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  • Writer's pictureGabriella

7 Costly Reno Mistakes to Avoid to Keep Your Sanity

With rising construction costs, renovating your house into your dream home is quickly becoming the most costly investment you will make in your lifetime- aside from buying the house in the first place--- so you’ll want to get it right.

I often see newbie renovators, so pumped to get started they take a sledgehammer to the wall before they've even decided on what they're going to do. And while I admire the tenacity and gumption, the old saying is true- “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Yes, it is not as sexy as ripping out that old wall that you absolutely hate or spending hours scrolling Pinterest for that perfect inspo image, but planning is going to be what separates your project from the ones that end in failure or meh feelings.

Your ducks don’t need to all be in a row, but they should be in the same pond…. swimming happily amongst one another.

So, if you’re getting ready to reno, you’ll want to check out these 7 costly mistakes to avoid so you can jump into that pond with confidence.

1. Starting Without A Plan

And no, I don’t mean a vision. Creating your dream vision is the easy part. Planning out WHAT is needed and HOW you are going to get to that dream vision is the overlooked yet critical part.

Starting a renovation without a plan is like heading out on a road trip without a map, or a GPS --- who knows where you might end up? Across the US border when you meant to drive to Calgary (true story), taking the wrong exit and trapped by road construction….. unless you like driving aimlessly towards your final destination point, it’s far too risky to start without knowing how you are going to get there. The same goes for renovating your home.

The very first thing you need to do is define the purpose of the project. Every project has a purpose or a reason – it can be as simple as it needs an aesthetic boost, or more complex like the flow and function don’t serve you. The second thing is to create a priority list based on your purpose.

In a world of endless options and choices, it is far too easy to get swayed and pulled in multiple directions once the project starts. When you define the purpose and create your priority lists you can revert back to these and ask "does this new thing that I want to include fit into what I have laid out?"

Having something in writing helps to bring you back to your end goal.

2. Using Your Vision Board as Your Design Package

I’m all for a good Pinterest sesh and laying out my loved images to create the perfect vision board for what the house will look like overall as well as for each room or area. But a vision board is not a design package and is not your bible for your renovation.

It is a compilation of images that helps YOU to stay on track when you start to feel overwhelmed with the endless choices for fixtures, materials, and lighting.

It is not something that you give to your builder and trades and simply say "make it look like this."

Images are a great reference tool for yourself, but they do not give enough information, detail, and direction on the specifics of WHAT you are trying to achieve and HOW you want it to come together.

An image is an image. But an image as support to drawings, sketches, specifications, and instructions creates a package.

3. Designing As You Go

Building out your dream vision in image format only, with a few selections and ideas, is like only building the corners of a puzzle. It’s incomplete and doesn’t show the full picture.

From the materials to the fixtures to the lighting and the locations and connections of all the above -- all these decisions need to be made prior to when you start construction. This full picture is what allows proper pricing to take place from your contractor and trades because they know exactly what you want and how to do it and eliminates confusion on what needs to get done during the process.

When we don’t pick everything and haven’t sorted out the details before we start, we are left to design as we go. And the shoulder that this typically falls onto is the contractor. We assume that because they are professionals and have done this 100’s of times that they know best, and we expect them to figure out every little detail and provide us with the solutions.

But working through a project this way only leads down two roads:

  1. Being pinged at all hours of the night and day with texts and emails asking for clarification and direction from your contractor because they don’t know what you want and want to make sure that it’s right before they start. This places instant urgency on you to provide the response and creates overwhelm and unnecessary stress.

  2. Your contractor making assumptions based on the images provided without checking with you, and that assumption not being quite right. But if all you provided was an image and no clear details, written instructions, or a communication thread discussing exactly what you wanted, do you really have a leg to stand on when it’s wrong? …..Nope. It’s all hearsay.

Does this mean that you need to be an interior designer? --- No.

Does it mean that you should hire an interior designer?---- Maybe depending on the complexity of the project.

I’m all for DIY design and being the master of your home but giving a contractor a bunch of images and saying "build this" is only going to lead to pointed fingers and tears when the idea in your head isn’t 100% translated into reality.

4. Budget..... What Budget?

Getting towards the end of the project and realizing that you are WAY over budget, or worse, you don’t have the ability to get the funds to finish your dream vision, is devastating.

I know budgets are boring and definitely not fun! But blowing your budget happens because a proper budget wasn’t built from the start.

A budget is more than just pulling a figure out of thin air, or the costs quoted to you by trades or the contractor. It involves careful quote management that relates back to your priority list and needs to include costs that you will absorb and be securing directly, and it especially needs to include a contingency fund and a reserve fund to account for unexpected extras that will inevitably pop up throughout the project.

