Home Renovations: Mistakes to Avoid

How my home’s remodel caused 10 months of stress
and the lessons I’ve learned

remodel, renovation

As I sit to write this article, I am in my home surrounded by the sound of hammering, sawing and the sight of a thin layer of dust over everything. The remodel that was supposed to take 2 months is now finally in the home stretch, 10 months later!

Background on me, I am a mom of 2 boys, a wife, and the full-time VP of our small company. Needless to say, I keep busy and most days I cannot keep up with both jobs – as a mom and a business woman. My husband and I started our business in 1998; we have designed and built four Houston self-storage properties that range in size from 75,000 to 150,000 square feet. We have also built two houses, including the one we are currently renovating.

I thought this remodel project would be easy, just a little mess and time. I’ve seen the reality home improvement shows that portray nightmare renovations, and I thought, surely it can’t be that bad – husbands and wives fighting over small stuff for example. I thought my husband and I were different; we’re grounded, we’re patient ….well, think again.

We loved our house, but it didn’t quite fit our family anymore. Our kids are older now, and we decided to expand the kitchen, move a bedroom and reconfigure the 2nd floor layout. While the work was going on in the interior, my husband wanted to add the outdoor summer kitchen of his dreams to the already huge project.  The contractor thought it could be finished in 2 months – not so.

As I write this, we still haven’t cooked in that outdoor kitchen. All and all, about 75% of our house is being redone. I like the word “redone” better than “remodeled” because a room can’t function until it’s done!  Let me say once again that I had no idea of what we were getting ourselves and our family into with this remodel. Here is a short list of advice to help you avoid some of our mistakes.

First (and most important): Hire the right General Contractor. We thought we were going in the right direction by hiring the person who originally built our house.  It seemed like the right thing to do. He knows the house and how it was built. What we didn’t know is that remodeling is not his full time job. He took our project on as a side job, which ended up causing delays because it just wasn’t his priority. He was trying to save us money, but in the end it cost us more – it took much longer than it should have taken, which took its toll and cost us our sanity at times (more valuable than money).

My advice: Look for a contractor who specializes in remodeling and has sub-contractors who work with him and do the job on time. A homebuilder who has a remodeling division is a great idea. That homebuilder has many sub-contractors that he can swap between his new builds and your remodel. Plus, he’ll be motivated to make sure you’re happy so that if you ever decide to build a new home, you will call him.

Bonus Tip: Most GM’s work on a “cost plus contract.” This means that they build the job and charge a percentage over the cost of the labor and materials. If the GM’s rate seems high, ask him to give you a completion date and put it in the contract. Then, add to the contract that he will pay you a fee every day the job is not complete past the contracted deadline.

Second: Consider moving out while the work is being done. Let me paint you a picture: my husband and I would come home after a hard day to a house covered in dust. The kids couldn’t play because everything was a mess. My 12 year old was embarrassed to have friends over because of the state of our house. It really upset the whole family. This caused numerous fights and countless tears from me. Even our poor dog suffered; he was stuck in the study for 10+ months because the back yard was also part of the remodel. Let me also say that no matter what you are remodeling, your home will be a dust disaster, even if they tape up plastic walls. Trust me, super fine dirt will travel to every room of the house.

My advice: If you are doing a huge remodel like we are, I recommend temporarily moving out especially if you’re going to be without a kitchen or during the really dirty parts (demolition, rebuilding walls and sheet rock).This is also a good idea if you have kids, dogs, or a demanding job. Local relatives or good friends can be especially helpful by letting you stay with them. Moving in temporarily with relatives, friends, or staying at a hotel will not only help your peace of mind, it will also help the remodel. Trust me, the more you are out of the way, the more they will get done

Third: Hire an architect. At the beginning of this process, one of the things we did right was hiring an architect to redraw our home plans. This really helped all the sub-contractors do the work correctly the first time. This decision was the only thing we did correctly; thank the lord we did this!

It has been a hard road and even though we still have a little more to go, I am finally seeing the finished product. I have a kitchen now that functions and the way the house flows is so much better than it was before. In the end, I would do it again but smarter and faster. If you’re about to embark on a remodel, hopefully my mistakes and advice can help you! Good luck and happy remodeling!

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