How to Avoid Renovation Mistakes: Part 1


How to Avoid Renovation Mistakes: Part 1

That’s a great question. Over the years, I have seen a lot of renovation mistakes homeowners have made and for the most part those mistakes were avoidable, but costly. People can spend thousands of dollars more than they need, not get what they want, and then what they end up with doesn’t really add value to their homes or the quality of their lives. With the right information, homeowners can avoid those mistakes and save thousands of dollars. The bottom line is your home is the most important investment you will ever make. Make sure you spend your renovation dollars wisely.

So what are the most common mistakes that people make when working through a renovation project? They are many and very in scale regarding their ramifications but they really fall into four general categories:


1. Under Achieving Renovations
2. Unrealistic Expectations
3. Unintended Consequences
4. Unqualified Contractors

The first mistake is the “Under Achieving Renovation”. Simply put, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars, maybe more, and you don’t reach the goals you dreamed up for your project. How do you avoid that mistake? The answer is to work with a qualified design professional to help you plan your project. Any remodeling project can benefit from the input of a design professional, whether it’s a kitchen remodel, a master bedroom addition or a whole house transformation. No project is too big or too small.

We’ve all walked past a poorly designed renovation and asked ourselves, “Why did they do that?” There’s something inside us that’s drawn to beauty, whether it’s the sun rising over the mountains or a well designed home. We all know beauty when we see it. We may not all be able to create it, but we know it when we see it. Likewise, we also know what doesn’t look good. An addition or renovation shouldn’t look like an oversized hat on a bad hair day. Your renovation should add value to your home, add to your quality of life, and either look like it always should have been there or give character where there was none before.

Can you afford to work with a design professional? That depends on the professional. My philosophy is that if you value design, I value working with you. You can get as much or as little help as you need to achieve your remodeling goals. I’ve started with many clients with a one time design consultation. Sometimes I continue to work hourly, allowing them to direct how much time they would like me to spend. After working with homeowners for over 20 years, I’ve learned that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t what people want. So, I provide a graduated scale of services to meet individual homeowner’s needs and budget.

Now that we’ve established that your project can benefit from a design professional and you most likely can afford that service, the question is: what kind of ‘design professional’ should I work with?

There are a number of directions you can take. You can work with your friend Larry who has this really cool house design software package. Or you can work with a design-build firm, a designer, or an architect. Now, I hope you realize that your friend Larry with the cool software may be a really nice guy but he is not a design professional. Do you really want to rely on a friend with no design experience whatsoever to lead one of the most important investments you’ll ever make?

The next option would be to work with a design-build firm. This may be a totally foreign term for some of you. A design-build firm is a construction company that either employs someone to design your project or they contract with an outside source to design it. There can be benefits to this approach. They can give you one point of contact and cost information during design so you know how much your renovation will cost you. Also, design-build firms will often provide design services for free. Well, you must be sold! But, everything has a price. You just may not be able to see the tag.

You will pay for design, you just won’t know how much because it will be rolled into the construction cost of your project. Another aspect of working with a design-build firm is that once you have a design, you’re tied to that contractor. You can’t take your design and run. So if you decide that’s not the contractor for you, you have to leave your design behind and start all over again.

Now, what does that leave us with? A designer or an architect. Of course I have to say you should work with an architect, that’s my business, but there are some very compelling reasons why it is advisable to work with an architect as opposed to a designer.

You need to understand that there are big differences between a designer and an architect.

In the state of Minnesota, only those who have the appropriate five plus years of education and have completed a 3 year internship with a licensed architect and then have taken a week long exam and have passed with flying colors can be licensed as an architect. And only licensed architects are by law allowed to use the term architect in describing what they do or who they are.

Not only are architects gifted in design, but they also understand structure, building methods, building codes and requirements, and are able to communicate a design to a contractor in a way that will help ensure what you and your architect have designed will actually become a reality.

On the other hand, anyone can call themselves a designer. There are no educational or training requirements to call yourself a designer. The only training some designers have is on the software program they use. Remember your friend Larry with that software program: a designer.

Besides training and licensing, another notable difference is that a designer may not be able to offer you anything more in the form of ideas other than what you bring to the table. We once had a client who wanted to add a master bedroom suite and had decided that they would have to add on about 500 square feet to the back of their home to achieve this goal. Had they gone to a contractor, draftsman, or perhaps even a designer, that is exactly what they would have received. Luckily for them, they came to a homeshow and talked with us.

Working with an architect can actually save you money and give you a superior design. After meeting with them and seeing their home, we were able to come up with a solution that utilized the current space they had, thus reducing the amount they needed to spend. By working with me and maximizing the space they had, they saved about 30% on their construction costs, which was significantly more than what they spent on architectural fees.

Just so you don’t think I’m giving architects a pass, they do have some of their own issues to deal with. There are two schools of thought as far as architects are concerned. There are some architects who believe that they have the right and responsibility to tell you, the homeowner, how you should live in your home and the style that you should like. Hello! Is that elitist or what? Frankly, I don’t want anyone telling me how to live or what I should like and I don’t think you do either. We believe that attitude is arrogant. We believe you are the most important aspect of the design process and your home should reflect your personal style and tastes, not ours, and most of all, it should enhance the way you choose to live.

Bottom line: you are making one of the most important investments you will ever make. Do you really want to rely on someone who regurgitates your ideas and has very little, if any, training? How important is your home? Because, what you choose to do here will end up affecting the way you live every day.

So how do you avoid the mistake of spending too much and not getting what you want? Hire an architect to work with you to create a design that reflects your personal style and will enhance the way you choose to live.

Keep checking our blog for the next installment in this series where we discuss our second pitfall having unrealistic expectations.

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