How to avoid common and costly home renovation mistakes

Many of us are spending more time at home in 2020, which could mean having more time to take on home improvement projects. But home renovations aren’t just a way to fill time; you want the results to be worth the hard work. The key to any successful project lies in careful planning — including financial strategizing — long before the power tools come out.

Roughly 3 in 5 American homeowners (61%) have taken on home improvement projects since March 1, 2020, spending $6,438, on average, according to an August 18-20 NerdWallet survey conducted online by The Harris Poll among 1,414 homeowners.

Whether you’re outfitting your home with a new office or classroom, or taking on long-intended improvements such as painting or installing new flooring, here are five tips to help you make sure you’re heading into the right project, the right way.

1. Consider return on investment

Any project may be worth your time if doing it makes you happy, but if you plan to sell your home soon, make sure you focus on projects that give a good return on your money. Many renovations cost thousands of dollars but won’t increase the value of your home by the same amount.

For example, it costs about $50,000 to add a new bathroom, but homeowners typically recoup only about 54% of the cost in increased home value, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value Report. A minor kitchen remodel, on the other hand, returns about 78% of its cost, so that type of project might make more sense.

Consider calling local real-estate agents to ask them about the return you might receive from a home renovation project. Some local markets or neighborhoods may reward certain upgrades more than others.

2. Create a budget

You don’t want to run out of cash in the middle of a home remodeling project. But unless you’re careful, your project may get more expensive while it’s under way. That nicer tile may add only $7 a square foot, but if your kitchen has 100 square feet of floor space, watch out! To avoid running short on cash, add up your expenses before you start the project. Then add 10% or 20% to the total to allow for cost overruns.

To get an idea of how much you’ll have to spend on a specific project, look at what others have spent on comparable projects using a project estimate calculator or perusing sites like HomeAdvisor or Remodeling Magazine.

3. Choose the right funding option

Since March 1, 34% of homeowners who undertook home improvement projects used cash on hand to fund those projects, 25% used money they had saved for those projects specifically and 14% used money from their economic stimulus check, according to the NerdWallet survey. As long as these projects aren’t being funded to the detriment of more important expenses, using available cash or savings can be a good way to keep from paying interest on your home improvement project.

If you have to finance your project, explore your funding options carefully. Among them are a home equity line of credit, a personal loan, a cash-out refinance or even credit cards. But they come at varying costs depending on the interest rate and how long it will take you to pay off the loan. A home improvement financing calculator can help you weigh these costs and make a savvy decision.

4. Research contractors

If you’ve decided to hire a professional, get written estimates from different contractors. As those estimates roll in, check their references and ask about their credentials. At a minimum, make sure each contractor is properly licensed to do the work on your home. You can also ask about their membership in trade associations. Many reputable contractors belong to professional trade groups such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or the National Association of Home Builders.

A good contractor will guarantee the work and offer a warranty. You can check Better Business Bureau ratings to see if others have had complaints about companies you’re evaluating. If there have been complaints, check to see how they were resolved.

When you select a contractor, make sure you get your agreement in writing.

5. Secure home renovation permits

Permits help protect your home and your safety. Without the necessary approvals to perform work on your property, there’s a chance the renovation won’t meet local building codes. It could even affect your ability to sell your home in the future. Contact your municipality for details about what permits you must have for your renovation project. And follow up to make sure your contractor has permits in hand before beginning the work.

6. Understand price/quality trade-offs

You’re probably planning to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on a remodeling project. It’s understandable to look for ways to save money, but don’t automatically cut corners by using the cheapest materials.

Talk to your contractor about the trade-offs between quality and price for your project. You’ll probably be better off selecting the best-quality products that fit your budget. Otherwise, you could be stuck with having to make costly repairs after a few months because you skimped on quality.

A home remodeling project can give a big boost to your home’s aesthetics and market value — if you avoid costly mistakes. By setting a budget, researching contractors and making sure your improvements use quality materials, you can help avoid expensive pitfalls and enjoy your home’s new design.

