My Renovation Mistakes

My Renovation Mistakes In the spirit of humility, I thought it would be kind of fun to share my top three renovation mistakes with you today. It hasn’t all been gold light fixtures and roses, you guys!

This past year has been super exciting for Jeremy and I. Choosing to move away from our hometown, house shopping in another state and renovating our 1970s ranch beyond recognition… so exciting!

But with it came an enormous amount of stress. We took on a huge project that drained us emotionally, financially, and taught us the true meaning of Christmas. (Haha! We didn’t buy each other Christmas gifts this year because we spent so much $ on our house!) Almost a year in, we’ve learned SO MUCH. A part of me already wants to redo the whole project just to prove I could make smarter choices, but a part of me is also saying, “Nope. You’re living here until you die.”

Anyway! I’m excited to share just a few of our mistakes with you today.

Mistake #1: Taking on too much at once. 

Wow, did we ever!

I was so inspired by our ABM office renovation we had done the year before. We had all the painting, tile, and construction work done before we moved in. This meant we never had to work with contractors hammering in the next room over, it wasn’t super dusty, and we were able to settle in and decorate right away. So that was where my head was at when I decided to redo basically every surface in our new home before we moved in.

When we closed on our house, the first thing we did was have the kitchen and all the bathrooms demoed. Soon after that, I realized we were quickly going over budget. Uh-oh! So that meant that as I completed each space (already over budget), I didn’t have ANY room to make upgrades. I think in a way it was good to be forced to keep costs as low as possible, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. It was pretty stressful.

My Renovation MistakesAnd while I am still excited about all of these rooms, I wish I would have gutted them one at a time. The one advantage we have now is that we never have to move out of our house to get our kitchen re-done. But in hindsight, I kind of feel like that would have been smarter than the way we did it. Even with having to temporarily move out, I think that doing one at a time would have created a much better result AND a better experience for Jeremy and me.

What I will do differently next time: One room at a time. Period.

Mistake #2: Taking quotes as a final price. 

I was SO naive. I took quotes as an actual price for our budget. But 90% of the time there was a problem halfway through and that often added hundreds or thousands of dollars to the price tag. I didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room in our budget, which is why we went over budget very quickly.

I also learned to be very specific about what is included in a quote. Just because I explain my whole vision in a walk through with a contractor does NOT mean they included all that work in their quote. It’s important to get every detail spelled out, in writing. If not, you’ll end up with a lot of add-ons.

What I will do differently next time: For contractor work, I will always double the quote from now on (MANY of our quotes went that much over!). Because until it’s done, we won’t know for sure if they’ll find mold in the wall, a rotten subfloor or something else that blows up the budget. This also goes back to doing one room at a time – it would have been much easier to manage just one disaster at a time than what we had where they were happening all over the house! Haha!

Mistake #3: Working long distance. 

To save money, we hired all the trades people ourselves and did not have a general contractor. But for three months of the renovation, we were still living in Missouri and having friends drop by weekly to check on the process. Again, so naive.

My Renovation Mistakes It seemed logical to me that we could hire contractors to do certain jobs, pay them for those jobs, and expect them to be done right and on time. Right??


What I learned is that forgoing a general contractor is a good way to save money, BUT it’s also a lot of work. If you want to do this, you need to be available, basically full-time, to supervise the contractors, making sure they show up (!!), do their work, and answer questions all day, every day.

What I will do differently next time: In short, I would never try to renovate long distance without a (very) trusted general contractor overseeing the project.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would ever do a large project without a general contractor again. It’s just not worth the enormous strain it was on my work and our marriage. I can see now why general contractors make the money they do! It’s a VERY frustrating job to manage a renovation. It takes management skills… hiring, firing, disciplining and managing a timeline with a LOT of working parts and a lot of places where expensive delays or mistakes could happen.

My Renovation Mistakes Haha! I hope you enjoyed hearing all about my mistakes!! We learned so many valuable lessons. And you know what? It feels GOOD to admit how much I messed up. Because now that it’s mostly behind us (and we’re still married – haha!), we can mostly look back and laugh at all our mistakes because we know we learned from them and will not repeat them again.

Elsie + jeremyDo you have any crazy renovation stories?? xx- Elsie

Credits//Author and Photography: Elsie Larson.

