The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Renovating

Five things to avoid when starting a project - and what to do instead.

Man looking electrocuted with a wire in each hand.

A major home renovation is a serious undertaking. Done right, it can significantly raise the value of your home and provide you with a beautiful new living space. Executed poorly, it can harm you financially and cause plenty of stress and anxiety.

No pressure there, right?

To help keep you on the positive end of this equation, let's review some of the worst errors people make when renovating - and some smart steps you can take to save money during the process.

Mistake One: Failing to do your homework on contractors

Contractors are like a box of chocolates - some are better than others, and you never know what you're going to get. Unless, of course, you perform your due diligence and research your list of candidates. Check references, backgrounds and online reviews during the bidding process. Don't be afraid to ask for examples of recent work. After all, you're entrusting this person with making serious changes to your home, while having access to your home.

Check complaints with your state's licensing authority, get recommendations from past customers, evaluate past work in person, check Better Business Bureau complaints, and make sure you get everything in writing before the work starts, so there are no gray areas once the work is underway.

Mistake Two: Failing to budget properly

Running out of money in the middle of renovations is almost a worst case scenario. That's why it's important to not only have the money to cover the projected cost of improvements, but also have a cushion in case of cost overruns. Sometimes unexpected things come up in the course of a remodel, and you need to have the flexibility to accommodate them.

Mistake Three: Failing to research local codes and regulations

Imagine that you've just paid several thousand dollars to have a new fence installed - only to find out that it violates city code and must be modified or torn down. That's an error that is all too common, and all too avoidable. To avoid this trap, check with all relevant local jurisdictions to ensure your project meets code requirements.

Mistake Four: Trying to do it yourself when you lack the expertise

We get it - the temptation to save money (and the hassle of hiring and overseeing a contractor) by doing the work yourself is tempting. Unfortunately, if you lack the necessary skills it's often a recipe for disaster. Not only do you risk ending up with disappointing work, you very well might do damage that requires later intervention by a professional. The moral: Don't overestimate your abilities.

Mistake Five: Automatically opting for the low bid

Sometimes the lowest bid is the cheapest for a reason. If it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Perhaps the contractor is desperate for work or cutting corners on materials. Don't let the desire to save as much money as possible compromise the quality of the work.

What To Do Instead

Now that you know what not to do, here are some tips to let you know how to proceed in a smart and financially-sound fashion:

  • Save money by doing the work you're truly capable of handling
  • Pick projects that offer a solid return on investment
  • Pace yourself and enjoy the process
  • Research ways to save costs (tax benefits, buying materials on Craigslist etc.)

The Takeaway

By avoiding the most common remodeling mistakes and following a few simple money-saving tips, you can make the renovations of your dreams - without the process devolving into a nightmare of cost overruns and stress.