and master bathroom. These areas will also get you the most return on your money when it comes to selling your home.
6: Spending too much on high-cost products
One of the most expensive line items in a remodeling project is the cabinetry. This is one of the areas that you can save the most money and still get a very acceptable result. It really pays off to do your research here.
7: Paying more for materials than necessary
If you have time and patience you can save money at estate sales and garage sales. You can also set up relationships at builder supply stores, where you can save money on damaged materials.
For example, a damaged sheet of drywall may well have 80% that is undamaged and perfectly usable.
Planning & Design
8: Remodeling before living in the house
Don’t jump into a remodel before you have lived in the home for a couple of months or so. Unless you design and plan from a lived experience, you won’t be able to do it right. You need to learn your way around the space before you set about altering it.
A house has a kind of personality that arises out of the way motion and nature flow in and around it. This is the motion of the people living there and how things like groceries and laundry move around in it. And it is how sunlight and rain relate to it from the outside.
So pay attention to these things and you will develop a better informed, and even inspired, design for your remodel.
9: Not being prepared for the inconvenience
A remodeling project is inevitably messy and noisy. It doesn’t matter how good your contractor is.
You may well be better off not living in the home while the project is going on. It’s one thing to remodel one of your bathrooms. It’s quite another to remodel the entire home.
10: Failing to plan thoroughly
You cannot plan too carefully. And any kind of remodeling or renovation project requires a lot of planning, even what you think is a simple bathroom remodel.
There is no such thing as a simple remodel!
The more planning you do ahead of time, the better you will be satisfied by the finished product, and the fewer potentially expensive changes you will need to make.
A thorough plan includes the investigation of all available options, especially when it comes to cabinetry, finishes, and fixtures. This means not settling on the first cabinet style you see. You need to explore all the materials and designs there are out there. Make sure you see it all.
With a multitude of online sources out there, such as Houzz, this is easy to do. In fact, there is no excuse for not doing it.
You can easily record what you find in a spreadsheet with links to the online source. And, if you do this, you won’t be disappointed by second thoughts.
And, as you progress with your planning, you should make further spreadsheets detailing the actual selections of all your materials. You will use these in the contract with your remodeling professional.
Failing to plan thoroughly is right up there with failing to budget as one of the major home remodeling mistakes.
11: Failing to prepare detailed specifications
Based on all your planning you should create detailed specifications for your contractors to bid against. If you are not used to running remodeling projects, we recommend a two-stage approach to this.
- Develop preliminary specifications to use as a discussion tool when doing initial interviews with your proposed contractors. Then, based on their various comments and suggestions,
- Create a final set of specifications for each of them to bid against.
Detailed specs should include:
- A summary description of the project.
- Scope of work
- Details of demolition & debris clearance.
- Order in which the work is to be completed.
- Materials to be used (your spreadsheets come in handy here)
- Start and finish dates.
- Total price & payment schedule.
- Provision for regular communication by phone, text or email
- Provision for regular joint inspections of the work as it progresses.
- Provision for making changes and pricing the changes in advance.
- Warranty period
- For a large and complicated project, you can stipulate a retention amount to be held back for a 6 month period to ensure follow up on any defective or incomplete work
12: Failing to pay attention to exterior issues
You must address exterior issues like grading, waterproofing, roofing, and window integrity before tackling the interior of the home. You don’t want to see a roof leak damage the expensive new cabinetry you just put in.
13: Not appreciating the importance of windows
The windows in your home are an important part of its exterior style. So replacing them may impact the neighborhood and run afoul of the rules of the homeowners association, if you have one. So, if you can, repair and keep your existing windows.
You won’t get your money back by installing thermally efficient windows. So only replace your windows if they are in such bad shape that they must be replaced.
14: Not addressing the condition of your utilities
If your plumbing, electrical, or gas infrastructure needs work, you must address this before getting into the spatial and visual areas of your remodel.
15: Failing to address structural problems
Make sure that foundations and subflooring are in good condition. You don’t want to put expensive finish flooring, like tile, on a subfloor that can’t support it over time.
16: Failing to plan before engaging a contractor
One of the benefits of doing your own planning ahead of hiring a contractor is that the plan you have developed becomes an important tool in your conversation and negotiation with your contractor.
A good contractor will appreciate your advance planning because it will help him provide better advice. He will be able to give you deeper insights into the project because he is not faced with educating you from scratch.
By the same token, a less than ethical contractor will find it more difficult to pull a fast one on you.
17: Failing to check with your homeowners’ association
If you buy a home in a subdivision governed by CC&Rs (as in California), or a historical preservation district, you agree to abide by their rules as to exterior appearance.
And if you have a condo, these rules likely apply to interior modifications if they affect the structural integrity of the building. So don’t cause yourself unnecessary problems by not checking with the HOA’s architectural committee during the planning of your project.
18: Failing to keep your home in character with the neighborhood
Even if you are not bound by CC&Rs, don’t make the mistake of remodeling your home in such a way that it clashes with the style of the neighborhood. You don’t want to make a design statement by making your home look Mid-Century Modern in a neighborhood of Spanish hacienda style homes.
If you do this, it will likely harm your home’s value by making it less marketable. And it will also make enemies out of your neighbors.
19: Overbuilding the neighborhood
Just as you should keep the exterior of your home in character with the neighborhood, you should not over-improve the interior of the home. Certainly, you should remodel the interior to please yourself and a future buyer. But don’t waste your money by over-spending on it.
Think of getting some return on your investment in the future. As an extreme example, you would not want to put solid gold plumbing fixtures into your home when the local real estate market would not appreciate it.
20: Not checking in with your neighbors
You would want to check in with your neighbors for two reasons.
First, it is the neighborly thing to do, since your project may cause some disturbance to them.
