As soon as people find out I do interior design and architecture, they excitedly recount the story of their own home renovation. Usually they tell me about how they did not realize how much work was involved and conclude that they wish they had hired a professional. Over the years, I have noticed in these stories that there are common mistakes that everyone seems to make. Of course, hiring a professional should help on all fronts, but even then it is best if the homeowner is well-informed. Isn’t knowing what you don’t know key to any successful endeavor?
The Top 7 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Considering a Redesign
1. Not planning in advance for entire scope of prospective work.
Top of the list is making sure to take a holistic approach. Homeowners always think too small. What work needs to be anticipated for the next year? What about further down the road? Kitchens, baths, number of bedrooms, circulation, lighting, workspace, entertaining, furniture plan, ongoing maintenance, aging in place, artwork, durability, curb appeal, window ware, rental income, multi-functionality.... The list is long, and it’s important to do a full assessment and address all issues up front so that you don’t have to go through this process all over again. It’s also more expensive to do work piecemeal—particularly when not scheduled. There are always some surprises, but with the right approach, pitfalls and missteps can be minimized or avoided altogether.
2. Not having a comprehensive budget.
Many homeowners tell me when we first meet that they haven’t really thought very much about a budget. Or perhaps they have thought about it, but they point out that they are not the professionals, so shouldn’t they just look to me to come up with a realistic plan? This is probably the most common misperception homeowners have about how their renovation is supposed to work, and I patiently let them know why this is wrong.
First of all, you yourself need to feel comfortable with the budget allocation. There are so many inevitable stressors, I see no reason to have a runaway budget as another, so we set it up from the get-go. Some projects have a very strict budget. Others are more flexible. Together, we discuss what is reasonable to accomplish within the constraints, and I recommend adjustments as needed.
Second, every project has a budget. Even the most lavish and extravagant projects need to be kept in line…and it’s the designer's responsibility to do this, not the homeowner’s. I’ve found that so many of my colleagues are themselves mistaken about this role, but I am adamant that here the professional must leverage their expertise and experience to properly advise the homeowner. As I always say to our clients, “It’s your job to set the budget, and our job to stick to it.”
There is a lot that goes into comprehensive cost estimating, but it is a crucial component of the project. To stay on budget, we must anticipate all of the expenses, line by line, including labor, materials, incidentals, and fees…. And this must occur throughout the project to ensure all is on track. When I’m in charge, I am sure to point out opportunities for the homeowner to either save money or to spend their money more wisely. Maybe an upgrade is available that will bring a higher ROI. Maybe a round of value engineering is in order to combat the expense of complex existing conditions. Whatever it is, at your project’s core should be a well-crafted budget.
3. Having an unrealistic schedule in mind.
This seems like an easy one, but somehow it’s the one most often passed over. Of course there is not one calendar that applies to all projects. I think what first trips up homeowners is that they assume things are ready to go for each step or that progress on various steps can be made concurrently. The reality is that most everything on this sort of project happens consecutively—each step informs the next. There are also far more steps than many folks realize. But funnily this doesn’t mean that an unrealistic schedule is always too short; on the contrary, many homeowners do not realize how quickly progress can be made. When necessary, we can finesse the design, substitute one vendor or product for another, or increase the budget to expedite the process. The key is to make certain that you’re working according to the right schedule for you and your needs.
4. Not considering resale value.
Sure, almost every homeowner knows what the concept of resale value is. But what does it mean in practice? Whether your primary goal is increasing your property’s competitiveness in the marketplace, or you just want to be sure you get a good return on investment for the beautification you are underwriting, it is essential to understand just what will make your house attractive to prospective buyers. Some actions increase value, some are neutral, and some can even have a detrimental effect. So, what is needed is an eye to the future—whether a sale is far down the road or immediately following completion of proposed work—to understand from the start exactly how your refreshed home will look not just to you but also to everyone else.
5. Not understanding the “real value” of their home.
After working on both sides of the architecture-interior design aisle, I have to say that this recommendation comes from the latter. There are so many reasons people invest money in redoing their homes: changing use, modernization, financial investment…. And, yes, many folks do want a nicer space, but I find clients more readily accept the need to consider resale value because it feels justified. But isn’t your happiness also justified? A surprising amount of the time I have to ask clients to step back and really consider this question: How do we make your home work for you?! Don’t underestimate the value of a comfortable, personalized space that brings joy, adds beauty, and increases your opportunities. There is so much potential in each of our homes, and a renovation or redesign holds great promise to fundamentally better the lives of the inhabitants. We have a blog entry dedicated to this topic, concluding that “the ‘enjoyment factor’ is priceless.”
6. Having too much confidence in a contractor, vendor, or tradesperson.
I have to just say it: not everyone is good at their job. And those of us who are good still make mistakes. This is one of the reasons that a successful project has a system of checks and balances in place. Someone with an understanding of the big picture needs to be vigilant every step of the way—or even better, a coordinated team needs to be vigilant. How did that wall get built a few inches off? How will the materials and fixtures all fit now? When that delivery came in, it seemed like the right piece; is it too late to send it back? I figured all was clear in the drawings.... Problems arise. What’s important is the system in place for getting them fixed.
The more important point here, though, is that even the most talented builders and sales reps are not designers. Just like the best designers know how to work in conjunction with talented contractors and trusted vendors—and to incorporate their fields of expertise—the reverse also stands. And this point leads us to the final item on this list…. If you want to leverage all that you’ve learned up to this point, seek out a professional.
7. Not talking to a professional.
You are unique, and so is your project. It takes a lot of dedicated and focused attention to understand your project’s particular challenges. It also takes a lot of experience, so why not leverage that to your advantage? A professional will make your money go farther, raise your resale value, and provide tips for finishing on time. Not sure how to pick someone? We have a couple blog entries about just that. But one of the most important reasons to consult a professional is to ensure someone knowledgeable and trustworthy is really listening to you.
Some projects only need a few hours of attention from a talented designer. And even savvy DIYers always benefit from at least a one-off consultation. They bounce design ideas off of us, confirm their budgets and anticipated schedules, and ask for referrals to the best local talent. Experienced homeowners can still miscalculate the complexity of their project. So, having your own advocate, getting answers, and having someone sketch out the bigger picture (sometimes literally on paper)…this is the reassurance you get. And then the story you tell about your project has a better chance of a happy ending.