Expert intel on what’s realistic, what’s not, and how far in advance you should be planning. By Graham Gordon

As the housing market slows down, we’re seeing a steady uptick of interest in renovating as people are choosing to invest in their existing spaces rather than move to a new home. That’s an exciting prospect for a lot of folks, but as anyone who’s renovated before can tell you, these can be complicated projects which require plenty of planning, patience, and time to do right. If there’s one rule of thumb for renovating, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. After renovating a thousand rooms, we’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that can help you manage the mess.

First off, it’s important to set your expectations correctly. Like we said: expect the unexpected. This is both true for both global and local considerations. No one could have predicted the lumber shortages that resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic supply chain disruptions – and moreover, you can’t predict whether or not you’ll discover hidden damage during the course of your renovation that might impact your project timeline and budget. There could be delays in materials shipping, in permitting applications, approvals (the list goes on) and a lot of that is out of your control.

What you can control, however, is how you structure your project around these uncertainties. We recommend starting your renovation six-to-eight months in advance to accommodate for the worst-case scenario, and generally, it’s best to have a soft deadline when you start the process. This should allow ample time for design, permitting, material selection, and contractor selection. Additionally, having ten-to-15 percent of your budget dedicated to contingency (unexpected costs) is prudent should anything go awry – and if your project runs completely smoothly, you’ll get some time and money back.

Most of the time spent during a renovation, at least for a standard project we do at Block Renovation, will be spent in the pre-construction stage – sharpening the ax rather than chopping at the tree, so to speak. If you’ve done all the prep correctly, set yourself up with a capable contractor, and organized the logistics of materials delivery then the construction itself should come together fairly smoothly.

Planning ahead

One dimension that people often underestimate in the planning process is permitting. Requirements will vary a lot based on your city, your building, and the scope of your renovation. But all things considered, failing to obtain the proper permits can lead to fines, legal issues, and even safety hazards. You might even be issued a stop-work order from the building department – which means that construction must come to a halt until the proper permits are obtained – and that can cause significant delays and additional costs.

Navigating the permitting process can be complex and time-consuming, but it is essential to ensure that your renovation project is safe and up to code. At Block, we have a team dedicated to permitting and approvals, but in most cases, your contractor should be able to help you identify the relevant permits you’ll need for your project. Either way, getting documents submitted as early as possible is always a good idea. Building boards, for example, are notorious for lengthy approval processes and the last thing you want is to be twiddling your thumbs only to be told you need to redo something. As the saying goes, it’s best to measure twice, and cut once.

Set for success

Another thing to consider is budget. Renovations are a big investment, no matter what, and it’s important to know where you can cut corners and where to properly invest. For example, a quality, licensed, insured contractor might come with a premium, but a skilled builder can be worth the investment since they are responsible for the quality of the work and managing the project timeline.

Conversely, there are plenty of ways to save money on the materials for your project and you can still achieve a premium look without breaking the bank. For example, instead of a marble countertop or backsplash, opt for Caesarstone – which can give you a similar aesthetic with a lower price point and greater durability. Consider swapping real wood materials for wood-effect features or veneers. If you are working with a designer, they may be able to get a trade discount from their vendors.

The biggest way to keep the budget down, however, is to not change the layout of your space. Layout changes – especially those that involve moving plumbing and electrical – can cause your project price to skyrocket and extend your timeline. As such, it’s almost always better to work with the layout you have, and change the flow and feel of the space through levers like proportions. We’ve worked with bathrooms that felt incredibly cramped, but opened up to feel spacious once we reduced the size of the vanity, or replaced a fully enclosed shower with a partially enclosed shower with a glass divider.

In all, renovating can be a hard, yet incredibly rewarding experience. By giving yourself ample time to get your project set up for success, you help ensure that your project goes as smoothly as possible. Work with a partner you can trust, invest wisely, and soon enough you’ll have the renovated space of your dreams.

Graham Gordon is Senior Design Manager at Block Renovation, an industry leader of end-to-end renovation platforms that manages contracts, permitting, payments, design, vendors, and contractors – all in one place. Renovations are both an aspirational journey, but also fraught with anxiety and risk as they frequently take longer, cost more, and cause more stress than anticipated. Block Renovation is the platform where contractors AND homeowners manage major renovation projects leading to simpler, faster, and higher trust for all users.