10 Remodeling Mistakes I Wish I Could've Warned Myself to Avoid
Remodeling Mistakes Are Inevitable
It is part of the journey. We learn from the rookie mistakes we make as we experience owning a home for the first time, and hopefully use those experience as a guide to what to avoid in the future. There are certain things that we wish we could go back and warn our younger, dumber selves about; warnings that had we gotten (and listened to) could have saved a ton of money, stress, and time.
Here are the top 10 remodeling mistakes I wish I could go back and warn myself to avoid.
1. Taking on Too Much
When you buy your first home, and finally make that transition out of living under the thumb of a landlord, it can make you a little over zealous. Enthusiasm is great! It is normal, and expected that new home owners move in with stars in their eyes and grandiose ideas about how to change what. The combination of enthusiasm over such a huge life change, the new found freedom, and the feeling of immortality and boundless energy that accompanies youth is a perfect cocktail for taking on too much.
In your head, you think "I can totally take on putting in new countertops, replacing the kitchen cabinets and replacing the bathroom cabinets at the same time. No problem". In theory it makes sense, but the problem is reality pokes it's annoying head into your life and slaps you in the face with the reminder that there are only so many hours in a day, and in order to squeeze in a full time job, a full time family, and domestic necessities, and on top of that a major remodeling project, something has to give. We don't consider how disruptive major remodeling projects are - the mess from tear down, the inability to access common house hold areas, the money it takes, the constant banging of hammers and other tools; it all puts a real emotional and mental strain on life, family and work. Now imagine taking on multiple projects at once.
In addition to the emotional perils, taking on too much is a huge error from a budgeting standpoint as well. Sure, you may be able to work the numbers so that your budget plan lets everything fit. However, what you plan to spend, and what you actually spend can be very, very different. One project going over budget is obnoxious but manageable... but 3 projects all hemorrhaging money simultaneously? That can be very, very dangerous and put you in a really difficult place for years.
These are the kind of considerations our "invincible" younger selves don't have the foresight to consider. I sure wish I could go back and tell myself that taking on one project at a time is totally fine, and that there will always be "later" to move on to the next one.
2. Not knowing my DIY limitations
I am a very hands-on person. I always have been. In an effort to save money, I must admit that I have certainly found myself sitting in front of YouTube looking up a how to video or 6 and then trying to tackle which ever problem I had in front of me. That may work for learning the best DIY way to make a lamp, or change your own oil; but when it comes to major remodeling projects - there is a lot more than just a sloppy paint job at stake. There are constantly cases we see of people trying to do remodeling projects that are best left to experts, like to install plumbing with their new tub, or trying to tear down a wall to open up space between rooms. In their attempts to save a dime, they end up causing major structural damage to the house that ends up costing thousands and thousands of dollars to fix.
Learning new skills is great; and yes with the advent of YouTube and other such channels, information is easily accessible and has given people the ability to learn new skills in ways that never existed before. That being said - keep in mind the risk, and how much those possible mistakes could cost you. If I was able to warn myself about this, I definitely would.
3. Focusing on Aesthetics ... Only aesthetics
I don't know about you, but when I bought my first house, the first things I wanted to spend money on were superficial projects like painting the kitchen and upgrading appliances. I wanted my house to look amazing and impress my new neighbors and family when they came over for dinner. The problem is, that as much as those things are important to consider (especially if you intend to sell the house eventually, which you probably will) what is more important to focus on are the fundamental elements of the house that you can't see. Sure, fixing cracks in a foundation or replacing old, worn electrical throughout your house may not be glamorous, or pay off in the same way a new stainless steel fridge may pay off, but in the end the structure is what matters. Spending money to fix those little, hidden problems early is so important. It can save so much hassle and additional expense down the road. That little drip under the sink in the upstairs bathroom may start off as an inconvenience, and end with irreparable water damage to the floor or other structural parts of the house. You may want to rush and get a new garage door to match your freshly painted front door - just make sure that the huge crack in the concrete on your garage floor gets fixed first.
4. Not Understanding the Difference between "Inexpensive" and "Cheap"
Everyone wants to get the best value they can for their investments. No one wants to dump a bunch of money for an end result they later realize could have been achieved for a fraction of their investment. However, when it comes to home remodeling mistakes, not knowing the difference between cheap and inexpensive can really cost you.
Inexpensive is fine. There is no harm in looking for good sales, or shopping around for lower price materials. The problem occurs when the line is crossed between something that is inexpensive, and something that is cheap. Cheap is the enemy. Unfortunately, that whole "too good to be true" lesson is one that takes years of experience and mistakes to learn. I'm sure I'm not the only one to go out and get the cheapest everything I could find for my remodeling project... only to be left dealing with paint that doesn't cover anything, or cabinet doors that snap at the hinges all for the sake of saving a quick buck. Don't do it. The saying is really true, you do get what you pay for.
