Renovations are full of surprises, disappointments, delays, extended timelines, and blown budgets. Conservative gripes suggest that you plan for it to cost 50% more and take twice as long — if not more. And that’s just budget and timeline.
Most of us assume we know how to do things the ‘right’ way and will avoid the pitfalls of the renovation by planning, calculating, and double-checking everything. But the renovation is an animal that can’t be tamed. It’s kind of like raising a child: no matter how much you prepare, you will get blindsided by something. Rather than spend your energy over-preparing, you’re better off saving it for the limitless patience you’ll need.
Here are 5 pieces of advice from some homeowners and experts on the things they wish they’d known before taking the plunge.
I WISH I KNEW…
#1… that it doesn’t always pay to DIY.
DIY might seems like a great idea for those who want to save up, just because they are renting it out for good. Paul shared his experience, “I tried a lot of things for the first time and screwed up, or realised after that I should have just found someone with the expertise. Luckily, my cabin is a small space, so all the things I screwed up weren’t costly.”
“My wife and I spent three weekends painting the exterior of the house — driving out in and out, getting paint supplies, spending six full days painting, and it looked bad and we didn’t finish,” he says. “I ended up finding a young guy who had a sprayer and does this full-time. He did the entire cabin in six hours and we paid RM2,000 including paint and supplies.”
#2… that you need to mark everything.
Communication is also key when you demo. “There have been times when I’ve communicated that I wanted to save certain details, like a countertop or some fixtures. The problem is that it doesn’t always get communicated down to the guys doing the demo, so they go in and scrap everything, and then all those opportunities to save costs are gone! Now, I mark everything with blue tape and mark it with a sharpie: ‘KEEP.'”
#3… that you should never assume.
When it comes to contractors, Brett has one golden rule: Don’t make assumptions. “Any specific details should be addressed, and in writing, even if it seems small or obvious,” he says.
All it takes is one detail to go undiscussed, and there can be a disappointment. “We used 4×6 posts for a case in our first renovation and assumed our contractor would be using the same post size for a similar situation in our second cabin renovation, so we didn’t specify it,” he explains. “He used 4x4s in our second renovation, which we didn’t like quite as much.”
#4… that being a good neighbour matter.
And some regrets have nothing to do with the renovation itself, but the overall process. “I wish we had made nice with the neighbours before we started a huge addition,” says Seeley. “The neighbour ended up hating us because of the noise of the construction and she made things a nightmare for us.”
#5… that you need to spell it all out right from the beginning.
On a similar note, Valentine adds that there’s no such thing as over-communication when it comes to a contractor — especially when getting bids.
“You can’t underestimate the level of detail you need to bring to the estimating process,” she says. “You don’t want to get stuck halfway through and realise, Oh, we didn’t talk about tiles. You have to get into the nitty-gritty of every detail. Now, I stand in every room and take a physical inventory of everything I’m receiving as per quotation. Then, when I’m getting estimates, there isn’t a question of ‘Are you providing this or am I?'”
Even the littlest missed items in an estimate can really add up. “Even just an electrical swap-out seems simple, but are they providing all the outlets, switches, and strike plates? If not, you’ve got to go buy them all, and that could be a thousand you weren’t planning for.”