If you’re like many homeowners who’ve gone through a renovation, you probably started by getting three estimates and if you liked all three, you went with the most budget friendly one (I mean who wants to spend more than they have to, right?!?). 

While sometimes it works out, too often that approach has the opposite result (we’ve all heard renovation-gone-wrong stories from our friends and family!).  You hear first-hand about how they found themselves frustrated and stressed-out, just waiting for the nightmare to end. I think the image above captures it perfectly. :/

Well, that’s exactly why I got into the home remodeling industry in the first place! I wanted to help people create a home they loved AND make the process of doing it a positive one. 

Like this:  🙂

Image: Deposit Photos

So whether you, or someone you know, is in the middle of a renovation nightmare (hopefully not!) or you just want to avoid one in the future, here are eight renovation red flags to be aware of:

1. No Contract/No Permits

I know…it should be a no-brainer, right? But you’d be surprised how many people just go head-on into a project based on the fact that someone they know has used them before. Don’t make that mistake!

The contract is what ensures both you and your contractor are on the same page and it’s a must have in order to avoid misunderstandings and disputes! What if your contractor lays hardwood floor but it’s the wrong color? Having a contract in place will make it easy to determine who was mistaken and help you get to a resolution faster (avoiding all the he-said, she-said). Simply put, a contractor who doesn’t have a detailed contract, isn’t one you want. 

Just as important is permit pulling! A good contractor gets permits…period.. It’s for their protection and yours. If your contractor tries to talk you out pulling permits (or asks you to pull them yourself), it might be a bad sign and I would hire someone else.

2. Yikes, AND No License?!

A license is important because a contractor can’t get a license without being properly bonded and insured (often needing to pass a test to ensure they understand how to perform the work). Many states even limit a contractor’s ability to work on certain TYPES of projects (either complexity of the scope being performed or by the dollar amount of the contract). 

Most reputable contractors will offer their licensing information and proof of insurance as a normal business practice. If yours hasn’t, then ask for it. If your contractor seems reluctant or acts as if your request is unusual, consider finding a new one. Same goes for any subcontractors who work on your project (i.e. a plumber or an electrician). Remember, you only want people working in your home who are qualified to do the work!

3. What’s The Plan?

It takes a lot to coordinate all the different tradespeople needed to ensure your project ends on time, which is why it’s super important your contractor has a project plan (sometimes called a production schedule). Some may be more detailed than others, but as long as your contractor goes over some sort of plan/outline with you and it’s clear that they’ve thought through the project timeline, you should be in good shape. Think about it, if your contractor doesn’t have a plan of how they will finish your project on time, how likely is it that they actually will?

Image: Deposit Photos

4. Let’s Talk People!

Your doorbell rings and it’s the electrician saying he’s there to hang your pendants and chandelier. Your contractor never told you that you needed to have your lighting ordered and in your home by a certain date (or that the electrician was even coming!). 

This type of miscommunication (or lack thereof) causes stress and frustration that could have been avoided if you had a contractor with good communication skills. Ask your contractor to meet with you each week whether by phone or in person (or even an email) to give you a status update on what happened the previous week and what you can expect in the upcoming week.  Jot down your questions for this weekly check-in as this is your opportunity to ask questions (communication goes both ways!).

5. Unskilled

The demo is done and materials are beginning to be installed and you notice your cabinets are crooked, trim pieces don’t line up, and the countertop overhangs are uneven. Huge red flag!  As harsh as it might seem, you might want to stop the job right then and there. Try calling an emergency meeting with your contractor so you they can create a plan to address your concerns to your satisfaction, or find someone else to do the work! 

6. MIA

Your demo is done but it’s been a week since you’ve seen your contractor, and you haven’t heard a word as to why. Or…what does your job site look like at 2pm on Wednesday afternoon? If the answer is “quiet,” it’s time to call in the troops. Meet with your contractor and be direct in asking about the situation.  Did someone get sick? Have they shifted their priorities to another job? Are they having financial problems?!? The hours your contractor works not only determines how quickly your project is completed, but also reflects their overall professionalism and commitment to the project…if there’s a problem under the surface, you need to get to it fast so you can right the ship.

7. Ignores What You Can’t See

What lurks behind the walls and floors can sometimes be scary (especially in older homes).  If your contractor doesn’t take steps to investigate what’s hidden from view,  it could be a warning sign. They can take simple steps like:

  • Remove a recessed light to see what’s hiding in the ceiling.
  • Cut a small hole in a bulkhead to ensure there’s no hidden plumbing or electrical issues.
  • Remove a floor register to see if there are old layers of flooring hidden beneath the hardwood.

Any remodeling contractor (whether large or small) should take these simple steps before construction begins to ensure they know what they are dealing with once the walls are opened up. If they refuse, then ask them to put into writing that they are responsible for any additional costs due to “unforeseen” conditions. They probably won’t do this, but it will “encourage” them to do some further investigating. The goal here is to save you from a bunch of “change orders” (additional costs) that can easily be avoided if  due diligence is done up-front. 


Image: Deposit Photos

8. Large Upfront Deposit

Even though every contractor approaches their payment structure a little differently, you should always avoid providing too much cash up-front before construction begins. That being said, your contractor will need enough to cover the ordering of materials and set-up so for large projects, expect to pay at least 10 – 20 percent at contract signing with payments more evenly spaced over the duration of the project.

The payments should coincide with the progress that’s been completed (framing, electrical, plumbing rough-in, etc.).  Just make sure there’s enough of a payment left at the end to ensure your contractor completed your “punch-list” items (you don’t want them walking away before they’re completely finished).

Also note that most jurisdictions have limitations on how much your contractor can collect up-front. If they want to ask for 50% upfront, push back and suggest an alternate payment schedule (and check your local laws). If they’re not willing to do so, you may be better off going with someone else. 

As you can see, there are A LOT of moving parts in a home renovation so it’s more uncommon than not for there to be a snag along the way (queue dramatic HGTV episode of your choice! ). Tools break, materials are delayed, it rains non-stop for a week…. What’s important is how your contractor handles these bumps in the road.  A quality contractor can always figure out a way to make things work and have a positive attitude in doing so.

If you’re about to remodel and want more tips and guidance on things to look out for while managing your home renovation, check out my Renovation Roadmap ecourse. I created it in hopes that more people can renovate happy! 


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