New Remodeling Trends Report Points To Growing Wellness Design Popularity

It may seem counterintuitive that interest and activity in home projects is soaring when millions of Americans have lost their jobs, are waiting in food lines and can’t be certain that they won’t be thrown out of work in a possible second Covid wave this fall. Retail, hospitality and travel have certainly seen those impacts on their bottom lines this year.

What appears to be the case is that with so many of us spending so much more time at home than in past summers, our unplanned residential stress test has shown their shortcomings and we’re looking at ways to make our living spaces serve us better.

Houzz, the massive home design and renovation platform, reports that project leads for home professionals in its latest analysis jumped by nearly 60% compared to last year, particularly those specializing in outdoor spaces. This makes perfect sense: While hosting parties in our great rooms isn’t a great idea right now, making the most of our outdoor spaces with our family members definitely is, and so is making other areas of our homes more functional for new pandemic-driven demands. These were some of the top trends in the latest Houzz report:

  • Swimming pool design and installation projects more than quadrupled (up 334%).
  • Deck, patio and porch project inquiries nearly tripled (up 178%).
  • Home extensions and additions grew by 52%.
  • Fence installation and repairs were up 166%.

These all have a wellness design component. For example, if your gym closed, then reopened, then closed again, you could very well be looking for a more consistent solution for your daily swim right about now; those ‘quarantine 15’ pounds aren’t going to shed themselves.

Since this latest Houzz report looks at contractor inquiries, rather than trends related to the spaces themselves, here are some glances at what’s going on in each of these areas, generating these calls to home improvement pros. You’ll see a wellness design component in each of them.

Deck, Patio and Porch Trends

America’s great urban parks were designed and built for city dwellers to enjoy fresh air and nature, and they remain popular to this day. For those fortunate enough to have their own slice of nature at home, whether in the city, suburbs or country, there are numerous ways to enhance them. Here are some hot trends

  • Edibles – People are looking to eat healthier and are blending vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and other greens into their outdoor living spaces. This ties into the victory gardens resurgence, and helps explain the increase in inquiries to outdoor pros. If you’re building a deck, you might be looking at adding planters or a green wall to it.
  • Urban farming — Also related to this trend, according to the popular home channel publication is an increasing interest in chickens and bee-keeping.
  • Water features – These are popular across all budgets, and are often built into updated outdoor spaces. They tie into the biophilia trend, as well, and have calming benefits for PTSD sufferers and others.

Home Extension Trends

It’s not surprising that with our houses needing to stand in for our gyms and offices, and potentially quarantining a family member away from the household, that we’re looking at ways to expand them.

Dan DiClerico, home expert for home improvement platform HomeAdvisor, notes these trends among homeowners:

  • Master suite additions — Many are choosing to make room for a home office, given the COVID work-from-home realities. These offices have more elevated designs than in the past, since they serve as a staging ground for Zoom calls and other public virtual interactions.
  • Family room additions also continue to be popular, [with] a real emphasis on multi-functionality. They’re still meant for watching TV and gathering with the family. But if there are young children at home, one corner of the room might be devoted to homeschooling, with a desk, shelving, craft supplies, and the like. Another area of the room might function as the home gym, including a platform for the Peloton bike or treadmill.
  • Mud/utility room – This speaks to the increased demand for storage and organization now that we’re spending so much time at home. Often the laundry appliances will be located there. Some of the utility centers even incorporate some kind of package receiving station, such as a pass-through that delivery persons can use to safely deposit packages inside the home.

Fencing Trends

If you’re going to be spending more time in your personal outdoor space, privacy becomes more of a priority. This is especially true if you’re exercising or conducting business outside. Outdoor Essentials, a products and information resource for homeowners, shares these fencing trends:

  • Dark colors – These are designed to blend in with more naturalistic settings and provide a low maintenance background.
  • Panels and screens – homeowners are looking at new ways to give themselves privacy, the site says. These can include louvers, living walls, trellises, louver and connecting privacy screens.
  • Multi-functional – Fences are doing double duty as handsome backdrops for outdoor living rooms. They can include built-in planters and lighting, as well as style integrated with the space’s overall décor.




Making the most of your outdoor space, no matter how small

Coronavirus quarantine had many people rethinking the interiors of their homes this spring. DIY projects were tackled, and rooms reorganized.

