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Monica D. Higgins / Dream  / Top 5 Remodeling Pitfalls to Avoid

Top 5 Remodeling Pitfalls to Avoid

Every year, thousands of homeowners share the frustration of remodeling jobs that go awry. Some are catastrophic, while others are financially and emotionally draining. Nearly all could have been prevented with careful pre-construction planning.

Here are the Top 5 remodeling pitfalls and how to avoid them:


Most homeowners find themselves grasping at straws when it comes to hiring contractors. Most either go to the yellow pages and randomly pick one, or go to someone because they happen to be working on the home down the street; or worst yet, they choose one based on some lame referral from someone who knows a contractor their cousin’s friend’s mom used years ago! Is that the way to choose someone who you want to improve the aesthetics, livability and value of your current home? NO!

Picking the right contractor for your project can be wonderful, but picking the wrong one can be a costly and deadly mistake. You cannot afford to take any chances with the wrong advice or the wrong contractor. Don’t make a move without interviewing several contractors until you have found at least three you would like to do business with. Carefully screen these contractors to determine if they are qualified to assist you with your remodel. The obvious points to check are references, license(s) and insurance coverage. However, when checking references also ask behavioral questions about ease of communication, interaction with neighbors and clear lines of responsibility for every detail (i.e. who selects and/or purchases fixtures?). Lastly, don’t hire someone simply because he/she seemed like a nice person and offered the lowest bid. Remember, you get what you pay for.


Did you know that homeowners are the culprits for costly changes once construction starts? Industry experts estimate that 80% of these expensive homeowner changes are the result of poor initial planning and ineffective communication. Clearly articulating your vision and developing a comprehensive project plan before construction starts makes you much better equipped to avoid these costly unnecessary change orders. You would not move forward with plastic surgery until you were clear on what you wanted in your improved physique. Be sure to give your home that same level of courtesy.


We have all heard of remodeling horror stories . . . contractors leaving homeowners high and dry with unfinished projects as a result of payments getting ahead of the work, plans lacking so much detail that there was too much room for misinterpretation, starting work without permits, and the list goes on.

Beware of contractors that request payment before any work has begun. In California and many other states, it is appropriate to pay a contractor 10% or $1000 (whichever is less) to start a project. Since many homeowners are not aware of this, they don’t know when a contractor is making an unreasonable demand. Establish a staggered payment schedule so payments are made as work is completed, not getting ahead of the work. Keep a running list of open items that need to be addressed before making final payment because if payment is made before work is completed, there is no incentive for a contractor to return to complete the unfinished work.

If you are not familiar with the remodeling process you are an easy target for being taken advantage of. To avoid being taken advantage of, work with advisors that want to educate you about the remodeling process so you’re not helpless, especially when something does not go according to plan.


While cost overruns are endemic to remodels, don’t allow your project to turn into a money pit. Reel in costs by mitigating scope creep, the subtle change or increase of project requirements. How? By clearly defining your functional priorities. It is easy to get seduced by what your project will look like. Resist that temptation. Instead, focus on the activities that take place in your home and their impact on the functional design of your home.

Another way to avoid big budget overruns is via conscientious project management pre-design through completion. Conscientious project management keeps your vision at the forefront while keeping scope creep in check and contractors accountable for their work. This helps ensure that the work being done daily aligns with the master schedule and projected costs. If a necessary change should arise, such as the removal of hidden mold or termite damage, the schedule and the budget would need to be adjusted accordingly to accommodate the costs associated with this additional scope of work.


Time is money, so delays are never free. Construction delays are also endemic to remodeling. It is no surprise that this, too, is often a result of unnecessary change orders. Once construction starts on a remodel, even the slightest change can negatively impact the construction schedule because that change will be affected by the availability of multiple trades. For example, changing the placement of electrical outlets and light fixtures after installation would require rescheduling of the framer, electrician and the drywaller based on their availability which may not align with your tight timeline. Had careful consideration been given to placement of these items prior to construction, precious time and money would not have been wasted waiting for these trades to resume work on your project.

Want to learn more about how to avoid remodeling pitfalls? Buy Remodel Success here. 

Monica D. Higgins

Monica previously helped people find new homes as a licensed real estate agent before she founded Renovation Planners, a construction management firm dedicated to helping homeowners avoid remodeling horror stories. Today, Monica is honored to share her knowledge of the construction industry in a variety of ways, so homeowners and industry pros alike can experience Remodel Success.

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