You put on your big girl pants, met with your financial adviser, got a mortgage, and bought a house. Hooray! Now comes the hard part: making it your own. Whether you’re in for a gut renovation or just trying to redecorate, there’s a lot more to designing a property than you might think. We talked to two experts—a renovation consultant and an interior designer—to learn about the most common blunders that new homeowners make, so that you won’t follow in their footsteps.
1. Starting renovations too soon
If possible, live in your house for a while before making any plans to overhaul. “Learn its flow, where the groceries land, where the laundry wants to go, how the sun hits it, where the choke points are, which way the rain slants, even get a sense of its soul,” says Bruce Irving, an independent renovation consultant and real estate agent from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “All of this will inform your choices when you make your plans to change things.”
2. Underestimating costs
Most jobs will cost more and take longer than you expect, so always add 20 percent to what you think a project will total when budgeting “If you don’t have the funds,” cautions Irving, “cut the job back. If you happen to beat these projections, then your surprises are happy ones.”
3. Expecting everything to go according to plan
Work on older buildings can yield a lot of unforeseen events. Who knows what’s behind that wall you’re opening up? New construction is more controlled, but that doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. Be prepared for the unexpected. “It’s a human failing,” says Irving. “We all hope and pray everything goes according to plan.” Trust us: Nothing will.
4. Not hiring a designer from the start
“You are about to spend more than you ever thought possible,” says Irving. “It might as well be for a correctly-designed thing.” Interiors designers and architects typically either charge by the hour or take a percentage of the overall job (say, 10 percent)—a small sum compared your total payout.
5. Going for the lowest bid
“Good professional help is worth the money,” says Irving. “That means design as well as construction.” Be willing to pay for a good contractor, and be wary of the one who’s cheap and available right away.
6. Hiring a professional that’s not a good fit
Just because someone is a good designer doesn’t mean she’ll be a good fit for you. Do you have the same aesthetic? Priorities? “If he or she doesn’t ask you a lot of questions about your needs, desires, and the way you live, find someone else,” says Irving. “Listening skills and curiosity are crucial.”
7. Not asking for references
Irving recommends contacting the previous three clients of anyone you plan to hire. “These people will have experienced the person at his or her current level of achievement and staffing,” he points out. Reach out to general contractors for an architect’s references, and vice-versa. “And visit your candidates’ job sites to find out if you like what you see in terms of cleanliness and vibe.”
8. Waiting too long to consult a general contractor
Ask a contractor to look at plans in the schematic stage, rather than at detailed finished plans, says Irving. “This way you can find out if your project is in the right budget ballpark before falling in love with a plan—and paying for a complete set of biddable drawings. It’s also a good way to meet potential contractors, get their input, and not misuse their time.”
9. Pretending to understand a design scheme
Fact: Most people can’t read blueprints. Instead of eyeballing it, lay out a room or building or garden for real. “Painters tape can be a girl’s best friend,” says Jocelyn Chiappone, interior designer and owner-principal of Digs Design Company in Newport, Rhode Island. Taping out a space works better than any sketch or design app for understanding how things will fit.