  • So relatable! I wish I read it before making a mess of my home by trying to renovate myself. My recent coordination with Tremblay Renovations for my penthouse in Ottawa was amazing and the outlook was just dreamy. I would totally recommend them if anyone wants to save the struggle I went through for my Home renovations Ottawa.

  • As per the saying, other mistakes teaches you more than their success. This blog post on the mistakes that you did while renovating your home is pretty useful for everyone who is about to renovate their homes. Thanks for writing and sharing this post.

  • Great tile work. We are looking for ideas for a bathroom and like what you have done very much.

  • Great read before we start on our renovation adventure! It is always helpful to read the lessons learned and I love your honesty!

  • In my opinion following are some mistakes which people often make while renovating their house.
    Renovating one room at a time: Don’t rush into things, it is always best to renovate one room at a time, it allows you to have a piece of mind and lets you think more effectively when it comes to selection of the interior materials and color of your room.
    Picking you contractor on a whim: People who are looking for a renovator often chooses the contractor rapidly without putting much thought into it. I would recommend to research and make your decision based over personal references and reviews.
    Never Ignore Proportions: This is one aspect which people often neglect while renovation, they make the decision to tweak or expand a certain room without thinking of the impact which it will have over the house. Therefore, it is essential to keep an eye over the proportions as well as the relationship of various other elements associated with spacing and ceiling height.
    Hence, it is crucial to select a trustworthy and technically sound contractor, who could provide you with trouble-free renovation service, and that to under your budget.

  • I know I’m late to this party, but I have been going through an entire house renovation while living in it, and I’ve been slipping slowly into madness. lol. I’m exhausted, and just when I think I’ve learned my lessons on it, I realize I have more hard lessons left to learn.

    I can relate to almost everything you wrote. It’s been tough. I ASS-UMED during the walk through that we suddenly had the same vision and that they knew what I wanted. lol. Things were missed. A cabinet here, the type of paint, the number of coats of paint, the specifics such as price of tile budgeted for, etc. I went to pick out tile only to find out that the quote only budgeted for extremely cheap tile, but I wanted moderately priced tile, so that meant more money. Then there was a disagreement as to what “wood look tile throughout the entire downstairs” actually meant. “Oh that didn’t mean the closets too.” “Uh, yeah, it did. I want it in the closets too.” Then, I didn’t have the quality of quartz for the countertops tied down in the contract. I cried when my poor quality quartz countertop was brought in.

    I think my breaking point came during the renovation of the stairs. That contractor and I just cannot communicate effectively with each other. He was the one person I subbed in myself as my General was on vacation, and I thought it would be a good time to get the stairs done. It was a disaster! I almost gave up and ran away from home. Ha! It was the low point of the whole experience. The quality was horrible.

    Living in the home was a test to not only my patience but also to my General contractor’s patience. I don’t know how many times I had to remind him that I needed at least one room and one bathroom in which to live. He didn’t always listen. There were days I went without any water in the house.

    Anyway, I was sitting here thinking how difficult this process has been and happened upon your blog. Great blog!

  • its so cool of you to share your lessons learned. I’m a contractor (female, yay!) and because I do that for a living and know how hard it is, I haven’t tackled anything in my house because i know I should just spend the $ on a General! Even with the skills I know I don’t have the time to also project manage my house. You house is beautiful though!!!

  • We are in the middle of renovating a house that we moved into a few months ago! I live in the “before” pictures :/

    We elected to forego contractors entirely and do it all ourselves (he is very handy), but didn’t anticipate that it would be… So. Much. Work.
    On the other hand, the diy approach has helped keep us from blowing our budget and the amount of time it takes to get rooms done has allowed us to save up more for upgrades as we go.

  • Thanks for sharing, Elsie!

    I think my biggest renovation mistakes come from thinking I can let the little things slide. At the end of a project, I get lazy and let things like damaged trim slide. I never even put any trim in my upstairs renovation and the just forgot about it!

  • Thanks for sharing! My husband and I moved into our house 2 years ago and have been slowly doing projects. We are currently renovating our kitchen and I’m so grateful and excited but it’s such a pain!!! And it’s totally true what you said about still being married- my husband and I always celebrate that fact after every project 😉 haha! But in the end your house turned out beautiful!

