Undertaking a big project can feel a bit…intimidating. Maybe you’ve never taken on a construction project like this before and aren’t sure how to best set yourself up for success. Or maybe you have and it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped and you don’t want to go through that again. YIKES. I’ve been there.
No matter your situation, with a lot of dollar signs on the line, along with the added stress of being displaced or living through a renovation, plus the mental load that a large project brings into your life, you want to be sure you do all you can to get things right the first time so things go as smoothly as possible.
We’ve helped hundreds of clients over the years navigate the often stressful waters of construction projects. We’ve seen many go amazingly well and a few go…not so well.
There are 4 common threads that make for a good renovation, and 1 that makes for a GREAT one, and they might not be what you’re expecting. They have nothing to do with choosing the right wood floors, opting for a freestanding tub vs a built in tub, or tearing down walls (or not).
Be sure to scroll all the way down, because we have an amazing free resource for you to set your renovation up for success.
Without further ado, the 4 things good renovations get right, and the 1 thing that makes them great.
The number of times I’ve gotten this email would astound you:
“Our contractor is scheduled to demo our kitchen TOMORROW and we have a few ideas of what we want to do, but don’t really have a plan. Can you please come over tomorrow and design the whole kitchen please and thank you!?”
Can a kitchen be designed in some form or fashion in 2 hours? Well, kind of. Is it going to be ideal, fulfil all of your hopes and dreams, be well thought out, and still make you happy 10 years from now? Probably not.
Don’t let your excitement for an upcoming project allow you to make rush decisions that you may later regret. Also, when you don’t plan, you’ll typically spend more because you’ll be stuck working with what’s available RIGHT NOW rather than getting what will make you happy for years to come. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
We recently had a project come in over budget (even with careful planning, that happens sometimes – thanks inflation - but more on that in Step 3). Our client’s gut response was to forgo opening up their living and dining room to their new enlarged kitchen, and just refreshing the spaces as they are. I lovingly reminded them that those were her Top Priorities when we started this project, and that the current configuration didn’t work well for her family now. And while, yes, removing those walls are a big ticket item, they would also be the most impactful changes in how they use their home.
At the end of the day, if you don’t honor your top priorities, there will always be lingering disappointment that you spent all this money but didn’t really get what you want.
Before you get ahead of yourself, you absolutely must get crystal clear on your priorities. Renovations are in no way “on size fits all”. HGTV doesn’t know what will work for your life – only you do.
Come in close and hear this - You deserve more than a poor copy of a magazine photo or Pinterest image. Take the time to really think through what is most important to you, and this looks different on every project. Don’t worry – our free resource at the end will walk you step by step on how to get crystal clear on your priorities.
Take a capsule wardrobe for example – you can go onto Pinterest and find the 33 items that some gorgeous fashion blogger is wearing, but are you really going to add all 33 items to cart just like that? NO. Because you have different needs, wear a different size, have a different body shape, live in a different climate, and have totally different preferences. In the same way, any design or renovation project you undertake should be completely tailored to you.
That is why it’s so critical to know what’s most important to you in your project. That way, if changes pop up or decisions need to be made in a hurry, you don’t panic and compromise the very things that will make the most impact in your life. Don’t worry – we have a guide to help you uncover these priorities at the end of the post!
Years ago, a contractor told me this philosophy and it stuck with me:
“There are 3 components to any construction project: speed, quality, and price. Pick 2.”
While a little tongue-in-cheek, it’s absolutely true. If you go into a project expecting it will be done at top quality, at top speed, and for bargain basement prices, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, HGTV has done us some favors in terms of inspiration and making design accessible to more people, but NOT in the realm of realistic timeframes, budgets, and project quality.
Chip & JoJo would have you believe that you can have a completely new kitchen and open it up to the living room for $30,000. Um, not so much. And the Property Brothers boast 6 week whole-house renovation time frames. Wrong again! I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years and have never once seen that happen in real life. Anybody remember the show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" where they built an entire house in a week? You can imagine the quality on that end product (you don't actually have to imagine; a google search will take you straight to the lawsuits).
Because those of us in the real world operate without corporate sponsorships for our houses, and entire production crews pre-arranging and coordinating dozens of various vendors and subcontractors into a perfectly executed made-for-TV sequence (and then simply cutting out of the show anything that doesn’t align with this perfect timeframe), a whole house renovation takes closer to 6 months, not 6 weeks.
Before you embark on your project, ask your friends and neighbors, call in some experts, or even do some Googling to see how long you might expect your project to take and what the typical renovation costs are in your area. And always, ALWAYS, plan for the unexpected and carry a contingency of 5-10% of your overall budget.
PS – our free guide at the end of this post shows you how long and how much home projects will take!
THE RIGHT TEAM
When you go to a Doctor or hire a Financial Advisor, you don’t just pick the first guy off the google search (hopefully). You ask around for recommendations, talk with a few people, and ask lots of questions.
After a few of these conversations, you ideally get the gut feel that this person is qualified, has the expertise and experience that you’re looking for, and you have some sort of connection with them. That way when they start giving you their sage advice, you can take it with confidence.
Bringing together your Project Team is foundational to the success of your renovation. Finding a Designer and Contractor that get you, that have great experience and insights, that you have rapport with will go far in determining the success of your project.
To get there, you’ll need to ask some tough questions and get a really clear understanding of what your expectations are around communication, meetings, billing, and understand how their process works to know if it will be a fit for you.
Which leads into the #1 quality that turns a good renovation into a great one…
This is truly what sets great renovations apart. You’ve planned, gotten crystal clear on your priorities, set your expectations, assembled your Dream Team. You’re ready for the Trust Fall Exercise.
I’ve seen beautiful, well-planned renovations fall painfully slowly into the crapper due to lack of trust. Just like in a marriage, if you can’t trust your partner, you’re doomed to fail. You can try all the tips and checklists you can get your hands on, but none of it matters without trust.
Conversely, the clients who have the most amazing experiences, enjoy the process, and willingly sign up again and again for future projects have this trait in common – they trust their Team and their Process.
Now hear me, I’m not talking about blind trust here. You absolutely need to voice your thoughts and needs, advocate for yourself, ask questions, and bring up areas of concern. It would be foolish not to.
But, if you question your Contractor on how/why/what/when they approach their process, flip flop back and forth on design decisions that you made months ago, or obsess that everything isn’t going perfectly, you will drive yourself (and everyone around you) insane.
And here’s the thing nobody will tell you, but I will because I care: eventually your Team might just start telling you what you want to hear, rather than telling you what you need to hear, just to get through it. You can imagine what the end result of that would be.
That’s why it’s so critical to get the first 4 steps right – Planning, Priorities, Expectations, and assembling your expert Team – because it will give you the confidence to trust wisely.
What’s on the other side of Trust?
Knowing you’re in good hands.
Believing that your Team has your best interests and your priorities at heart.
Not being caught off guard when hiccups happen.
Being free from the stresses of all the little things construction brings.
Allowing others work in their zones of genius so you can spend your time working in yours.
Enjoying the process rather than gritting your teeth through it.
Less stress. More fun.
There you have it, friends. Hopefully this list got you thinking about your next big project. We want to continue to serve you and set you up for success, so we’ve created a FREE Project Planning Guide for you! This is your complete pre-construction guide for a successful renovation or new build that will help you:
Determine what your top priorities are for your project (not what Pinterest says is most important)
Understand project timelines and schedules
Craft a realistic project budget
Assemble your Dream Team
Give you more questions to ask your potential Contractors, Designers, and Architects
And so much more!