In Lifestyle, Reno on
April 25, 2017

5 Keys to a Successful Renovation

Midcentury Modern Home Entrance

If you’re thinking about a renovation there are some key things you should consider. Many of these will seem obvious, but it is shocking how often they get overlooked. When your renovation is complete, you want to be able to look around and be happy with the results. Follow these tips and you’ll have a greater chance of achieving that goal.


I’m sure you’ve heard that any renovation should begin with getting multiple quotations from contractors, and checking their work and references.  And yet, so many people still do not follow this first and MOST IMPORTANT RULE! Why does this happen? Are people too busy to shop around? Are they too submissive when a handy friend offers their services? Do they blindly trust the recommendation of a friend or family member?

Let’s break it down shall we?

  • Q: Are people too busy to shop around?
    You are NEVER too busy to take the time to find the right contractor. Depending on the scope of your project, you may be risking an exponential amount of time and money if you do not put in the hours of research. We’re talking even double or triple the budget. Putting in the effort is worth it, and you’ll be thanking yourself when your project is done and you are NOT crying from the storm that passed you by.
  • Q: Are they too submissive when a handy friend offers their services?
    NEVER get your friend or acquaintance to renovate your space, unless they are a VERY well established contractor with a lot of experience, and the work to prove it. I guarantee there will be times when you will need to be the bad guy and tell your contractor (respectfully of course) when things are going wrong.  This is not the time for friendship. Think about it in terms of a regular workplace; it’s like a friend of yours becoming either your superior or subordinate: it’s not going to end well.
  • Q: Do they blindly trust the recommendation of a friend or family member?
    Sometimes people do not want to admit when things go wrong. You ask them how their renovation went and they will speak about it in glowing terms knowing full well it didn’t go as planned. That’s because a lot of people WANT TO PROJECT AN IMAGE OF SUCCESS in their lives, no matter what. And misery loves company so hey, why should you end up with a great renovation when they only had a mediocre one? Of course all of this happens on a subconscious level, one can hope ;). So do not blindly trust the recommendations of a friend or family member. Go and see the work. Examine the finishes closely. Decide for yourself if the Reno was a success or not.


This is actually closely tied to Point #1, Finding the Right Contractor. It is extremely important that you are able to communicate well with your contractor. So, when you are gathering quotations, ask the contractors a bunch of questions and find out what it’s like to communicate with them. Are they intelligent? Open with their answers? Unclear? Standoffish? Do they sigh with frustration or brush you off when you ask a question? If you aren’t getting clear, courteous, intelligent answers from them, better move on and save yourself a world of headache (and a Reno you aren’t happy with) later. And remember, this person is potentially going to be in your home almost everyday for months. Find someone with whom you have a good rapport.

We had a skilled and courteous contractor (James), and we communicated about things daily. From small to large details, it seemed that we were chatting all.the.time. I told him upfront that I expected a collaborative relationship and he was receptive to this – in both word and action.

I have a friend who said that she and her husband were “scared” of  their contractor. Literally, scared. Apparently, whenever they asked him a question he became visibly upset and standoffish, to the point where they stopped talking to him completely. Avoid that situation at all cost by determining upfront your level of communication ease with a potential contractor.

3. SPEAK UP WHEN THINGS GO WRONG (and they will)

And this is related to Point #2. You will need good communication for many reasons, including that inevitable time when something is not quite going right. It will happen. Trust me.

Like the day James was installing the baseboards in our living room/kitchen Reno and I noticed they were sitting up high. When I inquired, he said they would be getting trim at the bottom. This was inconsistent with the rest of the trim of the house, and in my opinion, not aesthetically pleasing. James argued that he had never done it otherwise because it covered up any levelling issues with the hardwood, and he was pretty adamant about it. It would have been easier to just let it go – the work had already been done and removing it would cause some damage to the drywall. But, it didn’t feel right to me and I knew I would be unhappy. It was hard to speak up, but I’m so relieved I did because I would have hated those baseboards!


A picture is worth a thousand words right? If you don’t already use Pinterest or Houzz it’s time to sign up. You need to start saving all the images from magazines and the Internet that represent your vision of your space. Want a vaulted ceiling? Believe it or not there are different kinds, so find your favourite and make sure the relevant party (architect/designer/contractor) is clear about your vision.

Example? Our contractor started out in carpentry and volunteered to do our custom stairs. I was leaning towards a midcentury modern look (big surprise), and showed him this picture I tore from a magazine: | 5 Keys To A Successful Reno

Source: House & Home magazine, June 2015

I’m not sure if it was the angle of the picture, but there was still some confusion as to how the stairs would look, so I sketched this picture: | 5 Keys To A Successful Reno

As you can see, it doesn’t have to be pretty! Apparently that did the trick. We left out the bottom toe kick, and here is the result: | 5 Keys To A Successful Reno

Exactly as I had envisioned, thanks to visual aids!


My final and REALLY IMPORTANT tip is to have your contractor create a PAYMENT SCHEDULE. I cannot stress how important this is, for your sanity and your wallet. But especially for your sanity. Basically, the payment schedule works like this: Your contractor breaks down the parts of your renovation into tasks, such as Demolition, Structure, Electrical, Insulate & Drywall, Kitchen Install, etc. Depending on the scope of the project this list could be quite long. Beside each Task you will see the Amount, followed by Initial. Like this hypothetical project: | 5 Keys to a Successful Renovation

Initial means the contractor has completed the task fully, at which point you pay the amount, and then he/she signs off and dates it. Notice that you pay the amount AFTER the task is completed, not before. This is how to preserve your sanity and budget during the renovation. It motivates the contractor to do the work, and you will not be ripped off.

It drives me crazy when I hear that someone paid a contractor A LOT of money up front. Talk about a recipe for disaster. Asking for lots of money upfront, and/or not agreeing to a payment schedule should send off warning signals. Yes, they will need some start up money for materials but it should NOT be a huge amount. It should be enough to get the first task going. We paid our contractor less than 1% of our total budget up front.

I hope you enjoyed this post and remember these 5 Tips when you embark on your renovation. I’ll never forget when our renovation was complete and our painter asked if it was what I expected. When I asked why, he said that in his 20+ years of experience, more than half of all homeowners say the renovation did not meet their expectations. I can only imagine it had something to do with one of the issues in this post. And he said something else…he said there are good and bad contractors AND good and bad clients. So remember to be everything you expect your contractor to be: courteous, honest and respectful.

Thanks for reading! Want to see how my Reno turned out? Check this page.

In-between posts you can find me on Instagram, sharing the stuff of daily life.

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