  • Wow, it’s really not that bad, however I will agree with you that forgoing a general contractor is a good way to save money and gives you more time to get other things done.

  • When we bought our house (a long time ago), my husband did all the work with my brother-in-law’s help ( he did remodeling for a living). We totally ran over budget trying to fix all the problems. Everything I had saved for decor had to get used for renovations.

  • This is such a fascinating and informative post! We’ve never done large-scale renovations as we’re still renting, but such great info to know in advance. Thank you for being so honest about the difficulties. Of course, your home has turned out beautifully–I especially adore your flooring choices (blue wood!). Bravo on getting through the process and all the creative work you do for ABM! 😀

  • Thanks for taking a look! I realize that link is more of a look at what it looked like before. It looks soooo much better now: And I’m finally getting some art for the walls. That part isn’t easy. But I found this artist on instagram and absolutely love her work:

  • Oh this was a relevant post right now. We are currently in the early stages of renovating our first home. I too was very nieve. I didn’t think the house needed even half as much work as it turns out it does. There is mess everywhere and we are all stressed living in a mess. Our budget is low so were having to do a lot of the work ourselves. So we are learning on the job.

    One think I have noticed about contractors is that no one seems to want to do any work. Getting people to turn up is a huge nightmare.

  • So candid and insightful, thanks! As a nurse I always tell people that ask me about finding a doctor that most of them really know their stuff, you just have to find one that works with your personality. My husband and I found the same thing to be true when looking for a contractor to build our house. (Lay out expectations and ask if they can work with you on the parameters outlined, then as you said, put it in writing–if they act uncertain then look for someone else.) My husband once said a great thing when I was shy about following up with our contractor on something that had been done wrong–“…when he pays the bills then he can make the decisions!” Amen! Mary Wilding

  • Yep. It’s hard when you want to do all the surfaces and painting at once. But I am a little jealous of people who do one room at a time just because they have TIME to be thoughtful and plan every detail of each space. I don’t really regret how we did ours because now that it’s over it’s REALLY nice to have all the surfaces replaced, but I would’t do it that fast ever again. Too stressful. It could have been more enjoyable..

    xx- Elsie

  • To compensate I cut a BUNCH of expensive stuff out of our plans. And we aren’t doing any outdoor renovations until next year. So basically I just replaced some things with less expensive options and gave the whole thing a longer schedule (which I’m already glad for because I want a slower, less intense reno for the rest of it). 🙂
    xx- Elsie

  • Roseann,
    it looks AMAZING. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  • I agree with #1 SO much. I didn’t write about that, but we have had SO many people just not show up. It’s crazy. I don’t get it.
    xx- Elsie

  • Totally! I never want it to seem like it’s all cake over here. It’s not. :))

    Adulthood IS scary!
    xx- Elsie

  • Sorry!! Don’t be scared. Just be REALLY cautious and ask questions. :)) It’s gonna be ok!
    xx- Elsie

  • The shelves in our kitchen are wood, painted white.
    xx- Elsie

  • Oh we NEVER want it to seem all perfect. It’s not and that is never our intention. But I also don’t believe in complaining about every little thing (online). haha! And it’s easier to write about now that it’s basically over… more perspective too. No more tears. haha!
    xx- Elsie

  • Oh that photo was taken on closing day BEFORE we started. 😀
    xx- Elsie

  • I really love & appreciate these types of posts! Your house and all your projects are gorgeous, and learning from your mistakes is very inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  • We added a second floor onto our weekend/vacation home several years ago.
    In order to save money, my husband wanted to act as our own GC. I was S.C.A.R.E.D. to death because, well, it’s a SECOND home and we don’t live there! Which means we would be there on weekends, with the work being done during the week!
    I wouldn’t give him the okey-dokey to do this so he decided that summer that he would only work his summer job on the days there would be no one working at the house (he’s a teacher and “off” in the summer but he has a full-time job he usually does every year for those two months). This meant he could be on site every time any work was being done, or products were being delivered, etc…
    It’s the only way it worked – on site, so many decision had to be made, so many decisions had to be CHANGED…
    We DID save a BOATLOAD of money doing it ourselves but to this day, we regret choosing some of the workers we did, like the HVAC guy, the architect…
    You have to be willing to live with the mistakes you made if you’re going to do it yourself; there’s no one else to blame!

