Managing Common Remodel Problems

Remodeling your home is expensive, invasive, and difficult…. And that’s if everything goes well!  No matter how you slice it, the process of remodeling is not going to be all that fun.  Still, the rewards are well worth it and the benefits far outweigh the difficulties.  My purpose here is to help you anticipate and manage some of the most common problems that could come up.

First, we need to set the bar.  Construction is not an exact science, and remodeling even less so.  Architects, designers, and contractors all agree that a remodel carries with it some unique challenges.  If you start out knowing that some things will require adjustment you will be better equipped to weather the process and have a positive result.

With that understanding, I have identified some common challenges that you may come across in your remodel.  These are purposefully broad because we don’t know your specific situation.  For each challenge, I have offered ways to avoid, and ways to minimize each problem.

1) Unforeseen conditions

These are things that are uncovered during the course of construction that were unanticipated.  For instance, you might discover mold inside a wall or you may find a deficiency in the original construction… a missing footing or improper electrical work.  These things are all possible, especially in older homes that may have been subject to several remodels and repairs over the years.

To avoid:

Some of these things can be detected up front if the home undergoes a thorough inspection by the contractor.  We often recommend knocking a few holes in the walls in key locations to verify existing structural elements, and minimize unforeseen problems.

To Minimize:

Always figure in a contingency between 5 – 10% of the overall budget.  This way, you’ve planned ahead and no one needs to panic.  Also, it may be possible to delay or defer some of the repairs to a later date.  If you discover something like a roof leak in the beginning of summer, you might be able to wait a couple of months before solving it.

2) Cost Overruns

This is one of the most common complaints in construction.  The good news is that you are in control of many of the reasons why things go over.

To Avoid:

Always select things up front, and total up the bids and prices before you start.  When the contractor gives you an initial bid for work it’s common for them to have allowances in certain categories rather than hard costs.  Some of these allowances are necessary, but others are only there because you haven’t made a selection.  Here’s the rub: Contractors try to guess how much you will spend on a particular item…say door hardware.  They want to give you a good product that they can stand behind, but not one that makes them seem more expensive than the other contractors bidding the work.  So they might provide an allowance for a value brand like Schlage.  It’s a good lock that will hold up well and he can allow $30 per door for that product.  The trouble comes when you go shopping and find a beautiful set from Baldwin that costs $160.  Multiply that difference by the number of doors you have, and you have just blown that allowance item.   Make all your selections up front and avoid most of this all together.

3) Something is not right

“I didn’t expect it to look like that”…. Eight words that will strike fear into any remodeler!  These types of problems arise for various reasons, but you can count on some of this in a project of any scale.

To avoid:

Invest in design.  Having a good design and spending the time to have things drawn out can help uncover hidden misunderstandings.  Drawings are just paper and can be changed with ease.  Insist on complete design drawings… look at the cabinetry from every side, get tile pattern layouts, specify materials locations etc.

To minimize:

Know that almost anything can be reworked.   Here is some sound counsel:  Work to find a solution with everyone’s interests in mind.  Don’t rush to point a finger or assign blame.  You will get the best solutions out of a collaborative effort.   I find that most people are willing to bear some of the costs for things that need to be redone if they feel like others are doing the same, and they are not being rolled under the bus.  Even if you feel like you had no part  in a particular problem, it may be in your  best interests to share in the cost of the solution rather than make an adversary out of someone who may still have quite a bit of work to do on your home.  A Little good will can go a long way.

4) Stress on the home front.

I find that most of our customers under estimate the amount of stress that a remodel will cause.  Just having workers arrive at your house every morning at 7am can take a toll.  Not to mention all the other inconveniences of the process.  Someone turned the water off… but no one checked to see if you were in the shower at the time!  The Kid’s can’t play in the yard because it’s a construction zone, the dog got out, you ran over a nail in the drive way, and the tile guy just saw you naked.  All of this can add to your stress levels big time.

Also remember that money is flying out of you like never before.   Even though you expect to spend it and you know how much everything costs, it can still be stressful when every time you turn around someone needs a check.  Additionally, you may not be on the exact same page as other family members… Your husband thinks that towel bars should cost $30 and not $300… but he wants a $5000 TV to pop out of a cabinet at the foot of your bed!

To Avoid:

Consider going away for the worst of it.  Even for relatively minor work it might be worth a week away during the demo process.  I know, I know… you want to be around so nothing bad happens.   The thing is, you being there won’t prevent it any way.  Do your homework and only hire people that you trust.  That way you can take a break without worrying that someone is going through your sock drawer when you’re out of town.

To Minimize:

Consider construction start and end times that suit your family.  If having the guys show up at 7:30 rather than 7 is a big help, then ask them if they could adjust their times.

Have a back-up plan.  Let your neighbor know that you are remodeling and ask if you might borrow a guest room shower in the event that yours is suddenly out of commission.  Budget in a little extra for meals away from home… but here’s a trick:  Don’t always go out to a restaurant.  Have a picnic or make BBQ plans with friends.  It will feel more like home and will cost less than making TGI Friday’s your new hang out.

Set up a protocol for funds distribution.  This could a simple plan like saying that you write checks only on Tuesdays, or make sure that all the subs go through your contractor and ask him to bill you every two weeks.

Admittedly this list is far from exhaustive, but I hope it has addressed the most common issues you will face.  If you go into the process with proper planning and realistic expectations you will have a much more pleasant experience all around.  Problems arise for sure, but I’ve yet to see a problem that talented and good natured people couldn’t come together to solve.