To build a successful budget you need to start with the list of work to be completed, outline all the items you will be purchasing yourself, take a look at what consultants and permits are needed, account for shipping and taxes where relevant, and add a contingency and a reserve fund to the full and final amount.

5. Choosing Lack Lustre Trades or Contractors

In today’s market where you’ve probably been searching for months to find someone who will take on your project, it is oh so tempting to pounce on the first trade that says “yes”.

Now maybe you got lucky and caught them with a break in their schedule (high fives!), or maybe you’ve found a great new company in town that isn’t booked up yet (go you!) --- but available right now is not always the right answer.

Please do not let the desire and drive to get your project complete stop you from doing your due diligence and checking to make sure they are the rockstars they promise.

Price is often considered the primary distinguisher but there are other considerations you should be taking into account before you make your selections

  • communication--- how, when, tone, or lack there of

  • the quality of their work --- ask to see pictures of past projects

  • client satisfaction --- ask for a few referrals and then give them a call

  • credentials--- a good tradesmen and solid company shouldn’t have any qualms over sharing their business license and insurance docs with you

  • professionalism--- do they do what they say they are going to do? A great test is to ask for a written quote

  • and their payment schedule--- when do they need payment and what are the terms

Hot tip!

Never engage a trade or contractor that places urgency on moving forward with them by saying things like “I’m booking up fast, this spot won’t last”, is significantly less than the other quotes received, or asks for full payment upfront.

If something feels off, or too good to be true, it probably is…..

6. Not Using Pros For the Professional Jobs

I’m all for taking on some DIY projects to save some cash, but there are some jobs in a project where bringing in a licensed professional really makes sense.

You may think you’re saving money by doing everything yourself (and sometimes you definitely do) but when we really look at the money that was saved vs. the time it takes you and the quality of the end result, the benefit of DIY often doesn’t pay off.

When it comes to more specialized jobs, especially those involving electricity and water, I recommend getting in licensed professionals.

In Canada, an electrician is required to undertake a 4-year apprenticeship to become fully licensed. Now I’m not saying you can’t do electrical yourself. Lord knows my house was all DIY from the previous owner, but what was uncovered when I went to go add a light in my entry, is that all the electrical in my front area isn’t grounded. It was literally an accident waiting to happen until it was fixed by a professional.

I’m a big believer in playing to your strengths --- for me that is the design, planning, and project management (and sometimes a little demo and paint), and I leave the execution of the specialized jobs to the professionals.

Yes, it costs me more upfront, but it saves me from buying a bunch of tools that I may never use again and don't have space for, the completion timeframe is a fraction of what it would take me over evenings and weekends (and time is money), and the end result is high quality.

You’re already investing a small fortune into your house. Do you really want to look back in 5 years and see all the poor detailing and defects because you didn’t 100% know what you were doing?

Now if you are keen to take it on, get your hands a little dirty, are good with knowing it won’t be 100% perfect, and have the time and energy to do DIY, by all means, go for it!

7. Not Setting Boundaries and Clear Communication Expectations

Boundaries and clear expectations need to be set right from the start on what it is and how it is that we need our projects to be run.

When we come out of the gate with a clear understanding between ourselves and the contractor on when and how communication will be received and responded to ---- pouf go all the late nights stressing if something has been done or staying up late to find the answer that is needed. When we don’t set boundaries we run around like chickens with our heads cut off, have panic attacks over questions, and feel like we can never catch a break in our renos.

It's all about setting ground rules and expectations, which occur through having an open conversation with your contractor/ trades before you hire them, with the following conversations points in mind:

  • When are you going to be available and accessible ---- what are your hours, are you available during the day while you work, do you have a clear cut-off at 7pm, or do you not want to get messages throughout the night? This needs to be communicated for when you will be available to respond

  • Preferred method of communication for different needs --- are you okay with everything coming through as texts, do you only like email, do you hate email, do you just want him to pick up the phone and call you?

  • Your timeline for responses --- be realistic. If he comes to you with questions, do you need 2 to 3 days to review, hum and hah, and then give an answer? If yes, then this needs to be discussed.

  • Your expectations for questions and how those will be provided --- when questions come up how do you want them to be received? Text/ email? Also, look at when you want to receive them? Do you want a 2 week look ahead that forecast what work is coming up and outlines questions that need to be answered? HINT: yes you do 😜

  • Expectations of the contractor for his response---ask him what his requirements are and also be honest with your needs. If you need a project update call once a week to feel comfortable, then ask for it.

Boundaries and communication expectations don't need to feel daunting.  They are simply an opportunity to open up a conversation that relieves tension and lays the foundation for how the project is going to be run.  


I've had my own experiences with a few of these mistakes and hear horror stories from clients on a few of the others.

I hope this breakdown sheds some light on the areas to tighten up in your own home renovation and remodeling projects so you can avoid construction regrets and keep your sanity in the process.


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