Friday, August 14, 2015

When Wright Goes Wrong

Everyone has heard of someone who has lived through a renovation nightmare. If you are one of the unlucky, you may be reading this to get it right the next time around.

There are many steps to consider when planning a renovation. Savvy homeowners know (or find out) what they are getting into. Whether you are doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor, you have to understand all the implications. That way you can do (or supervise) the project and know when something's getting out of hand.

It’s really important to do some preliminary research. Everyone has heard the old saw
I don’t know what I DON’T KNOW.

This is never as important a concept as it is for renovation and construction!

You want to be informed enough to know what questions to ask. If you read last week’s post, you already have a good idea of how to hire a good contractor.

That’s an important first step, but wait! There’s more!

Research Your House

It may sound silly, but one should never assume that “things will be fine.”

Know your house, your neighborhood, and your city.

Your House

Before you finalize any plans for renovations, make sure you are not planning to cut through electricity, ventilation ducting, gas lines, plumbing or load bearing walls. 

If you live in a historical house, you may be required to upgrade systems to modern standards. This is often the case with electricity. If the wiring isn’t copper, it may need to be changed. The same is true for old outlets - you may need to change to new three-prong outlets.

Some may be “grandfathered” – meaning exempt from a new law or regulation.

You want to make sure everything is – or will be - up to code.

Your Community

If you live in a community with an HOA (Home Owners Association), it would be wise to verify that the work you are planning will be compliant with any regulations.

Your City

Some people think they are outsmarting the law by not getting proper permits for work. It is a small expense and time expenditure to be compliant – particularly if you are doing the work to sell your house. Nothing could be worse than having an inspector determine that the work was unpermitted.

If something serious goes wrong and you've done work without a permit, your homeowner's insurance will not cover it.

Historical Homes

If you live in a historical home, there may be regulations as to how work may be done. Even if your home had “modern” work done in previous decades, you may be required to “restore” your house to its traditional character if you have new work done.


Money is always a key component of any work to be done. If renovating is new to you, set aside 20% as a contingency. The worst case scenario would be that you didn’t need the money and you get to go on a trip to reward yourself after it is all done!

Setting An Unrealistic Budget

That being said, people often underestimate what a project is going to cost. Make sure you understand the implications of removing or moving walls, redoing electricity, plumbing or any other systems. Find out what experience your contractor has had with the unexpected, how it was resolved and how much it cost. Adjust your budget accordingly.

Consider what upgrades you may want to include – like wiring for alarm systems or home theaters, etc. if you will be opening walls. Even if you do not have or want these things for yourself, it may be a good investment to add the wiring for them if you are planning to sell.

The Material World

Sometimes people think they can get more done if they skimp on materials. Tere's an old saying: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Don’t jeopardize your project by buying cheap or second quality material. 

It’s going to come back and bite you in the asset when you least expect it.

If you can’t afford to do the project with good quality materials, scale back the project or wait until you have enough funds to do it properly.

Selection Seduction

I am as guilty of this as are most renovators. We go into the renovation centers and get seduced by the cool, bright and shiny new products. The only issue is that they are totally unsuited for the work we are doing!

  • Don’t put wall tile on the floors just because you fell in love with it. Wall tile may be too slippery to walk on!
  • Don’t choose the paint finish you love – buy the one that is suited to the room use and conditions. Suede or velour paint is not meant for the kitchen backsplash!
  • Don’t buy the discounted damaged drywall because you think you are saving money. You may end up paying more to have the seams properly jointed.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

If you have professionals doing the work, have them come and measure to ensure that the work will be done without any surprises.

Sometimes it may be possible to reduce the cost of a project by keeping standard dimensions in mind. For example:

Does your design call for an 8 foot 3 inch surface? Standard sheet goods are eight feet long. That extra three inches may cost you big if the material has to be specially crafted or if the workers carefully have to make an invisible joint.

Ask them to notify you if anything you are planning is off-standard. A small change may be worth it to you - or not, but the advantage is in knowing how you are spending your budget.

While they are at your home measuring, make sure they take into account any problem points in the house. Is that ginormous Sub-Zero fridge going to fit through your front door? Is it going to pass through the halls and turn the corners? Come up with a plan before it gets stuck.

You Only Prep Once

When you have your plans in order and before the actual renovations start, make sure that your house is properly prepared.

Do any areas of the house have to be sealed off for the work? 

Have you made plans for alternate kitchen or bathroom requirements?

