10 Things That Can Go Wrong With a Home Renovation

construction worker with home renovation backgroundAlmost everyone has a nightmare story about their home renovation or has at least heard one or two. The truth is that people often cause their own nightmare by hiring the wrong person or undervaluing the project.

Here are ten things that can go wrong with a renovation and how to avoid them.

1. You Get Multiple Quotes But Every One is Too High

This one is easy. Too many people believe what they see on TV or what they hear in the neighbourhood about what a home renovation should  cost. If your budget is too low, you can’t expect someone to do the work. Do your own research. Talk to professionals. Above all, be reasonable. You don’t work for $50 a day – you can’t expect a qualified tradesperson to work for less.

2. You Start Your Renovation Without Municipal Permits and Get Caught

permit approved conceptOops! Sadly, this happens all too often. Some homeowners believe permits don’t apply to them.

Or they make assumptions about what work needs a permit and what doesn’t.

Permits are the law. Period. They apply to all property owners. Period.

If you try to bypass the permit process and enter into a renovation without following the law, you will most likely get caught. When you do, you will have to pay fines and your renovation will take a lot longer than planned. DON’T DO IT. Permits are in place to protect you. They are not just a money grab from “Big Brother”. Most permits relate to fire codes or seismic requirements. You wouldn’t want to live in a house that was made unsafe by an illegal renovation, would you? Contact your City Hall and ask them if what you’re planning is legal and what permits you need to complete the work. They will work with you so you can start the project legally. Later, city inspectors will come to ensure the work is done properly.

3. The Guy You Hire Doesn’t Show Up

This is pretty common, especially with smaller jobs like painting or home maintenance. Often the homeowner thinks the project is too small to get quotes from larger, more established companies. The little guy is small because he doesn’t have a track record of successful jobs to establish a clientele. This may even mean that he is restarting his business over and over. You may get lucky with a small business but you take your chances. It’s best to meet with a few different contractors to hear what they have to say about your project. Always check references and research reviews.

4. You Hire a Family Member or Friend to Help

I don’t know about you but I like my family and friends. I would never want to put them in a position where I might lose the relationship. Home renovations can be very stressful. The last thing you want to do is involve someone you love in a situation where you have to pay for their mistakes or, worse, fire them for theirs. Keep it professional. Hire someone you trust to do the work properly and pay them fairly when they do.

5. You Hire a Guy Who’s Done Work for You Before, But He Can’t Handle This Project

Every industry has levels of expertise; construction is no different. A roofer knows how to seal a roof from leaks, but don’t ask him to install your kitchen cabinets or your hardwood flooring. It takes years to acquire the skills necessary to complete high quality workmanship. In Canada, we have the Red Seal Program to help distinguish a qualified tradesperson from a handyman. Be sure to vet your trades by asking to see the work they have done in the past. You will quickly see their level of competency.

6. Your Contractor Shows Up Infrequently

Before you start construction, your contractor should sit down with you and establish a plan and schedule. Some things can be hard to predict, especially if there is a municipal inspection required before the next phase can begin. You should be made aware of what things will happen and when. If you haven’t seen or heard from your contractor for a while, and he is scheduled to start the next phase, you have reason for concern. Usually there is a very good reason. Don’t panic; give him a chance to explain. It may be one of a hundred honest and reasonable excuses. Get him to meet with you and work it out together so you can get back on track. Open lines of communication are one of the key elements for a successful renovation.


7. Your Contractor Starts On Schedule, Then Gets Pulled Away to a Bigger Job

unfinished home renovation

Unfinished work

When choosing a contractor, you will find there are two types of companies: the larger company with an infrastructure to handle any size job and the smaller company still developing its standing in the industry. Most construction companies are the latter, run by just a few guys jumping from job to job. If they land a large project, they may have to pull resources from their ongoing jobs to meet the needs of the new client. With a larger company, you won’t have this problem. You will have a Project Supervisor assigned to your home’s renovation who will stick with it systematically from start to finish. If you have chosen a smaller company, you will be left with two choices: have patience or hire someone else. If you change contractor, you have to fire the first one and then pay someone else to finish the work. This is a fairly aggressive approach and may not work out best for either one of you. You could even end up in court trying to recoup costs. Have patience. Your contractor is most likely an honest guy with a dilemma. Contact him, meet face to face, and give him options that work for both of you.

8. You Run Into Unforeseen Circumstances

Old houses hide many secrets. I could tell you horror stories about bad wiring, crumbling foundations, asbestos contamination, pest damage, black mold, and many other possibilities you are not really likely to encounter. However, you may run into a few minor problems during your renovation. Hold back a little money from your budget for a contingency fund. 5% to 10% of your total construction budget is usually about right.

9. You Run Out of Money Before the Job is Finished

This is a big fear for many homeowners. Anyone who has tried to float two properties while renovating one will tell you that cash is king. Work with your contractor to plan everything carefully. Try not to focus on the high end “shiny things” like quartz countertops, custom kitchen cabinets, marble tiles and luxury finishes. Keep your eye on the hard costs like framing, concrete, drywall, roofing, windows and doors. There are options for the financial side. A good mortgage broker will help you set up the funds necessary to meet your renovation needs. In some cases, you may qualify for bridge financing (short-term, high interest loan). Once the project is complete, you can get an assessment done on your newly renovated home which should allow you to refinance to include all your higher interest loans and credit cards. You may be surprised how easy it is to cover the costs.

10. The Quality is Not What You Expected

Some say, “You get what you pay for.” This is not always true in construction. Homeowners will sometimes rush into arrangements with contractors without working out details adequately. If you leave it up to the contractor to decide on your finishes and finer points, you will certainly be disappointed. It’s up to you to question every aspect of the project or find a contractor who has a designer on his team – a Design Builder.

home renovation contract with pen

Get it in writing

For every nightmare home renovation story, I have ten stories of successful projects that were free of drama and heartache. It boils down to who you choose to work with. Your contractor has to be your partner, someone you trust. You have to work together for a successful renovation. Look for someone who sells value, can manage expectations, owns all issues, and delivers results. That is the one who will prevent the nightmares and help make your dreams a reality.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Kerr Construction and a clickable link back to this page.

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