Nov 27

Fear of fixing

Whether you are just buying a new faucet for your bathroom sink or planning a 4,000 square foot home addition, the results will depend on two things; the quality of the planning process before you start and the collaboration between you and your builder.  Few homeowners have the faintest idea of how to even begin planning.  They are stuck in the fear of fixing stage.  Here’s how to overcome your fear of fixing.

The first thing I tell clients when we talk about a possible project is that their space should make them happy.  Forget about trying to figure out what future buyers of your home may value and don’t think of any renovation project as an investment.  Unless you’re a professional and you’re buying homes at less than 50% of the market rate in your neighborhood, you’re not making a financial investment.  You’re making a psychic investment.   Spend the money because you have it and it will make your house a better place to live.  If you make yourself happy, you’ll end up getting the best possible return on your investment because you will have enjoyed the space while you live there and buyers will appreciate the beautiful work you did.  While you may not realize a profit on the work you did, your house will sell faster and closer to your asking price than your neighbor’s unimproved home.

Here’s the next step.  Do your homework.  You may not know enough to plan and execute a successful home renovation, but you can look at magazines and websites like Houzz to figure out how you want your house to look.  You can go to websites like to choose bathroom faucets.  You can take a couple of hours to go to a tile store to get an idea of the type of tile you like.  If you’re thinking of renovating a kitchen, bring in a kitchen designer.  If you commit to buying cabinets from them, they will do a design free of charge.  (You can reimburse them for their time if you don’t buy from them.)  If you’re doing anything structural, talk to an architect or general contractor before you start planning.  They can tell you if walls can be moved, and what the best use of space is.  I know you don’t want to talk to anyone that’s going to cost money, so you can always wait, but sometimes the earliest money spent is the best money.  You’ll find out what you can actually do to the building and you should get space planning ideas that you would never come up with yourself.  Even though it will take time, you’ll have more confidence and a sense of direction once you’ve started to educate yourself.  

Step two: hire the right people.  I learned the hard way in this business that the cheapest contractor is not the best value.  The one who does the best quality work for a fair price is the best value.  It isn’t cheap if the quality of the work isn’t satisfactory.  Over the years I’ve made up a lot of business sayings.  One of them is- you don’t always get what you paid for, but you almost never get what you didn’t pay for.  When you talk to anyone with whom you might work, ask them for references.  You might never call the people, but they should at least be able to give you people to call.  Ask for photos of their work.  Most important, talk to them.   Do you feel comfortable with their answers to your questions?  Do they sound like they know what they’re doing?  Do you think they have good taste?  This is the most important decision you’re going to make in the whole project. You’re entrusting the outcome of a remodel to the contractor’s competence and taste level.  The work you do is going to be a total collaboration with the contractor.  He’s going to take your place apart and put it back together again.  Listen to your gut and listen to your head.  Do the numbers make sense?  Does the construction approach sound good to you?  Does the timeline sound realistic?  If one guy tells you a job will take two weeks and one guy says it will take four weeks, let them each explain.  You’re not stupid.  If something sounds too good to be true, it is.  

Third step: define the process and make sure that you and the contractor are on the same page.  A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  Your expectations should be clearly spelled out and his or her construction goals clearly defined.  There is some surprise every time a wall is opened.  Some unscrupulous contractors rely on change orders generated by surprises to the homeowner to make lots of extra money.   Ask what the possible surprises could be and what they might cost.  Make sure the builder tells you what they’re doing, in what order, and how long it will take.  And make sure what they’re saying makes sense to you.  You may not know anything about building, but you’re smart enough to understand anything that’s explained clearly.  If they can’t explain everything in a way that you can fully grasp it, maybe they don’t know enough about renovation.

Finally: keep an eye on things, it’s your house and you’ll be there far longer than the builder.  If you see something that doesn’t look right, ask about it right away.  The job should not be complete until you’re happy.  A good builder wants to make you happy.

I hope all this advice helps you overcome your fear of fixing.  And go visit my website at and my facebook page at Mfive Chicago.  Always feel free to drop me a note at if you have any questions.

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