So you’ve created your vision boards, organized your budget, and planned your timeline as best you can — it’s almost time to start renovating, right? Truthfully, there’s no such thing as being too prepared for what is one of the biggest projects many of us will undertake in our lives.
To help you with your renovating journey, we asked real-life renovators what the biggest lessons they learned from their own renovations were, and how you can avoid the same pitfalls.
1. Expect surprises.
“We found out in the final stage of the [renovation] that our house sat on a weak foundation. Our builder sent us a picture of what had been uncovered, and it was a costly discovery,” says Bernie, “The rear corner of the house was resting on a few bricks and a tiny amount of concrete. The solution was to bring in the concrete trucks. This was an unexpected cost and time delay.”
In addition to uncovering issues with the original building that you may never have thought of, be prepared to push your renovation timeline for when these unexpected surprises happen, as this can quickly compound.
It’s imperative to keep both a flexible and kind timeline for your renovation, as nobody likes a rushed job, after all. Take the time to give yourself and your trade workers room to breathe. Your renovation will thank you for it.
“Our biggest mistake was rushing into the project at the start. We wanted to have another baby in the near future so we were very conscious of that time restraint,” says Melanie. “[If I could do it again,] I would take the time to find the right people to work with and understand the process. Speak to a lot of different professionals and friends who have been through a renovation, gather information, quotes, and timelines, and then make informed decisions.”
“I did buy mistake pieces, which I’d bring home, thinking they were perfect,” says Stephanie, “I’d then realize they didn’t work at all. I furnished through trial and error, and became good at asking about returns policies!”
2. Trust the experts.
It can be hard to hand over your baby to someone else, but trust us, it’s well worth it.
“Our biggest lesson was keeping an open mind and trusting the experts. Sometimes, I’d be on site and not be sure about a feature — the lights in the lounge ceiling bays or the black chimney flue for example. Taking the time to live with it — and trusting my architect and builder — ultimately led to appreciation. Now, I love how the bays are lit up at night, and it was definitely the right decision to make a feature of the flue,” says Chesne.
“If you can hire an architect, it’s well worth it. You can always buy that expensive sofa later, but you can’t rectify built-in mistakes,” says Fiona.
3. Budget smartly.
It sounds simple but managing your money and figuring out what areas, finishes, fixtures, and furnishings are priorities will help you maintain your sanity throughout the renovation process. You should also always give yourself an extra buffer for those unexpected surprises that tend to appear.
“Early on, we were told that the foundations would require screw piles because of the sandy soil in the area. We did not budget for this and it added about $20,000 to the project before we had even started!” says Melanie.
“Think creatively when it comes to budget. Cedar cladding wasn’t cheap, but it turned out to be a cost-effective solution for us. It let us transform the existing house rather than knocking it down and building from the ground up,” says David.
4. Your builder is your friend.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but the fate of your renovation lies in the hands of your builder, so it’s imperative that you choose one that you trust to get the work done. It also means you have to trust them when they say they’ve got it all under control — which means no, you don’t need look at the plans for the fiftieth time.
“Someone told us if you want a quick build, move in with your builder. So we did! Poor Mike had us at his dinner table every night for two months, but we didn’t go to the site unless he said we needed to. It was all about letting the young ones get on with the job,” says Chesne.
5. There will always be more to do.
When we decide to renovate, we often conceptualize our dream homes with as much detail and ambition as possible. While it’s great to dream big, the reality is we won’t always be able to have everything we want. And also, our needs are constantly changing. There’s always going to be more to do, so don’t let it stress you out.
“[If I could do it again] I’d find a way to build a bigger wine cellar under the stairs. But you can’t have it all and because we spent so long finessing the design of the house, ultimately I couldn’t be happier,” says Doug.
6. Know your layout.
Floorplans are one of the most important (and trickiest) aspects to get right when renovating. Knocking down walls, rewiring the home, and rejigging the plumbing are all major tasks, so make sure you’re ready to commit to it for the foreseeable future.
“I would’ve loved the fireplace to have been significantly lower. It’s positioned in the sunken lounge, but it remains at ground-floor height. I’m a fan of lying down in front of the fire, but it’s currently too high to do this. Instead, we end up bringing stools or standing by it. We also forgot to allow for a kitty door!” says Doreen.
7. Communication is key.
Along with trusting your team, you also need to be sure that you’re able to easily communicate with (and be accessible to) them. “Even when you’re on-site, mistakes can happen if communication breaks down,” says Ri.
8. Buck the trends.
It’s tempting when flicking through reams of magazines for inspiration to pick a home and say, “Oh wouldn’t that be nice.” But the reality is, we don’t all live the same lifestyle and have the same preferences. No matter how trendy a vivid feature wall might be, if you know you’re monochrome through and through, you’re just asking for trouble in the long run.
“People crave open-plan living, but I like having separate rooms and doors to differentiate the spaces. Having the bedrooms upstairs works really well for us as a family because, come the kids’ bedtimes, I can ask them to go upstairs to play, go up and tuck them in, and then downstairs is for us,” says Fiona.
9. Remember that the house will change with time.
Depending on what stage of life you’re at, the needs of your family will continue to change, and therefore the use of space within the home will also evolve. This is all normal, so just enjoy the ride!
“The house is quite prominent on the block, but as the 2,000 native species we’ve planted on the property grow, it will become more nestled in among the landscape,” says David.
This article was originally written by Homes to Love editors. For more, check out our sister site, Homes to Love.