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Painful recipes for busted budgets and project timelines

Spontaneity is not your friend in home renovation. Ripping things out on a whim, changing your mind on material selection, or adding to your project scope mid-project is likely to result in busted remodeling budgets, delayed schedules and frustration.


I've seen homeowners decided to make a few small updates to their kitchen and spontaneously decide to rip everything out. This approach can be painful and is a recipe for busted budgets and project schedules. Writing down your wish list and thinking carefully about what you really want will help you stay focused during your project.


These are 6 common homeowners mistakes that bust through budgets and delay moving back into your home:

  1. Not knowing what they want

  2. Hiring a contractor without thorough project plans

  3. Setting an unrealistic budget

  4. Waiting to make design decisions

  5. Making changes on the fly

  6. Failing to closely monitor progress

Here's a little more to chew on:


Not knowing what they want

Lacking a clear vision and style leads to dissatisfaction. Choices are made but the final reveal won't live up to expectations if they were never effectively communicated. You don't want to get to the end of your project (after a big investment) and thing, "that's not what I wanted!"


What you can do instead:

Do you homework and create a clear vision and detailed plans. Find your design style and share it with your architect / designer and contractor.


Hiring a contractor without thorough plans

The amazing designs you see in magazines were not planned on the fly. Lacking thorough plans, i.e. detailed drawings leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Interpretation and assumptions lead to miscommunications.


What you can do instead:

Use clear visuals. The best approach is to deliver completed architectural drawings to your contractor. Review the plan set with the contractor and identify areas that are vague or need more detail. In a pinch, you could even hand draw something small - like tile layout.


Setting an unrealistic budget

I get it, your neighbor completed their 2nd story addition for $300k 10 years ago. Things have changed. Labor and material costs have increased dramatically.


What you can do instead:

Inquire with contractors about their recently completed projects to understand current, ball park numbers. Get rough estimates on $/ square foot. Understand that each project is scope is different and that you will not likely afford everything on you wish list under your budget.


Importantly: get project drawings with sufficient detail to get preliminary estimates from contractors. Make adjustments to your plans. Build in contingencies - often there are surprises behind old walls.


Waiting to make design decisions

Maybe you changed your mind and choose a new tile that is not in stock. Or the tile you chose is way more expensive than what the contractor assumed in their bid. Waiting to make design decisions is likely to limit your choices to what is in stock and build estimates based on assumptions.


What to do instead:

Make as many decisions as possible up front. Plan to spend 80% of your time as a homeowner in the planning phase and 20% monitoring and overseeing the work.


Making Changes on the Fly

You may decide to tile all the walls in the bathroom instead of just the shower. It's a nice style upgrade, but changes do two things: it change the price and lengthen the schedule.


Here's the trouble: if a contractor has bid on your project, they have already ordered tile and made assumptions about how long it will take. Materials like tile may not be in stock, so it may trigger long lead times (hello delays!) or require a different material selection. More tiling means more time - and they can't move on to their next project as planned. This is a recipe for frustration between you and the contractor.


What to do instead:

Choose materials, layout and define the scope in advance. If you are keen on your budget and timeline, stick with the plan.


Failing to closely monitor progress

I arrived at our home while the contractor was building concrete molds for our window wells. The trouble was he was building one, not two wells. I referenced our drawings (notice a pattern here) and asked him to stick to the plan. Creating one well was easier for him that two - convenient for him, but not what we wanted.


Lesson: It's easier to course correct deviations from the plan, or make small adjustments before it becomes rework.

What to do: visit your job site regularly - daily if possible. Communicate frequently with your contractor and have regularly scheduled meetings to discuss progress.


A lot of the painful project challenges have this in common: insufficient plans. Complete careful planning and get through design drawings to avoid these common homeowner mistakes!



Hey there, neighbor! I'm Julie Bennett. I'm a homeowner turned renovator, Seattle real estate agent and a woman on a mission to make renovation easier for homeowners. Looking for more resources? Get my free guide below and weekly bite-sized renovation tips delivered to your inbox.












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