What HGTV doesn’t tell you: Realities of home renovation

They are among the most watched guilty pleasures on TV – home renovation TV shows. An Average Joe opens his doors to an army of designers, contractors and carpenters and 30 television minutes later, he walks into a shiny, newly renovated space.

In the real world, however, a full-blown home renovation requires a lot more. Here are some home renovation tips from a pro with three decades plus in the industry.

Timeline of a renovation

A renovation comes with noise, dust and it interrupts life as you know it. In order to do the work and to bring your vision to life, your construction team will be in and out of your home for the duration of the project. It is vital that you discuss a realistic timeline with your contractor, and that both parties do everything in their power to keep the job on track. A good contractor can realistically project how long it will take to finish certain projects, works with vendors that will deliver materials on time, and will always be transparent with the homeowner in case a delay is unavoidable.

Pro tip: Discuss your project in depth with your contractor and agree to a timeline. Get everything in writing including project scope, milestones and deadlines. If your project runs past deadline because your contractor did not stick to the agreement, you can hold him responsible. Should your project run over, because you changed your mind along the way or added to the to-do list, the delay is on you. Everybody is on the same page.


One thing TV renovations don’t lie about is that surprises do happen. Underneath drywall and insulation unforeseen problems may hide. Especially in older homes it is easy to go over budget when dealing with unforeseen issues.
In some cases, a leaking roof, outdated plumbing or wiring may be revealed during a much simpler job, and unexpected repairs can blow a renovation project’s budget and timelines.

Pro tip: Plan for the unexpected. Have a little emergency renovation fund set aside for unforeseen issues. This money should only be used in case the contractor finds a major issue that could jeopardize the job or the integrity of your home. Of course, a good contractor should never advise you to spend money where not necessary. Some fixes can wait, but there are issues that must be repaired in order to meet code or to protect your home from substantial damage down the road. With an emergency budget you can address the challenge without having to delay or downsize your original plans.

Cost vs. value

On those TV reality shows the results of the renovation projects look spectacular. It is easy to get dazzled by the amazing reveal, and start dreaming about your own renovation projects. One reason why we love construction is because the opportunities to create great spaces is unlimited. However, a smart homeowner should always consider cost vs. value of a renovation project. Ask any real estate expert and she will tell you that the No. 1 upgrade with the highest return on investment is the kitchen. However, returns on pools, extra rooms, spa bathrooms and even high-end fixtures or technology really depend on the area and market you live in. That said having the bathroom of your dream may be an investment into your happiness – and how can you go wrong with that?

Pro tip: For millennials cost vs. value is very important. For baby boomers it may not be so important. They know what they want and are willing to invest into their property to create the personalized living space that they always wanted. Many of our aging customers look at the future and add features that will help them age in their home including handicap accessible bathrooms.
When planning your renovation consider if this addition enhances your life, if it is something you really want or need long-term and whether it will add to the value of your home. If you add high end features or additions that would elevate your home into a realm that is out of touch with surrounding properties in your neighborhood you may have a hard time selling your home later without taking a loss. Yet, upgrades done strategically always add value to your property. Updates done because they make your life better are an investment in your quality of life. So think about your future plans (age in place, downsize, move to Hawaii) and do your research in case you plan on selling later.

Not every project is right for your home

Some projects that look spectacular on TV simply do not translate into the real world. The No. 1 reason for that is the existing architecture of your home. A Victorian style home may not lend itself for modern additions. Of course, the customer is king, or queen for that matter, but a good contractor should be honest about bad ideas and communicate concerns.

Pro tip: Embrace the architecture and character of your home and enhance it through a renovation. Research your home’s style and the era it was built in and design upgrades that fit well. Make your contractor part of your design team to create a space that has style, atmosphere and is functional.

Communication and integrity

The best home renovation shows are made of equal parts amazing remodeling and drama. But drama is the last thing you want in your real world renovation. Just as in television, casting is key. Picking a contractor for your job can make or break your renovation experience.

Pro tip: Chose a contractor with the right credentials and references, who has been in the community for several years and has built a legacy of happy customers and a portfolio of homes you would want to live in. Experience and trust are key. Price is important, but it is even more important to have somebody you can trust and who delivers the results you want. Make sure your contractor is forward in outlining plans and timelines, and that the contractor is respectful of your vision and budget. If you have the right partner, your home remodel or renovation project will be a smash hit.