Some people dine out for years on the horror stories associated with their kitchen or bathroom remodeling job. One of the joys of a well-planned existing-space renovation is the absence of horror stories! With good preparation, the process story may be a little dull but the punchline is gorgeous results.

The mistakes list is pretty well-known by now:

1.       Don’t skimp on advance planning.
2.       Don’t under-budget; try not to borrow funding for one phase to finance another.
3.       Don’t assume you’ll solve problems when and if they develop.
4.       Don’t bargain-hunt in the extreme.
5.       Don’t substitute a handshake deal for boring paperwork.

 Less well-known but equally crucial are the positive strategies you can take to make your job a success:

1.       Divide your whole-project planning into phases and stick to the phase you’re working on now. An overall plan is essential for a successful renovation, but knowing what you can accomplish at any given stage is crucial to results coming out right. Look at “what we can do now” as goal-lines to cross, not barriers limiting progress.

2.       Allow enough planning time for some mind-changing. There are enough moving pieces in even an existing-space renovation that it can be as hard to let go of a decision as to make one. Make a break-and-breathe period part of your initial planning—you may find that, with a few days’ reflection, the element you “always wanted” most is the only thing you want to change!

3.       Ask probing questions when you check references: What do you think your contractor did best? What’s the single feature that set this company apart from its competitors? Would you hire this company to do a different kind of room? Were the contractor’s subcontractors as good as he said? Did anything fall through the cracks? Accidents happen/mistakes happen—how were they resolved?

4.       Learn the language of the pros you’re employing. Skilled home-improvement professionals have spent years learning their business, just as you’ve learned yours. You may not be able to use d-i-y videos and demos to master all their skills, but seeing them in action gives you an appreciation for what they do and makes you a better listener when a problem emerges. “Just fix it” isn’t enough information to make anybody happy with a solution. 

Keep your project in perspective. Wanting to let the family admire your new kitchen décor at Christmas dinner doesn’t mean scheduling the work for November. Ask your contractor about the rush periods and relaxed times in the company schedule, and get your work done when crews have time to do their best. In some cases, low-demand times may even mean lower costs.