Second, they may themselves have been through a remodel project, and, since their home may be similar to yours, they may have sound advice as to what you face with your project. Besides, they may have valuable contacts among local professionals you could contact.
21: Not taking account of the home’s long-term future
In modifying your home you need to provide for future occupants, like children, pets, and grandparents. You also need to consider its future marketability. With this in mind, you don’t want to make changes you may regret and are expensive to reverse.
22: Not sticking to your plan
You must plan very carefully and then stick to your plan. Changing your mind during the project will increase its cost in change orders and cause delays.
23: Unnecessary demolition and alteration
Rearranging structural elements and removing partition walls is expensive. This is because there are knock-on consequences that affect the structure, plumbing, and electrical components of the home.
If you can achieve your remodeling objectives without altering the structure and partition walls, you are way ahead of the game. And note that these days, there is much less of a trend to go for wide open floor plans.
24: Choosing form over function
Aesthetics are important but function is even more important. If something is beautiful but does not work, it is useless to you. And, ironically, you will come to hate it.
So always think about how you will use the space, or use the object or appliance in question. Maximize those practical opportunities and then apply aesthetics. You will then have a showroom you can live with, enjoy, and be proud of.
25: Going with a faddy, transient design or style
In the design you choose, always go with something that will last. Avoid fads or short-lived trends. Look for a timeless effect. It will make your home easier to sell eventually, and in the meantime will actually make it more livable.
You don’t want to be spending money on something that you are going to tire of or that will go out of style. You can’t go wrong with neutral colors and classic looks.
And you can always ‘give the nod’ to current trends by incorporating them in accent or statement pieces.
26: Assuming the work will go fast
Your remodeling project is not a made-for-TV reality show. It’s not going to be finished in a few days. In fact, you can expect that a full-on home remodel project may take 6 months or so.
27: Expecting everything will go as planned
A remodeling project never goes exactly as planned. Something unanticipated always comes up. All one can say on this is that you can expect more of the unexpected in an older home than a newer home.
Contractors & Professionals
28: Not hiring remodeling professionals
Everyone wants to save money, but don’t overestimate your DIY skills. You can waste time and money on a project that you will have to pay someone else to make right. It’s a mistake to handle a full-on remodeling project on your own.
Hiring a professional will pay off. But make sure it is a contracting professional with a remodeling track record.
29: Not having an initial scope of work already prepared
Before you interview contractors, you should have a preliminary scope of work already prepared. This will be a starting point for your discussions.
It is always best to have something concrete to review with these experts. They will be pleased that you have taken the time to prepare for the meeting. And you will stand to benefit most from their specific input and reaction.
You will then be in a better position to refine a precise scope of work for bidding purposes when you have drawn up a shortlist of contractors.
30: Hiring the first contractor you meet
You must interview at least 3 contractors. and preferably 5. It takes time to do this. Check their licenses and certifications. Check their references. Make sure they have bonding, workers comp, and liability insurance in place. Identify the subcontractors he intends to use and make sure they have similar credentials. Check Angie’s List, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau for any issues
Always ask them questions about layout, design, materials, and the process of construction. You will learn a lot from this. And always remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
In fact, the way individual contractors respond to questions should be an important factor in your selection process. You are going to have even more questions during the project.
And see if there is an opportunity to inspect examples of their work first hand.
Hiring the first contractor you see is one of the worst of the home remodeling mistakes you can make.
31: Not hiring a contractor with personal chemistry
Having rapport with your contractor is an important factor in achieving a smooth running job. You must be able to communicate with the contractor easily by phone, email, and text.
32: Not giving preference to a contractor with an in-house design team
Professional design input is an important factor in a remodeling job. And a contractor with an in-house design team is likely to deliver a smoother job than one who has to relate to a designer or architect he does not know. You will find that there is much better control over estimating and budgeting issues with an in-house designer.
A successful project is very much a team effort. And don’t forget that you are part of that team too.
We recommend hiring a design-build contractor for a smooth operation. But, If you do hire a separate architect or designer, make sure that they get together with your contractor early in the project.
Pro tip: The trade most familiar with design issues is your cabinet supplier. They will frequently have in-house design capabilities you can draw on.
33: Going with the lowest bid
Price is only one of the factors in play when it comes to selecting a remodeling contractor. Assuming the bids come in reasonably close, go with the contractor that seems to be the best overall “fit” for you.
If the bids are wildly different, you need to dig into the numbers and discover the reason for the discrepancy before going any further.
Permits & the Local Authority
34: Remodeling without a permit
Find out if your remodeling project requires a permit. And if so, make sure your contractor obtains one.
If the local authority finds out that you are working without a permit, it can cause you a major headache. And this can include being required to demolish work that you have just spent good money on.
And if there is no remodeling permit on file, this could affect the value and ultimate resale of your property.
Besides, making sure that your contractor pulls permits is insurance that the work will be done to code. This is because the job will require periodic inspections by the building inspector.
Remodeling without a necessary permit is up there among the worst home remodeling mistakes you can make.
Safety & Insurance
35: Ignoring site safety
Ask your remodeling contractor about his safety procedures and what he does to promote safety on site. Don’t forget that this is still your property and that you are responsible for what happens on it. So the potential for injuries that happen on-site is a major concern.
36: Failing to consider your insurance
Talk to your insurance company about your remodeling project. Make sure that it will not impact the liability and hazard provisions of your policy. And make sure that the value you are adding to the property is protected.
37: Not checking for lead paint or asbestos
If the home was built before 1978 lead paint could be an issue. It is the same with asbestos in homes built before 1980. Both these conditions can be expensive to remediate if they have not already been dealt with. And they must be dealt with by qualified professionals.
These are actually issues that should be addressed at the time of initial purchase of the property