The 7 Things that can trip you up in a Home renovation... (and how to Plan for them)

7 mistakes homeowners make when renovating


The most important aspect of a successful design project is planning properly. Many homeowners are often very excited to get moving and seeing progress happen that they overlook this very critical process.

I know, I know it isn’t as sexy as choosing beautiful stone or a gorgeous soaking tub, but, without it, that tub may not fit up the stairs into the bath or the floors may not be prepared to take the weight of the stone.

Many renovation problems can be tracked back to lack of adequate planning.  It is much less expensive and painful to make errors on paper rather than on the job site!


1. Underestimating  the time and money that the planning stage takes.

This planning phase is the  most important part of the project.  This is where a program is created which will determine the goals of the project.  The site and existing building will be documented and measured.  

This is the time where any issues with the site or building will come to light—well except those unknowns that are behind walls or underground.  It is also where design solutions are created and evaluated.  It is where you try to head off and anticipate challenges that may arise.

It is crucial that this stage is thought out and the proper time is taken.  It’s hard to believe but, in many cases this can take more time than the actual construction portion.  

Dedicating the time upfront, saves time and money down the road by not having to re-do,un-do or remove later.  Also, if you will be moving out during the work, it saves on rent on alternate housing.  

designer working at her desk with sketches


Many times clients want to skimp on design fees.  This is not the place to skimp. You want the best design and expertise as this will ultimately save you money.  

Professional interior designers are versed in best practices but also should be able to value engineer.  Value engineering simply put, allows you to spend/distribute your budget where you will get the most value.  

Speaking of value, that is what you should be seeking.  Does spending tremendous amounts of money ensure a quality outcome?  Certainly not. Neither does cheaping out with the lowest.

Be careful of fees.  If someone charges hourly and is not very experienced or quick, they can quickly become more expensive then someone who is more experienced but charges more per hour.  Flat fees are good alternative if you are good about making decisions and sticking to a specified scope of services.


2. Underestimating the Time and Money for the Approval Process

Regardless if you live in an apartment or on an estate, there is always some sort of approval process.  Depending on the specifics of the property, you may need approval of zoning, building department, health, wetlands and conservation, to name a few.  

If you are New York co-op resident, you also must receive approval of the board in order to do work in your apartment.  The point of bringing this up, is so that you prepare yourself.  

Approvals can take weeks to months and longer depending on the scope of work and the prickliness of those doing the approving.  For any kind of a variance (something outside of the local codes or ordinances) you have to get a slot to present your case which occurs monthly many times.  

And of course, almost every application requires some sort of fee.  Do your best to plan but let nothing surprise you.  Government  entities and co-op boards move at their own speed…many times it’s glacial.


3. Not Making Plans For How You Will Live Through the Construction Process

In order to minimize the challenge of living through construction, again, it helps to have a plan.  If you are able to move out if the work is substantial, lucky you. This option will ease your crabbiness, and could actually make the work go faster as subs don’t have to work around you.

If that isn’t an option, consider how you will live.  Communication with your general contractor is crucial. So see what his schedule will be and how you can live around it.  If you are doing a kitchen, is there any chance that you can do it in the summer when grilling outdoors is an option?

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t let demolition in a kitchen or bath occur until all cabinets have been delivered and checked for damage.  It is so common that the contractor goes great guns and demos everything…..and then you wait…and wait some more for one missing cabinet.  

That holds up the appliances and countertop installation. So, really plan how you will be living through this.  Make sure you can clear a relatively clean and quiet place (relatively speaking) to work and relax.

I don’t want to kid you, even with perfect planning, surprises will occur, things will not go according to the perfect schedule. However, I can guarantee they will go much smoother with detailed planning.  

You do not want to be designing on the fly on the job site…it rarely turns out well. That’s when a design falls apart.  Making  decisions under pressure about all the little details you hadn’t thought about doesn’t work so well.  

So, plan and then you will know where your project, your design, and your budget will go.


4. Not Allowing for Lead Times

Lead times simply refers to the time it takes for goods to arrive.  Don't underestimate the importance of this.  Many times homeowners are left sitting for months in a demolished kitchen waiting for cabinets or appliances to arrive.

For custom furniture 8-10 weeks is the average time it takes for items to arrive.  I generally feel that it is best to wait for the items that you really want and that really makes the design...which means taking the lead times into account.  

You can adjust buy not doing demo until you know when your fixtures will be available.  

There can be overlap as well.  Once the construction plans have been finalized, you can order furnishings as much of this is waiting time once the orders have been placed.  

Orders can always be held at the receiving warehouse until the project is ready. Although there may be a cost involved, it's better than having things damaged on a construction site or after waiting through a renovation, having to wait longer for furniture.


5. Not Having Complete Documentation for Bids

While not having every single detailed designed and drawn is necessary, the more information the better when getting accurate bids. It is really important to have the main part of the project designed and specified.  

If there is not enough information, a contractor will allow an "allowance" for that item...And believe me if you are envisioning a beautiful hand chosen slab of Carrara marble for your counter tops and the contractor price a home depot slab of granite, there will some very disappointing news coming.  

Because there are always surprises on a job site, it is even more important to control the things that you are able.  Many surprises can be lurking behind unopened walls...structural, electrical and plumbing to name a few.  Contractors are giving their best estimate based on what they are able to see.


When specifying, it is best to be as specific as possible so there are no misunderstandings.  You may also want to include a "no substitutions" clause in your specifications.  Contractors may substitute similar items that may look the same but do not perform the same.

contractor working on the jobsite


6. Not Getting Multiple Bids

If you have a solid set of drawings and specifications, you can easily get multiple bids.  It also keeps the bids as equal as possible. 

Multiple bids will help get an idea of what the cost of the project will be.  

While the lowest bid isn't always the best bid, homeowners need to take into account recommendations, experience in the specific type of work and what the contractor's  availability is.  

Only consider contractors who are licensed and insured.  I have found that many times the lowest bid ends up being not so low in the end.  


7. Not Having Confidence in the Professionals You Have Hired

It is critical to do your home work before hiring anyone.  If you spend the time up front, you will more confident with the choices and decisions down the road.

When hiring design professionals look for design education  and certification. Beyond that, take a look at their portfolio, knowing that that work reflects not just the designer but the specific client as well.  

Equally as important as education and training, is how you personally  connect. Designing a home is an intimate experience and you need to make sure you are able to communicate well. Understand the process and what your role will be and that of the interior designer.

If you choose wisely, it will be easier for you to trust the person you have hired. It is really important to trust the vision and experience of the designer.  

The temptation to get opinions from everybody can be tempting.  DON'T DO IT!  

It is very difficult for non professionals to see "the vision" before it is completed...It's why they don't do it for a living.   As much as you want to get input and share the progress with friends and family, resist this.  It can be a quick route to sabotaging a project.

It's ok to voice your concerns to your interior designer.  And  a professional should be happy to discuss them and maybe alternatives.  

But remember when you start pulling apart elements of the project, it can fall apart.  So, hire wisely, communicate well and trust yourself and the person you have hired.

Renovation projects are both exciting and frightening at the same time.  The better you plan, the more excitement and less angst you'll experience.  The investment in quality advice from professionals is worth every penny...your home is not the place to be penny wise and pound foolish.