Now that summer’s here, why not give the same mini-makeover to backyards and outdoor spaces?

You’ll feel less cooped up if you bring some indoor style outside, even if it’s just to a tiny balcony or front porch, says New Jersey interior designer Anna Maria Mannarino.

“You’re expanding the real estate really by bringing the indoors out,” Mannarino says.

Here, she and two other design experts — Connecticut landscape architect Janice Parker and Houston interior designer Lauren Rottet — share advice on how they create stylish outdoor spaces that can accommodate a range of activities, from cooking and socially distant entertaining to relaxing and working from home.


Even the smallest outdoor space probably has room for one or two comfortable chairs and a bistro table, Mannarino says. If you don’t normally keep a table outside, Rottet suggests bringing out a small folding table when you want to dine or work outside. Add a crisp linen tablecloth, she says, and even an inexpensive card table will look special.

Layering the space with pillows and a throw blanket for evenings adds a cozy vibe. Choose pillows and cushions in an outdoor-friendly fabric like Sunbrella, which needs little care to stay looking and feeling good throughout the seasons, Mannarino says.

“And I would definitely add an outdoor rug if you have the space to do it,” she says.

If you don’t want to buy an outdoor rug, Parker says, just bring out a throw rug from inside to use on a sunny day.


The sounds of rippling water or birdsong can be great antidotes to rumbling traffic or barking dogs. Parker suggests buying an inexpensive tabletop fountain, and bird feeders to attract songbirds.

“It’s a great time to get into bird watching,” she says, “because they do seem to be more abundant than in the past.” (Get a squirrel-proof feeder if you want to make sure the food actually goes to the birds.)

There’s an even simpler, virtual option, Parker points out: When you sit outside, play recordings of chirping birds or rippling water from your phone or other device.

Pleasing scents will also elevate your outdoor space. Buy a potted lavender plant, Parker says, or flowering plants like nicotiana (also called “flowering tobacco”), which “are iridescent in the evening and have a wonderful scent.”

Many grocery stores are selling potted plants and “you don’t have to fuss with re-potting them,” Parker says. If they come in plain plastic containers, simply wrap the container in a bit of burlap or other fabric to make it more attractive.

For something more dramatic, Rottet says, potted citrus trees look and smell lovely. Or add a pencil cactus or other succulent in a tall planter; it can withstand summer heat while functioning like a sculpture in your outdoor space. When summer ends, fill the planter with a hardy flower like pansies, which might even last through the winter.

No time or resources to add plants this year? Floral or lavender candles are another option, Parker says.


A gas grill can be an asset if you’re cooking outdoors a lot. But Rottet also recommends the Big Green Egg charcoal grill. “It’s not a huge commitment,” she says, “because you can roll it into a tight little space.”

If you have a grill and would like to create more of a kitchen around it, add an outdoor table or console that can serve as a work surface and perhaps has some storage, Mannarino says, “so you’re not just walking over to a grill and holding a tray in your hand.”

Want to create the feel of an outdoor bar? Add a rolling bar cart, or, even more simply, fill your biggest salad bowl with ice, Parker says, and bring out a selection of cold drinks.


If you’re working outside, you need shade to see the screen. Retractable awnings are helpful, as are large outdoor umbrellas that stand alone or fit into an outdoor table. (They also let you spend more time outside, if it’s raining.)

In the evening, Rottet says, you can expand the feeling of even a small backyard by wrapping strands of small white lights (available in outdoor-safe versions that are battery-powered or solar-powered) around your trees.

Lanterns with lit candles inside are lovely outdoors after the sun goes down, though LED candles can be a more practical choice on a breezy night.

A fire pit will also brighten up your outdoor space, and warm it up this fall and winter.

Rottet created one for her Houston home using a large concrete planter that can withstand heat.

But as Parker points out, you don’t have to buy anything to have a fire pit. It might be fun to create one the old-school way: Dig a wide hole in the ground, she says, contain the space safely and build a campfire “boy scout style.”

The changes you make to your outdoor space don’t have to be elaborate, she says. “Just get out there. Take your chair from the kitchen table if you need to. Take your coffee cup and go.”