Ten classic (but avoidable) home renovation pitfalls

Sort It: Try to look into the future and design some flexibility into your home

Sound advice: don’t jump at the first contractor you meet or are recommended, and never choose a contractor solely on price

Sound advice: don’t jump at the first contractor you meet or are recommended, and never choose a contractor solely on price

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The home renovation market is booming, but makeover mistakes are common and costly, and without proper planning they can escalate quickly. Here are 10 of the most common renovation mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Putting the cart before the horse
Whether it’s a small bathroom renovation or a complete house refurbishment and extension there is a sequence of steps to follow to ensure everything goes to plan. It might be tempting to rush out and buy tiles because they’re on sale, but you should wait until your layouts are finalised and you’re completely sure about the design otherwise you could find yourself trying to work around something you wish you hadn’t spent money on.  

2. Not planning for the future
It’s really important that you try to look into the future and design some flexibility into your home. Having a separate den or sitting area is a good idea for families. You might never use it when children are small but once they get older you could find yourself spending a lot of time there. It’s not uncommon now for couples in their 40s to plan some form of ground floor space into a renovation that could be adapted to a bedroom in the future. This kind of forward thinking will mean your home will only need minor if any adjustments as your needs change.

3. Designing around something for the wrong reasons
Designing around how you currently use your home won’t lead to a well-functioning layout. You need to look at what you are trying to achieve and plan the best way to get there. This is where hiring a professional to help can be a good idea as they will have an impartial view of your home and how best to achieve the results you want.

4. Designing to the wish-list and not the budget
Set a realistic budget and be prepared to make trade-offs along the way. Its very easy to get carried away and try to include everything on the wishlist but you could find yourself in trouble very quickly. Keep the budget to the front of your mind when making decisions.

Put aside sufficient contingency funds to cover unexpected expenses, for example, discovering damp or structural issues. Be open about your budget with your architect, designer or contractor. An experienced team will help you to compromise in a way that gets maximum value and return on the budget. Being budget conscious from the start is far better than running out of money halfway through a project.

5. Not being prepared
Have everything chosen and agreed before your builder starts on site. That way you know what everything costs and you have everything ready when the builder needs it, avoiding the need for on-the-spot decisions. It’s also really important to do research. Spend some time online and looking at magazines to build up a collection of images for inspiration. It’s a fantastic way to communicate ideas to your architect, designer or contractor, and to any suppliers that you may be using.

6. Making decisions based on what others have done
By all means seek advice from neighbours, family or friends who have done work, but don’t feel the need to follow it slavishly. Your home and its requirements will differ from your neighbour’s even if every house on the street is identical.

7. Not hiring professionals to save money
Obviously I would say this, but if you are planning on any kind of large-scale renovation or extension it’s advisable to enlist the help of an architect. Structural renovations without professional design is a big mistake. This doesn’t have to cost the earth and many architects will have flexible options. Too often homes are renovated where the layout lets them down; there is no allowance for storage, rooms are difficult to furnish and worse still extensions are built that completely compromise the existing house. A good architect can manipulate the space and light to create a home that is beautiful in both form and function. They also have relationships with tradespeople and suppliers, so buying fixtures and fittings can be more affordable and less stressful.

8. Choosing the wrong contractor
Don’t jump at the first contractor you meet or are recommended, and never choose a contractor solely on price. In fact, you should be wary of the lowest bid. Always get at least two quotes and spend some time analysing and comparing the prices before making your decision. Make sure you have a clear brief and set out the scope of works for each contractor to ensure you’re comparing like with like. Always check references and if possible speak with previous clients or try to view their work.

9. Not moving out
It might seem like a good idea to save money but I’ve rarely met someone who’s decided to live on site and not regretted it. It’s a dirty, messy and intrusive process. If it’s a big renovation involving most of the home, I strongly recommend moving out.

10. Spending too much on the wrong things
Invest mainly in those areas that will make the biggest difference to your quality of life and to the enjoyment of your home. A good rule of thumb always is to get the fundamentals right – invest in anything that is costly to replace at a later date and cut back on superficial elements as these can be replaced or added in the future.

Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant; @optimisedesign

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