  • Oh my goodness for real…we decided to stay in our rented apartment during renovations after we bought our first home, figuring it would take 3-4 weeks tops to completely carpet-gut our “new” hundred-year-old house, re-finish the old wooden floors ourselves with sanders from Rent-Rite and Monocoat floor finish, hand-scrape the 3+ layers of paint off the original trim for ALL OF THE OLD WOODEN WINDOWS AND BASEBOARDS to match the natural floors (they’re red oak and they’re just gorgeous) and paint everything else a sweetcream white. While the results were fantastic (really, I can’t even believe how nice it all turned out), it took 4 MONTHS and was a huge strain on our marriage and our entire family–we practically begged everyone we knew for help after overestimating our abilities and underestimating the time and cost. I like your list–if you don’t have the time or know-how to DIY it right yourself, then being on hand with a contractor and/or doing one room at a time is mostdef your best bet for a job well done!

  • Thank you Elsie for your honest reflections. It’s all part of embracing both the beautiful and the mess 😉

  • My story is sort of about renos but also something else. When I was about 3 yo my mother and her boyfriend at the time decided to live in a small village near Montreal (they both worked down town). They put an offer in for a beautifull 150 years old heritage home (it was gorgeous like you wouldn’t believe, so much character). Long story short, the offer goes through and they hire a GC to start renos and something came up that wasn’t seen in the inspection because it was very well hidden. My mom and BF were told that there was no basement, just a very small crawl space with all the support beams and that it wasn’t really made to be accessible (they said you’d basically have to crawl in). Turns out this was a big fat lie. It was a “crawl” space because you had to hunch over and it was dirt covererd but it was by all means, a basement and it was indeed accessible……from a trap door…….behind the fridge! They discovered that when they had to change the fridge a month into the move. Now that all sounds like an “oh well, there is a basement after all….bigh deal” type of thing right? Wrong. Because in the middle of the basement (like smack in the middle of the house)…….there was a friggin grave stone! Turns out, there was an old man burried under the house! And I mean this is creepy enough as it is but there were strange noises in the house that sounded like footsteps and coughing and my mom’s BF always said “it’s all in your head”……well maybe not, maybe it was Grand-Pa all along!!! Anyway, they went after the previous owners because this was a gross over sight from them and my family managed to get out of there with their money. I’m just glad I was too young to remember.

  • thanks for sharing…. I think a general contractor is a must unless you have construction knowledge… enjoy your newly renovated home 🙂

  • I so understand this! We bought our first home a year ago, two old miners cottages knocked together (badly), and ever since have been renovating it. We were going one room at a time, but removing some walls to open up the landing upstairs and join the cottages properly basically meant the entire upstairs had to be redone, new drywall, new plaster, the works. It has been a building site for months but finally we are getting there, and our relationship is still intact (lucky because we are also planning our wedding for this summer!). Everything went over time and over budget, but we have saved a huge amount by doing everything bar the plastering ourselves. The nasty surprises were never-ending (and we haven’t even started on downstairs yet!), but hey, it gives me plenty of fresh material for my blog! 🙂 Enjoy your home now you’re all done and dusted! Can’t wait for that to be the case in ours. x

  • Thanks so much, Elsie, for this honest sharing. My husband and I are hunting for our own home and we dream of buying a fixer-upper and renovating it ourselves. But I think I’m really naive too! I think about how much fun it will be and how great to be able to make our own decisions about how the house eventually looks – I don’t spend so much time thinking about the stress and mistakes and the not feeling so in control at all! This post is a real eye opener and a valuable reminder that even those with reno experience like yourselves make mistakes too!

