Top 10 Pitfalls to Avoid When Remodeling Your Home

Top 10 Pitfalls to Avoid When Remodeling Your Home

You love your home: It’s safe, comfortable, and welcoming. But as the years pass and the life of your family evolves, you may need to consider remodeling. Updating fixtures and countertops, creating additional living space, improving energy efficiency, and enhancing your property’s resale value are all great reasons to freshen up your living space.

Whatever your reason for remodeling, be sure to avoid the most common pitfalls that can derail or delay your project, drive up your costs, and make you wish you’d never started. Here are the top 10 remodeling mistakes that you don’t want to make:

1. Setting an unrealistic budget.

Remodeling projects almost always end up costing more than you expect. So a good rule of thumb is to add 20 to 30 percent to your budget. That way you’ll be able to handle surprises—and you will be surprised at some point in your project. If you actually do come in under budget, you’ll have extra funds to use as you see fit. So be sure to:

  • Count the cost. Create your budget before you start tearing out cabinets and ripping out drywall. Estimate all costs, down to nails and screws. If the numbers you end up with are too high, you may want to put the project on “hold” instead of having to stop before it’s completed. Unfinished floors and plastic tarps are invitations to accidents, and a half-finished remodeling project gets old very quickly.
  • Spend wisely. A remodeling job is something you don’t want to be “cheap” with, but don’t blow your budget trying to get the best of everything. As a general rule, plan to spend more on items you often use—such as doors, doorknobs, faucets, toilets, appliances, and kitchen cabinets—as opposed to items you interact with less, such as crown molding. Download a helpful, free, Excel-based project-estimating template.

2. Trying to do everything yourself.

It doesn’t matter how many HGTV shows or YouTube videos you’ve watched: Unless it’s a simple task or you’re an expert building tradesperson, you may want to consider having professionals do most of your remodeling work.

If you’re dealing with a simple project, you may decide to serve as your own general contractor (the person who oversees and manages the project). But complicated and skill-intensive work such as installing a roof, plumbing a bathroom, or wiring a room addition is time-consuming and potentially dangerous. Plus, the results will have a major, long-lasting impact on your home’s value. So don’t shy away from hiring professional tradespeople just to save money.

3. Moving too quickly.

You’ve probably seen enough home improvement shows to know that it’s physically possible to remodel—or even build—an entire house in just a week. But TV shows are not real life, so:

  • Take your time. You need time to plan, complete each step, and address the unexpected. In fact, three to six months is not an unreasonable amount of time to properly complete a big remodeling project in the real world. Building enough time into your plan—and including a few extra weeks as a cushion—will enable you to properly organize, assemble a team, and work through whatever issues come up without stressing out.
  • Carefully select contractors. Don’t be in a hurry to decide which contractors and tradespeople to work with. High-quality professionals are worth the money, so be willing to pay a bit more and possibly wait for good, reputable pros. Arrange to meet with them in your home and walk them through what you want to accomplish. Do your best to verify that they understand what you want—and make sure you get along well with them. Compare price quotes and references from at least three reputable service providers. Be especially wary of a lowball offer from someone who wants to start the job right away

4. Not creating or sticking to your plan.

It’s vital that you create a thorough, written plan before you start any work. Your plan should include exact details, down to all of the materials you’ll need and every product required—along with model numbers and finishes. So be sure to:

  • Meet with a design professional. It’s a good idea to consult with an accomplished architect or interior designer when developing your project plan. You’ll pay a fee for their services, but they’ll help ensure that you don’t overlook important issues.
  • Create a workable and thorough project plan. Work closely with your contractors and tradespeople to develop a well-thought-out, step-by-step plan that includes a detailed list of all of the items you need to buy. Then set deadlines for making key decisions, such as paint colors, flooring styles, and cabinet designs. The last thing you want is to be under the gun, having to suddenly make an important decision that you may later regret. For step-by-step guidance in creating your remodeling plan, visit Hometown Demolition webpage.
  • Stick to your plan. The six most costly words in remodeling are, “While you’re at it, could you …?” Changes that may appear simple on the surface can require a lot of expensive work behind the scenes, so be sure you talk with your contractor or tradesperson before you make any changes to your written plan.
  • Be flexible. Follow your plan as much as possible, but don’t forget that those difficulties will arise—especially if you’re working on an older home—and you’ll need to flex. Write down all changes, incorporate them into your plan, and try to take it all in stride. No remodeling project will turn out exactly as you imagine; so go easy on yourself, prepare for the unexpected, and adapt your plan as needed.