5. In line with #4, choosing a Contractor SOLEY on Price
If a contractor offers you a killer bid that way undercuts the others - that should be a bright, shiny warning flag. Their prices are their prices for a reason. The last thing you want is sub-par work that has to be redone anyway.
The financial aspect is not the only thing to worry about. Like it or not, you will be spending a LOT of time with your contractor. So while your meeting for consultations, ask yourself things like "do I like this person?" and "do we have the same understanding and goals" or "Do we butt heads". As we mentioned above, remodeling projects are incredibly taxing on life, so making sure that you can get along with your contractor, and trust that they will manage your money and time well then your remodeling project is likely to fail.
On top of that - the contractor that offers higher quality services and uses high quality materials is going to charge more for their services, and the worst possible place one can skimp on spending is on hiring the right contractor for the job.
6. Not Getting the Right Permits
Knowledge of building codes, and what paperwork or permits are required by your local government is not inherent knowledge. This is a mistake that I made simply out of ignorance. I thought to myself "I’m just remodeling this bathroom, I don’t need a permit". Wrong. Make no assumptions about the permits for any remodeling project you may take on. You just never know, and like every other law on the books; ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. These days, many remodeling companies help you get this done, but even so, doing independent research on what permits you may need can save you a legal nightmare, thousands of dollars in potential fines, huge delays in work, and a mired of other issues that will make you want to tear your hair out and cost you more than you can imagine. When it comes to remodeling mistakes - failing to get the right paperwork done first can completely derail you financially. Don't do it.
7. Failing to Get a Professional House Inspection
I wish I could go back and tell myself, "Just because a building is there, and standing, does not mean that it is structurally sound, and will meet building codes". Although this is more a "new home buyer's" mistake, and less a remodeling mistake; it is worth a mention. Get a professional inspection, before you buy, before and after a major remodeling project, any time you change or have changed your house.
This is especially relevant to new home buyers. The rule of thumb should be: Never trust the builder before you. Not that anyone has any malice, but you just never know what kind of damage or issues could have been caused by previous home owners, or even what could have been caused by the contractors who just put in your brand new floor. Check and double check, because the initial expense of hiring an inspector can prevent you from flushing your entire home investment down the toilet.
8. Being too trendy
Guilty. The fads of today can be the disasters of tomorrow. That new bright orange tub in the bathroom with blue walls may be "all the rage" today, but what are you going to do when the fad is over and you need to sell your house? You'll have to spend money all over again to repair/replace what seemed like such a good idea at the time.
I'm not saying don't follow design magazines or keep up with the style of the day - just make sure that any major changes you make to your house aren’t based entirely on hottest new trends, without any forethought to how those changes may affect your ability to resell the house.
9. Buying Furniture Without Taking Comfort and Utility Into Account
Remember that anything you put in your house, you will have to live with, look at, and use for the next few years - if not the next decade. That ultra-modern couch may be aesthetically pleasing, but if you can't use it for its intended purpose comfortably, you’ve wasted your money. A good home is a delicate balance between what’s comfortable and easy to use, and what looks the best.
Think of dressing your home as you think of dressing yourself before going out to a social occasion. You want to look nice, but more importantly, you want to be comfortable. Don't be those girls who end up at the end of the night carting shoes slung over one shoulder. Sure, the shoes looked incredible, but if they can’t be worn all night and serve their purpose as shoes, then they are worthless. The same goes for home appliances and furniture.
10. Winging it
A BIG problem for young people is lack of forethought. Something about being young just blinds us to the perils of real life and the inevitable disasters that happen. Not having a clear design plan, not having a clearly defined and realistic budget, not knowing exactly what you want (down to the kind of knobs you want on your drawers) is likely the biggest, and most prevalent remodeling mistake we make. I wish a thousand times I could go back and tell myself to spend those extra few weeks planning instead of jumping the gun and assuming I would figure out the details later.
This is your home. DON'T WING IT. You will only frustrate yourself, frustrate your contractors, and will probably end up with a result you didn’t expect and are forced to live with for the next X amount of years. Not having a clear plan leaves so much room for budgeting problems, delays in work, issues with permits... really the consequences are endless. You may be adaptable, smart, a fast thinker, but I can promise you that the worst remodeling mistake you or anyone can make, is to assume you can coast through the process. You can't, I promise.
There is no way to avoid making mistakes when you buy your first home, or take on your first remodeling project. Mistakes are part of life, and the difficulties we have to encounter due to those mistakes teach us valuable lessons about how to do, and how not to do things and face problems in our lives. However, you can certainly avoid making the big ones. Arm yourself with knowledge, take your time, plan, make a connection with your general contractor, and you can avoid the mistakes I, and many people, have made when remodeling their home.