  • These are great tips!! We bought a small fixer-upper in 2011 and have been re-doing it room by room, just because we’ve had to save up for each project. I’ve learned, tho, that in saving up you need to ACTUALLY SAVE UP for the materials you want…….instead of settling for what’s cheaper, so that the project can get done sooner. 😛

  • Love this post, it’s so refreshingly honest. It can be quite disheartening when you watch renovation shows or see all these beautiful before/after posts in blogs or magazines, and get SO motivated and start your renovation plans then it ends up being so much more expensive and time consuming than what you planned. We just did up our bedroom (which I seriously assumed would take about week or two–all we were doing was replacing the wallpaper and painting and my hubs was off that week), and the whole process ended up taking a whole 9 weeks just before we could move back into the room due to a surprise mold discovery, which obviously affected the budget quite a bit as well. We’re about to handle the upstairs bathroom next, but we’re also taking a bit of a break in between to recharge and get our motivation back. In my mind, it’s a simple and straight forward job, but I just have this feeling at the back of my head that it’ll end up costing twice as much and taking three times as long, even though we won’t be DIYing much ourselves this time. How do you deal with that? Have you had to make sacrifices other places in the house, or are you putting rooms and projects on hold until you get the finances for it?

  • I love hearing about the reality of home renovation because it’s SO MUCH harder than it seems!

    About ten years back my parents decided to renovate half of our house – basically changing up the entire layout of that half of the house. After a year and a half of my dad building the house all by himself (which is crazy, might I add!) plus the help of our family, my mom came up with a better design! So we tore down what they had built and started again because the new design was so much better.

    The entire project took about four years because my dad did it himself but I think all the blood,sweat, and tears are what make our house so special today. Plus I feel so much pride towards my dad for managing to build half a house with no prior knowledge of house building. Talk about hardcore DIY-er!:)

  • We started some renovations in our appartement 3 years ago. We mostly closed a balcony, nothing fancy. Baby arrived at that same time, and my husband quitted his job to take care of our daughter full time. That’s our best decision ever and we had to rethink our budget. Renovation wasn’t a priority anymore. At this day, we still have uneven floor, electricity is not finished,…
    But i’m sure, one day, it will be nice, and we had a lot of time explore all the different styles we were thinking about. Not even our mind is set. 🙂
    I’m amazed by what you did in a “short” time. From what I read, I feel like it takes even more time in Europe…
    Now it’s time to enjoy and sip a good cocktail 🙂

  • I love your honesty in this. Renovation can be hard but what I’ve seen, so worth it! Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Thanks for sharing! I especially appreciate the nod to the importance of having a (good) GC… I work for a GC (albiet not in residential) and its hard to explain the amount of coordination that goes on behind the scenes. A good GC is worth their weight in gold!! Happy home-making 😀

  • This is one of my favorite posts to date! I appreciate your honesty. We have owned our home since June, and the only major renovation we’ve done so far (besides ALL the electrical) include raising the ceiling, re-drywalling, and refinishing the hardwood floors in the living room. My brother-in-law is a contractor, which is basically like winning the lottery. We’re definitely taking it one room at a time, mostly because we spent all our money on our house! The bathroom and kitchen will have to wait until we’ve saved a sizeable chunk of money.

    It’s crazy how much you learn when you’re doing a project. One thing I learned the hard way: apply wood stain in the direction of the boards. If you go across the boards like we did you will get a stripe in the middle of the floor! Good thing I found a great rug.

    Here’s a link if you want to see:

  • I liked this post a lot (I was also wondering about budget & stress with how much you were doing all at once!!) to see some of the other side other than the pretty after pictures (which I am loving and want to see more of!). Are you going to talk about what you might have done differently if you had done it slowly or what the disasters actually were in the room reveals, or is that better left behind you? 🙂

  • I was the General Contractor when we built our first house while pregnant with my 3rd baby. My subs all showed up on time and did what they were supposed to do. We moved in just shy of 4 months after we broke ground. I had so much fun that decided to GC our next house, too. That time I was pregnant with our 7th and, again, we moved in 4 months after breaking ground. I got multiple bids from each sub and stayed under budget both times while still making upgrades. I had a built in buffer amount for things that might come up (about 3% of the total though). I contacted them all before I started, told them approximately when I would need them, and gave them another call one week before I would need them. I didn’t hire anyone who didn’t get their bid back to me in a short amount of time because I figured if I had to harass them to get their bid submitted, I would have a hard time getting them to do their work. As a stay at home mom, I did have the availability that the job required. Plus, I did some masonry work, laid the in-floor heat, did all painting inside and out(with my hubby), tiled half of my main floor, and several small finishing projects.

