You put on your big girl pants, met your financial advisor, got a mortgage, and bought a house. Hooray! Now comes the hard part: making it yours. Whether you want a gut makeover or are just trying to redecorate, designing a property involves a lot more than you think. We spoke to two experts, a renovation consultant and an interior designer, to learn more about the most common mistakes new homeowners make, so you don’t follow in their footsteps.
1. Starting renovations too soon
If possible, live in your home for a while before making any renovation plans. “Learn its flow, where the groceries land, where the laundry wants to go, how the sun hits it, where the choke points are, which way the rain slopes, even get a sense of its soul,” explains Bruce Irving, an independent. renovation consultant and realtor from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “All of this will inform your choices as you make your plans to turn things around.”
2. Underestimating the costs
Most jobs will cost more and take longer than expected, so always add 20% to what you think a project will total when budgeting “If you don’t have the funds,” Irving warns, “cut work. If you happen to beat these projections, then your surprises will be happy.
3. Expect everything to go as planned
Work on older buildings can give rise to many unforeseen events. Who knows what’s behind that wall you’re opening? The new build is more controlled, but that doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. Be ready for the unexpected. “It’s a human failure,” Irving said. “We all hope and pray that everything goes as planned.” Trust us: nothing will.
4. Not hiring a designer from the start
“You’re about to spend more than you ever thought possible,” says Irving. “Might as well be for a properly designed thing.” Interior designers and architects usually charge by the hour or take a percentage of the overall job (e.g. 10%) – a small amount compared to your total payment.
5. Opt for the lowest offer
“Good professional help is worth it,” says Irving. “It means design as well as construction.” Be prepared to pay for a good contractor and be wary of one that is cheap and readily available.
6. Hiring the wrong professional
Just because someone is a good designer doesn’t mean they’ll be a perfect fit for you. Do you have the same aesthetic? Priorities? “If he or she doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about your needs, wants, and lifestyle, find someone else,” Irving says. “Listening and curiosity are essential.”
7. Not asking for references
Irving recommends contacting the three previous clients of anyone you’re considering hiring. “These people will have known the person at their current level of achievement and endowment,” he points out. Contact general contractors for references from an architect and vice versa. “And visit your candidates’ job sites to find out if you like what you see in terms of cleanliness and ambience.”
8. Waiting too long to consult a general contractor
Ask a contractor to review blueprints at the schematic stage, rather than detailed finished plans, Irving explains. “That way you can find out if your project is in the right budget range before you fall in love with a plan and pay for a full set of biddable drawings. It’s also a good way to meet potential contractors, d get their advice and not abuse their time.
9. Pretend to understand a design diagram
Reality: Most people can’t read blueprints. Instead of looking at it, design a room, building or garden for real. “Painter’s tape can be a girl’s best friend,” says Jocelyn Chiappone, interior designer and owner-manager of Digs Design Company in Newport, Rhode Island. Typing a space works better than any sketching or designing app for understanding how things will fit.
10. Not asking enough questions
“Ask lots of questions,” says Irving. “There’s no nonsense, and what’s more, it’s your money that you’re spending. You need to know why and on what.
11. Making too many changes along the way
Changes that seem simple to you may require a lot of work on the back-end, so be sure to check with your designer or builder for even slight tweaks. “Even moving a light switch a few feet can cost $1,500,” Irving recalls.
12. Not setting a schedule
Work with your contractor to establish a list of items that need to be purchased and timelines for making decisions. “The last thing you want is to feel like you’re in the spotlight to make an important match selection that you’ll later regret,” says Chiappone.
13. Don’t think outside the box, literally
Gutters, leveling and roofs can seem boring when there are chandeliers to obsess over, but you need to build a strong envelope if you want your home to hold up. “If you’re faced with the choice of working outdoors or indoors, start outdoors,” says Irving. “No need to lay a new floor if the roof is about to leak.”
14. Sweep interiors under the rug
On the other hand, too often interiors are an afterthought. Beginners often think they can finish the job themselves or throw their old sofa in a new room. But if you want to love your space and increase its value, be sure to leave room in the budget to work on interior design and decorating.
15. Underestimating psychological stressors
“Any building project in your own home is loaded with power dynamics,” says Irving, who suggests that couples take on a smaller project first — building a birdhouse, for example. Seriously. You might be surprised how different your styles, ideas and approaches are. “It happens in your nest, with your dough,” adds Irving, “in large quantities. If you can’t start with a small project, at least know that it would be better if you did.
16. Skimping on quality
“Spend a lot of money on things you touch every day,” Chiappone suggests, “like door hardware, doors, faucets, appliances, kitchen cabinets. The tactile experience reminds you and your guests daily of the strength and quality of your home.
17. Splurge where you should save
On the other hand, she says, “Don’t get locked into the idea that the biggest items should cost the most.” Pretty throw pillows can dress up a mid-range sofa. Or mix a low-end dining table with a standout light fixture. Reglazing the tiles will be much more cost effective than a total overhaul. “And sisal rugs are economical and always chic!” she says.
18. Replacement of windows
“Think carefully before replacing your windows. If they are original in the house and in half decent condition, they can and should be resuscitated,” advises Irving. Adding storm windows can do the trick when it comes to energy efficiency. “Anyone who claims you’ll make your money in energy savings by installing replacement windows is either misinformed or looking for your money themselves.”
19. Not knowing the measurements
Once you know what size sofas, tables and wall lights you need, write them down and always keep this list with you. You never know when the perfect item will come your way. “Don’t fall in love with a 94-inch sofa when you can only fit an 84 on it,” warns Chiappone.
20. Buy giant furniture
While you’re at it, also note the width of your doorways. “Make sure your new purchases can fit through the front door,” says Chiappone. “You won’t believe how often this gets overlooked.”
21. Buy miniature rugs
Undersized stacks are the most common mistake Chiappone sees. “Your rug should ground your furniture so that at least the front legs of the padding are on the rug,” she says. “Don’t worry if a standard size doesn’t work. Go to your local rug store, they can turn any rug into a different size and shape.
22. Not putting everyone on the same page
“If you’re buying appliances, lighting, and other items for a remodel, print out all of your specifications and/or installation instructions,” says Chiappone. “I put them in a binder for the contractor and subcontractors and keep them on site so everyone has access to those documents.” Bonus Tip: “If you ever had to sell or rent your property, this is a valuable tool.”
23. Try being your own general contractor
Besides their experience with construction, materials and sources, general contractors have something else to offer: responsibility. “You don’t have much influence over an electrician,” says Irving. Contractors, however, have relationships with CGs that will suffer if they don’t do the job properly. Sometimes this will work, especially if your jobs are relatively small. But be aware that this can be a risk.
24. Spending too much on technology
Technology can be expensive and quickly become obsolete. While wiring every room in your house for video might sound cool, it’s not necessarily a great investment. Your next home buyer is unlikely to be impressed with an aging system.
25. Working on too many pieces at once
For anyone on a budget (that is, all of us), Chiappone suggests focusing on living spaces first. “Doing a little here and there in multiple rooms will only leave you feeling unsettled and frustrated,” she notes. “Where you spend the most time should really be the focus of your energy and investment. When budget permits, move on to the next space.