We’re at the completely unexciting part of the makeover when we aren’t quite finished, but nothing much is happening. So while we wait for the final details to fall into place, there’s time to reflect on the lessons learned from our renovation experience.
- A good general contractor, and good trades, are worth their weight in gold. This isn’t exactly a new revelation, and I thought I knew how good my G.C. was. However, after having a close-up and ongoing months-long view of my general contractor in action, and having an opportunity to compare him to the contractors who work for others, I’ve gained an even better appreciation for his honesty and commitment to quality. I also have new appreciation for his willingness to listen to our ideas, to respond with his own experience, and then to do whatever I deem is best. Without argument. Period.
- Trust my gut when it comes to hiring good people. We didn’t already know all the people we needed for this project. We had to find contractors for our roof, siding & eavestroughs, and our garage door. We did what any well-informed person would do — asked for referrals, checked references and professional affiliations, and conducted personal interviews. When all was said and done, we relied on our ‘gut’ to guide us. Having said that, our ‘gut’ was influenced by the actions of the various companies. For instance, when a window company we had used previously was struggling to get back to us on a timely basis, we decided to dump them late in the game and find another contractor. We felt we ended up with better windows and a better price as a result. Likewise, when our first choice for a roofer didn’t get back to us, even though they came highly recommended by someone in the industry, we moved to Plan B with great results. No matter how highly someone is recommended, we question their work ethic if they can’t return quotes or calls on a timely basis. We were prepared to look beyond our first choice if something didn’t ‘feel’ right.
- Don’t second-guess my own design decisions. There were times when I wondered if we had made a mistake by choosing grays and taupes for our new kitchen and floors. Would it be too neutral, too bland? I underestimated the drama of the dark gray cabinets against the paler greige floor boards, with the pop of white countertops. Likewise, I hesitated over paint colours, and took a long time to finalize what I wanted. When they finally went on the walls, we loved them, and they pull everything together, perfectly blending old and new elements of the design. I expect to feel even more excited when the decorating is finally completed.
- There’s no substitute for living through my own renovation when advising clients on theirs. Several times in the past few months, I have drawn on my reno experiences to advise clients on theirs — a paint colour here, a countertop there, a lesson on stair treads elsewhere. Plus, there’s the added benefit of the empathy that comes from having survived my own renovation, when speaking to clients about their reno trials and tribulations. It’s such a beneficial experience that it seems unfair that we can’t write part of it off as a business education expense!
- Don’t change how we handle our own custom makeover projects for clients. Being a client, and thus being at the mercy of other service providers, was a fascinating experience for us. We have handled many large makeover projects in the past 20 years, and we have certain expectations based on our experiences. For instance, we always attend our own deliveries and installations. On an all-day installation, we might just show up for an hour to be sure everything is going according to plan. If the client were to call with questions or issues, we would be back on site ASAP. We were surprised to see which companies did this and which ones didn’t; there were definitely times when we thought we were being neglected. We came to the conclusion that we like our way of doing business better, and now we know that we need to promote it as something quite unique and valuable.
- We can survive any disruption to our daily routine with enough planning. Every renovation causes disruption, whether you live in or move out. Some people thrive on the chaos; my family thrives on routine. Routine helps us to balance work, school and personal life. So, we created a new routine to accommodate the inevitable disruptions that a renovation would create. Further, we planned our renovation for Summer, when at least one of our daily stressors — school — would be a non-issue. We were able to carry on our business, and a satisfying daily routine, while the renovation raged around us. Living in the house during the reno was a bit inconvenient, but much less so than moving out would have been, especially when various trades and contractors were clamouring for decisions on a daily basis.
- I’ve gained a new appreciation for the thrill that some people get from flipping houses — renovating to sell, then moving on to another project. I don’t plan to take it up any time soon, but after watching our decisions come to life and transforming our home, I can better understand why some people can’t get enough. Having said that, I think I might be paralyzed by the thought that my selections have to be sellable. For this renovation, we had the freedom to select what worked best for our lifestyle and tastes. The fact that others might like it is a bonus, but not a financial necessity.
- Some problems will sort themselves out in time. Although we waited a long time to do the renovation, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Had we renovated, or moved, 10 years earlier, we would have made completely different decisions. Waiting gave us a chance to really understand how we use our home, what we really need, what we really like, and what we really value. We love the end results, and we don’t regret a single decision. I know that wouldn’t have been the case if we had done this sooner. We also needed to accept the idea of staying put, and not moving, before an extensive reno made sense.