  • Well done YOU!!! for making it in the other side of the tunnel. Hope you will have some stress-free time now.
    Thanks for sharing, it is so useful.

  • I loved reading this since my husband and I are currently renovating our first home! Luckily we are living elsewhere in the same town and my dad is a contractor so we are doing many of the projects ourselves. Definitely a big learning experience so far! I have enjoyed reading your blog for years and am getting a lot of home inspiration from your past posts!

  • Elsie, I’ve been reading ABM for… Since you had a painting studio over your first vintage shop. This is my favorite post ever, By far! So, so good.

  • thank you for sharing your mistakes. hubby and I are getting ready to sell our home and move 4 states – back home. but with the difference in economy levels, we won’t be able to afford an “equal” home in NY, so do we settle for less? (his choice) or buy a fixer upper? (my choice). I’ll probably win, I usually do….hahaha

  • I have learned many, many things in my 3 years of home ownership in regard to contractors. A couple being:
    1) If the contractor does not show up for the initial quote at the scheduled appointment time he is not worth working with. Do NOT Reschedule. They get one chance.
    2) If he cannot take you seriously because you are a twenty-something female do not hire him. I’m not sure why so many middle-aged men look surprised when I initiate a hand-shake, but they do. These are often the same ones that look stunned when I ask a question about their proposed method.
    3) Watch YouTube videos and trust your gut. Even if you aren’t going to do the work yourself you should watch videos so you have an idea of what is normal, quality work. If you see something that raises even the teeniest red flag, ask about it. You are the source of money. You are the one that will live with the outcome. You are allowed to question.
    4) Pay a deposit. Pay the balance when the work is done.

  • These are all such great tips and things that we’ll definitely keep in mind as we navigate this road some day! Your house looks so beautiful, regardless of the struggle it took to get here!


  • I had one of those! It only got fixed when we tore out the whole kitchen and added on. Makes you wonder what people are thinking.

  • My dad is a general contractor and I couldn’t agree more on your last point. All his insider knowledge and experience is priceless. Glad everything worked out for y’all! What we’ve seen so far is very beautiful

  • I love this post! Not just for the insights but for what it adds to your blog. Your site is so happy, bright, and full of (relatively) quick projects. This is what makes you guys unique, but it also can feel one sided. Taking on huge renovations are messy, and not in a beautiful way. Your honest experience brings depth and even more credibility to your brand. Way to go! I love it!

  • Oh, what a great post! I am mid-renovation right now! We had a full inspection that caught water damage – aka rotten subfloor, which was more work than we had originally hoped to do. The kitchen is already in desperate need of a renovation, but is now on the back burner. I think we’ve planned very well. My husband is very handy and he is doing a lot of work himself on top of his already full-time job. And even though, we were aware of the stresses involved, running into those unexpected issues and changes to the plans, or the delay in timeline when you’re on a tight deadline… it still gets the better of us. So glad to hear the challenging side as well, and not just the beautiful outcome! Thanks for posting!

  • I recently had an attempted break-in at my house–they didn’t actually get through, but they did their best–that damaged two standard exterior doors, a French door, and a window, all of which had to be replaced. We completely rebuilt our 1936 house in 2009, so it was just a matter of re-ordering the same stuff from the same people, PLUS I’ve worked in new construction, so I was careful to call periodically to double-check that my orders were progressing. Even with all that effort, literally three-quarters of the job went wrong. One door arrived 2″ narrower (maybe they thought it lost weight since 2009?), the glass in the window was too thick to fit, and the French door was too big all around. Everyone was super nice and polite, but successfully achieving a fully-secured house took seven weeks and $4000.

    Anyway, I share this story because I think it’s pretty typical. Everything is going to cost a LOT, take way longer than you think it should, and you can reasonably expect 75% of it to go wrong on the first try. So… brace yourselves for that, and get lots of quotes! (We got one for a solid $10K to do the exact same job, just to give you an idea of the range.)

  • Thank you for sharing Elsie! We don’t have any renovation stories yet…but buying a house/moving/all of our DIY projects have made me question adulthood. I always second guess ourselves, our decisions & our methods and wonder if it’s this stressful for everyone. After reading this, I’m thinking the answer is “yes”. Anytime you’re dealing with cost and changes that impact your future – you’re bound to be tested and make mistakes.