5. Not asking questions.

It’s a fact: Most people don’t fully understand construction terminology and can’t read blueprints. So if a contractor, tradesperson, or designer uses terms you don’t recognize or show you drawings you can’t follow, ask them to explain. When your home and your hard-earned money is at stake, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Don’t be afraid to ask about materials, layout, design, and the construction process itself. You need to fully understand what’s going on. Don’t bluff your way through technical project discussions like stay-at-home family man Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) did in the 1983 film “Mr. Mom.” When asked if he was planning to use 220-volt wiring in a remodeling project, Jack nervously replied, “Yeah—220, 221; whatever it takes.”

6. Losing focus on the important.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your biggest items have to be the most expensive. For example, you can use high-quality throw pillows to spiff up an average but serviceable sofa. Or you can accentuate a lower-end dining table with trendy table décor and a higher-end overhead light fixture. Spend most of your dollars on improvements that add real long-term value to your home, such as flooring or storage. As an example, don’t install expensive baseboard moldings and then cheap out on kitchen cabinets.

Also be careful when spending on technology, which can be pricey to install but can quickly become outdated. For example, ten years ago it was really cool to wire every room in your house for video. But today’s high-speed, wireless streaming technology has made much of that obsolete.

Finally, don’t over-improve. Your remodeled home should complement your neighborhood, not dominate it. A home that’s significantly upscale compared to what’s next door can look awkward, and will probably not deliver the return on investment you hope for.

7. Not getting proper permits.

It’s vital to obtain the right building permits before you start work. If you use a contractor, they will likely get any necessary permits. But to help ensure that there are no issues later, check with your city or county building department to find out if a permit is needed for your specific project in your area.

Here’s why working without permits can come back to bite you:

  • Your neighbors may complain. If you don’t have a permit and your neighbors report you, you may have to tear everything out and restart from scratch—this time with a permit.
  • Accidents can happen. If an accident occurs, your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover the damages if you don’t have a valid permit.
  • Resale value may suffer. If you ever sell your home, its resale value (or the actual sale itself) may be negatively affected.

8. Measuring incorrectly.

Don’t underestimate the importance of correct measurements. The old saying, “measure twice; cut once” will save you time, money, and inconvenience. Missing the mark by even ¼ of an inch can cause huge problems, such as having to re-order expensive materials or needing to totally re-work parts of the job you thought were finished.

And while you’ve got your measuring tape out, don’t make another common remodeling mistake: Buying furniture or appliances that are too big to fit through your doors and hallways. Another similar mistake is buying area rugs that are too small. So write down the dimensions of your rooms, hallways, and window and door openings; then take those measurements with you when you shop.

9. Selecting appliances too late.

Appliances are the visual anchors of a kitchen remodel, so be sure to choose them first. That way you can make sure that your overall design (and your physical space) can accommodate the appliances you want—and in the colors, finishes, and sizes you prefer. But wait to buy until closer to the time you need to install them.

You may be able to save a lot of money by buying your appliances at certain times of the year:

  • Black Friday and Cyber Monday are famous for great sale prices on most everything, including appliances.
  • Certain holidays—including Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, and New Year’s Day—are great savings opportunities. For example, retailers like Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Home Depot have been known to discount appliances up to 50% during their Presidents Day sales. Other holiday sales can see prices reduced up to 40% and offers for even more savings if you buy two or more appliances.
  • Certain months (specifically September, October, November, and December) are when appliance manufacturers unveil their new models, which means you may be able to get a great deal on last year’s model. The exception? Refrigerators. New ones are released in the spring, so that’s when last year’s fridge will be on closeout.

10. Not ordering enough flooring.

Having enough flooring material to complete your remodel does not mean simply calculating the square footage of your space. To allow for wastage, defects, seams, and cutouts, you need to order an additional 20%. For example, your 10-by-12-foot bedroom has 120 square feet (13.33 square yards) of floor space. But make sure you order at least 24 more square of flooring, for a total of 144 square feet (16 square yards).

As with appliances, there are certain times of the year when you may be able to get a better deal on flooring, such as:

  • Late December through January. Most people aren’t shopping for floor coverings during the winter holidays. Also, it’s the time of year that flooring retailers are beginning to plan for the new home-improvement season (starting in late spring/early summer), so they’re motivated to sell old stock cheap to help make way for the new.
  • Mid- to late May. You can find some great clearance sales this time of year as retailers make a last-ditch effort to clear out older product. And most people are too busy (with the school year ending, graduations, Memorial Day weekend, etc.) to shop for flooring.

So make sure to consider these helpful tips before starting your remodeling project. A well-thought-out remodel can increase the value of your home, the efficiency to your space, and the comfort of your family. Being aware of and avoiding common remodeling pitfalls will help you reduce stress, stay on budget, finish on time, and enjoy the fruits of a job well done.