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Diary of a Mad Renovator: Top 10 Tips

Written by Jaqui Lividini

I’ve made so many mistakes in my life as a “mad renovator” – many just common sense lapses.  I asked Chip Brian and Mike Daddio, the principals at Design Development, to share with us their expert thoughts on the top 10 most common renovator mistakes.  In looking them over I realized I have committed every single one.  So much for the “seasoned” renovator tag!

Design Development’s Top Ten Renovator Tips

The Design Development team

1. Get a plan, drawn by a pro, and review those plans before starting  

When I asked my previous contractor for a pantry closet in the kitchen, I had envisioned one that went straight to the ceiling – seems pretty simple – NOT.  My pantry closet (which has since been removed) was only 6 feet tall and looked ridiculous.  

Original pantry closet, which was removed.

2. Make a budget, bid the project, lock down all open items

With my previous contractor, the budget wasn't agreed upon until after the project was well under way. (When you’re an excited renovator things, like budget tend to slip one’s mind!) We were continuously asking for this information but to no avail.  When it finally was presented, we were outraged at the amount, and stopped all the work.  Need I say more about agreeing on a budget in advance?

3. Select the right contractor, meet many, select few

Because we were in hurry and wanted a quick turn around, we spoke to one contractor. Spoke to one? Strike one. But he came highly recommended from our trusted real estate agency.  All in all, that decision cost us a year. You know how one year in human years is 7 years in dog years?  In my opinion, the same relationship applies to human years and renovator years.

4. Get a schedule, have your contractor agree to this, and establish penalties for late performance

You know the old adage – “twice as expensive, twice as much time.” I guess this doesn’t happen if you have the right contractor! We’re back to the dog year equation on this one.

5. Don’t front pay your contractor; set milestones for payment

We all know about my ongoing saga with the electrician – Blog Post: Renovators Beware (April 19).

6. Prepare all materials before you start

Remember the precious antique breakfront I left in the middle of the work site? This may not have been my wisest hour…

Breakfront in the wrong place at the wrong time

7. Think about your changes before you start

If something doesn't look right to you now, it’s not suddenly going to look marvelous when you’re all finished.  In fact, it’s probably the opposite. And at the end of the process, a change order will be twice as expensive (if possible at all).  When we decided to remove the cockeyed pantry that the old contractor had installed, we replaced it with a window – luckily that decision was made before that side of the house was shingled!

Pantry closet that was installed incorrectly

Wall where window will go (wall where pantry closet was originally)

8. Additional work? Negotiate based on the contractual terms; lock all items.

There is always additional work—always.  If you think renovating a house is like ordering at a restaurant (where you decide on your order), you’ve never renovated before. Renovating is a discovery process; so make sure you have a flexible contractor.  Look at us—who knew we’d be lifting our house 8 additional feet?

9. Did I mention plan, plan plan?

You can never ever do enough planning—my renovation books are priceless and extremely necessary in communicating my vision. They may be heavy and cumbersome and all over the place (to some)—but there’s a rhyme and reason to it all.  And no, don’t put it all on your iPad. Have some old school, 20th century fun with print!  

10. Ensure your contractor is licensed and insured!

Common sense – right?  Yet, seasoned renovator that I am, I previously fell into this trap.

Hope these tips help you with your renovations. Please share your disaster stories, or additional renovation tips to add to our list.  I look forward to hearing from you!

When all is said and done -- the reason this is all worth it.
The sunrise…….

...and sunset

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