    I must add – usually we only see your perfect “after” pictures, so it’s easy to assume everything just fell into place for you. Of course, that’s a silly assumption – but it’s refreshing to hear this story from you. It’s a good reminder that, although you seem to capture lightening in a bottle with every project you tackle…you too run into issues/stressors/problems (aka adulthood). So, again, thank you for sharing!

  • Ugh I just put the deposit down with my general contractor and the cabinet company and things are finally getting started. Now that I read this, I’m mega scared that we’re gonna go way out of budget! ?

  • yes yes yes! to all of these! it’s great to see someone being honest and upfront about remodeling aches and pains. 🙂 (and i agree, a good general contractor is worth what they get paid!)

  • We did some renovation on my two flat for 2-3 months before I moved in. Bought it “as is” and it hadn’t been changed since the 1950s. We renovated TWO apartments. And holy cow it was stressful. We were able to save money because we kept a lot of stuff. Re-painted and “modified” it. Mid-century is in thank-goodness!

    But the main lesson learned was that though I found someone really handy and affordable…they still weren’t quite PRO. So you get what you pay for; lack of attention to detail, slightly crooked tiling, paint splatters, nails still in floor after carpet removal so on and so forth.. .But I was so ready to move in and now know so much more.

  • Love your blog and I really enjoyed reading this post 🙂

    My boyfriend and I are living in a mostly finished renovation project; which we’re doing ourselves. We did have to get a landscape company in to do the garden though which went over budget and wasn’t quite as we envisaged in the end. But it looks better than it did in the beginning! x

  • Thank you for this post! This is exactly what I needed to hear as my husband and I embark on our first (long-distance) home-buying adventure. I am saving this post for when it comes time to start renovations. So helpful! I would love to read another post on mistakes and tip, if you’ve got more. 🙂

  • Renovations sure do reveal a lot of disasters! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Definitely stressful so it’s important to stay positive, remember that in the end it’s just a house, and it will all work out in the end! <3

  • I can completely relate to the “quote not being the final price” situation. I worked for my father for many years during required renovations to his Pizza Hut restaurants (he was a franchisee). Recently, my husband and I hired a man that had previously been a construction manager to do/oversee our garage remodel. The final price was three times what he bid without too many changes to the original plan, or at least not three times the amount of changes. He submitted his bill with absolutely no back up (receipts for materials, breakdown of hours of people hired to work, etc.) Because I’d been in charge of the remodels of our family Pizza Hut projects, I immediately asked for back up, and whittled the bill down from 3 times to 2 times the quote. The man in charge was grossly inexperienced and had quoted us too low. I was very frustrated. Lesson learned!

  • I love all of your renovation posts and this advice! My husband and I under contract for a duplex (the mortgage payment for a single family home in our area is just out of our budget right now and we are not the condo type). It’s a 1970s raised ranch and I can’t wait to get in there and make it cute! We will live in one half and rent out the other to help cover the mortgage. I am so inspired by all of your renovations! Every time we think of something we will need to do I search on here to look at your before and afters. Thanks for sharing!

  • I want to commend you on your courage for sharing! It can be so hard to admit mistakes. (It’s certainly something I struggle with!) I’ve been reading A Beautiful Mess for years now, and I really admire all of your contributors! But so often it seems like you have it all together and are living an amazing peachy-keen crafting and renovating dream life – it gives me hope to be reminded that I too can reach your level of success even with some ups and downs and occasionally big, stressful mistakes! Great post!

  • My Husband and I have been in our house for just over a year and completed a lot of projects. It’s so easy to see your end vision and let it cloud your daily reality!
    We’ve learned it really isn’t important to have it all done right away, mostly because of budgeting;) We saved over a hundred thousand dollars managing the contractors ourselves, hiring very skilled friends, and doing a lot of the labor ourselves.
    Even that still affected our relationship!!!! It’s very hard to keep things in perspective when you are constantly battling being overwhelmed.
    Your first two points are spot on! If you have the money to hire a GC then go for it. If you have the time do it yourself. You’ll save so much money and learn tons!

