Unless you’ve lived through a home renovation, you’re likely getting just two parts of the story: the before and the after. What happens in between? Five people who’ve survived renovations divulge the truth behind the big reveals. Heed their tips before jumping into your own home makeover.
Tip #1: Plan ahead – for everything
Kelly Leslie’s 1930s rental home was in desperate need of a bathroom upgrade. The decades-old tub was leaking and dated tile work had become an eyesore. In preparation for the renovations, the Boston-based marketing executive relocated her morning routine to a basement bathroom. “I’m not much of a morning person, so to wake up and trudge into the basement with all of my shower supplies – think: college shower caddy situation – was less than desirable,” she explains. She was coping with the inconvenience when things took an unexpected turn for the worse. Due to construction complications, both bathrooms were simultaneously out of service.
“Not showering for a day before work isn’t a big deal,” Leslie says. “Not showering for two days, washing my hair in the kitchen sink (terrified that the disposal would somehow turn on and leave me bald) and cutting back on my beverage intake after 9pm is.” If she were to do it again, she’d have a backup plan in place for any scenario. “I would have planned more events around the renovation, like taking a yoga class and showering there. I just never had enough notice to make last-minute arrangements.”
Tip #2: Prioritize your wants and needs
“Know that home renovations are an ever-evolving process,” cautions Jesse Lawson Pino, a professional hairstylist and makeup artist who lives with her husband and two daughters. When the family embarked on renovations on their South Boston condo, nothing was off limits. They added 20 feet of custom closets and cabinets, replaced worn carpet with bamboo flooring, repainted walls and doors, updated fixtures, installed blackout blinds and even walled off an awkwardly shaped space in the master bedroom to accommodate a vanity table. When all was said and done, the couple’s budget had more than doubled and their deadline was long forgotten. To stay on track, Pino suggests prioritizing renovations. Tackle the big projects before moving down your list as your budget and schedule allow. The makeover may not be as dramatic, but neither will the shock to your wallet or lifestyle.
Tip #3: Leave the house for a day (or a week)
When renovations on Gina Calvano’s New Jersey house kicked off, she knew what to expect: dust, fumes, noise and some temporary clutter. The contractor assured her that she’d barely notice any of it, but nothing was further from the truth. The disruptions in her Colonial home started soon after the sun came up each morning. “Workers were here religiously at 8am, bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” she says. While constructing a second-story addition, they traipsed through rooms as their supplies spilled out of the garage and into various corners of the house. If the mess was tolerable, the noise was unbearable.
Gina runs a career coaching and consulting business from a home office, and client calls were the first to go once power saws made an appearance. Her two dogs are still traumatized from the day a sledgehammer was taken to the bathtub without warning. “No matter how much you’re prepared for a ‘loud’ noise, demolition is something the human ear is not accustomed to,” explains Calvano. But the final straw was the vapor emitting from new hardwood floors. Her work was suffering, her dogs were suffering and now her children were being exposed to eye-watering fumes. The family packed up and left the house. Now when friends ask for renovation advice, Calvano tells them one thing: “Budget in a couple of nights in a hotel.”
Tip #4: Hire people you trust
One of the biggest mistakes interior designer Kristin Collins sees is when a client plays amateur contractor. The principal of Los Angeles design firm KCID warns, “Hiring all subcontractors – painters, plumbers, electricians – on your own can be a disaster if you’re not a professional. When you’re new to renovation, you might not understand the order changes should be made and can waste time trying to get subcontractors to coordinate.” Look for a licensed general contractor with glowing reviews and a reliable team of subcontractors, and be willing to pay more for quality work. After all, they may be in your life for longer than you realize. “You’re going to experience times when you’ll need to call on them to make repairs, so it’s important to develop a longstanding relationship with people you value and trust,” Collins says. “It’s essential for the longevity of your happiness with your home renovation.”
Tip #5: Know that all the pain and suffering is worth it
Few people who’ve made it through a home renovation will say it was a delightful experience and most could share a horror story or two. Surprisingly, regrets are uncommon. “I would totally make over more in the house if I could,” Leslie admits of her rental. Pino says that regardless of the challenges, “I would absolutely do it again – but I would take ‘before’ pictures so I could really appreciate the transformation.” Once your living space reflects your vision, the blood, sweat and jackhammers become a distance memory.