If you need to move things out of the way, do so before work begins and you have to rely on some frustrated carpenters to move your precious antiques.

Have you indicated or marked any surfaces that will NOT be gutted or removed from the renovation area? While this may be a source of comedy relief on those TV renovation shows, it can be very costly to a real property owner.

The Right Tools

Whether you are doing the work yourself or have hired a contractor, make sure that the proper tools are being used. Why?

  • You could hurt yourself
  • The worker could hurt themselves
  • The materials may be damaged and become unusable
  • The tools may be damaged

In all cases, it will probably cause additional expense and delay your project.

Homeowners’ Choice

You are the king of your castle, but don’t let that big crown swell your head into making a bad decision.


Again, don’t be seduced by fashion or your own desires. A grand chandelier may not be the appropriate fit in your new powder room. When choosing components be realistic and consider your budget and the size of the space. Current taste favors a spacious interior rather than overpowering, or crowded elements.

Lopsided Renovating

It may be tempting to follow the latest trends in interior design. However, putting an ultra modern kitchen into an otherwise Victorian home may not give the result you are expecting. If you are planning to sell, other people may not appreciate the contrast in styles. In addition to perhaps being a jarring juxtaposition, what is “hot" right now may not be next year. 

Fashion can be fickle so consider if your design carefully!

Another form of unequal renovation is to fix one room to the nines and not renovate or repair anything else. Again, if you are planning to sell, don’t count on “wowing” buyers with this one grand gesture. You may have better results by having the whole house painted, as an example, than redoing just the kitchen.

Downgrading Work

Under renovating can be as big a mistake as over-improving. 

Everyone knows that windows can be a huge expense. If you have to change all the windows in your house at the same time, my sympathies are with you. However, there are some creative strategies to keep you from making the “mistake” of settling for the windows you can afford:

  • Find a manufacturer that has a standard style that will NOT be discontinued and gradually replace all the windows over time starting with the worst ones.
  • Buy nice windows for the front of your house and something more economical for the rest.


It’s really important to consider the time and the pacing of your renovation. Are you truly prepared to be using the bathroom to wash your dishes ---for a month? Consider the implications of the renovation and troubleshoot before trouble happens. 

What can you do to minimize the impact and stress of the project?

If you are redoing your kitchen, will you prepare and freeze food in advance? Use disposable plates and cutlery? Dine out? They are all good choices – you just need to decide what’s right for you!

In addition to the seemingly endless duration of any project, consider family and community events. Did your relative plan to visit in the middle of your proposed project? Are you really starting to redo your kitchen…three weeks before Thanksgiving when you are hosting ALL your friends and family??? Will roads be closed for an event or construction during your deliveries?

Timing often goes hand in hand with another often overlooked component of renovations:


One of the most possibly tragic mistakes during a renovation is an accident or injury.

It is crucial to remain safe during the renovations – particularly if you have children. One of the biggest mistakes during a renovation project is not considering the impact on kids. Not only is the disruption to their routine stressful to them, often this work involves products that may be dangerous, noxious or toxic. Make sure to keep materials out of their reach and use zero (or low) VOC products when possible. If you can, keep the kids away till the work is done.

The other time safety becomes a critical factor is when projects get behind schedule. Often workers are asked to work extended hours or overnight to get a project back on track. This is a disservice to everyone. Most mistakes happen when the workers are tired and may also have accidents. If they are tired, they may not be giving you their best work.

Be sure to leave yourself a time buffer so that if things should go wrong, you have extra time at the back end of a project. Don’t believe those shows where they are installing kitchens or painting the morning of an open house. Just imagine if a buyer or their agent brushed up against fresh paint! It doesn’t happen that way in real life. If a buyer was injured due to unfinished construction, the owner would be sued.

If you can't bear the thought of going through a construction project, or you have come to the realization that it is time to move right now to have a better life, but your house isn’t prepared, or if you are juggling too many responsibilities to sell your house yourself this summer, then there are people who specialize in the sale of properties "as is" - usually within a week to resolve the situation quickly. Contact me for details.

Next time we will look at what renovation projects don't add value to your house.

So thanks for reading my post. I'm so glad you're here! 

And I really look forward to getting into more great stuff in future posts -- so that you can 
Turn Your House To $OLD!

Feel free to ask me any questions through the contact info below. I would be very happy to help.

Linda  623-335-2662

Article Sources:

Lynda Bathory

Top 25 Biggest RenovatingMistakes