  • We just purchased a small home from the 70’s about 2.5 hours away from our hometown. We don’t have any family to help with renovations, so we have to hire out. The house hasn’t been redone since the 70’s so I would like to gut the whole thing. However, the house was so over priced, because it’s a highly sought after town to live in. So in leaves us with a extremely small & tight budget for renovations. I was thinking of doing the same, hiring out random handy men to do each piece. Your advice sounds great about the general contractor. I’m going to look into that now. Thanks! Pretty nervous about this new journey we are going on, 2 small kids. Neither my husband or I are very handy.

  • Yay, I love this honesty!! Thank you for sharing, Elsie. It definitely makes me feel like future renovations my wife and I might take on will be challenging but ultimately doable 🙂

  • Haha! Right??? We were so crazy. I’m glad it’s mostly over now.
    Congratulations on your new home!!
    xx- Elsie

  • I don’t watch a ton of HGTV, but from what I’ve seen it does feel WAY simplified. But obviously it would have to be for the format. I’m sure there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. It’s definitely not easy!!
    xx- Elsie

  • Hey Christina!
    I hope it’s helpful. I don’t want to scare you but also I wish I had been a little MORE scared going into it. 🙂 haha!

    Hope you have a great experience!! xx- Elsie

  • Renovations are absolute hell. I am amazed you can smile in that picture!

  • You poor lady! We’re doing minor bathroom reno work right now and wanted to install an attractive medicine cabinet. Found out after ripping the wall open that the exhaust pipe for the bathroom runs directly behind the old mirror… Now that cabinet is above the toilet and we get to patch and replace the old mirror. Fun times!

  • Do I ever.
    The very night we moved into our house, we had our friend who is a carpenter come and see what he needed to do to rip out the bathroom – including finding the water pipes. We found a little “cabinet” (!!!) in the entryway that pulled out and the pipes were there but when he shined his flashlight down he said “That’s DEEP…”
    Long story short, we ended up finding a crawlspace under the WASHING MACHINE that we NEVER SAW during inspection because the trap door to it, which looked it contained a 3-headed dog and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was coved by….A CARPET. Once opened, it revealed that the floor under said washing machine was being supported by a 2×4 propped up ON A ROCK and the Pit of Despair, which is how it came to be known, was a dirt HOLE under the kitchen and was how you access the water pipes. Awesome.

  • Oh man. My husband and I just moved into a new house and did no renovations at all. Just getting basically unpacked really stretched our marriage! Reading through this all I could think was, “HOW DID THEY DO IT?!?!”

    GOOD JOB!! 😀

  • This is such helpful insight! You see all these renovation shows on HGTV, and they just go in and gut the whole place and get the whole project done in like a month or so. I always wonder how realistic is this? Is this even a smart idea? Your post really puts things in perspective, and I am thinking of taking on a gut job soon, and your candidness has really helped me rethink the process. Thank you so much!

  • You are so courageous! I enjoyed reading your helpful guide and it truly feels from in between the lines that you learned from these mistakes and left them behind. Lessons, right? 🙂
    Thanks for the tips too!

  • My parents bought a home a couple years ago and stripped it down to the studs and added a basement under the new master. They hired a general contractor (after interviewing many) and my mom was there anytime she could be without completely being in the way (answering questions, making on-the-spot decisions, watching). There were problems like any house, weather issues, etc. but the worst was the growing problems with the GC. He was there less and less, he couldn’t seem to hang onto employees and things were moving at a snails pace. My family was all pitching in to help anyway and my brother decided to work for the GC full time to move things along. That’s when we realized the GC was HORRIBLE at his job – he was not meant to be a manager. Eventually my parents had to fire him and we finished the project (other than my brother, none of us were really qualified but we learned fast). The GC didn’t pay the trades on the schedule he was supposed to and when he was fired, he ran away with the money. The trades hadn’t been fully paid, so my parents had to pay a 2nd time and go after the GC in court. It was very rough, but the home is beautiful and finally done!

  • I love these posts – so helpful to see awesome results, but also the mistakes. Thank you!

  • Elsie, thank you so much for sharing!! My husband and I are about to purchase our first home and thinking about renos. After reading so many shiny blog posts and watching HGTV shows, it would be so easy to embark on these projects naively. We really appreciate you sharing your experience honestly! 🙂

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