5 home remodeling lessons we learned by mistake

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5 home remodeling lessons we learned by mistake
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New ceiling wood, fireplace texture, windows, and venetian plaster on the walls.

The stress and financial toll of a home remodel can place a significant burden on a relationship. My husband and I knew this before we began remodeling the short-sale home we purchased last year. Even so, we made a few mistakes along the way. Here are five lessons we learned the hard way.

1. Get quotes from at least five different contractors. In April 2012 we bought a 4,900-square-foot ranch home that was sold as a short sale in as-is condition. We knew we were getting into a huge project, but we figured it would be handled quickly and easily with the right contractor.

One of our friends recommended a contractor and he talked the talk so we hired him right away. We handed him a check for $16,000 so he could start the project. Arched walls divided the main living area into separate rooms and interrupted the view from the entryway; we wanted the walls taken down to open up the entire space. The contractor's first goal was to knock out these walls.

He started demolishing -- and promptly asked for more money to continue the project. We soon realized we had already spent $34,500 for him to do the demolition and little else, and he still wanted more money to continue the project.

We tried and hoped to salvage the situation. Needless to say the situation wasn't salvageable (and now, a year later, we are still knee deep in litigation).

My advice: Even if someone seems great, get at least five quotes. Talk to different contractors and be sure to get references. Look at some of the projects they've worked on, and get a feel for the experience others have had with that contractor.

[Click to find a contractor to help with your renovation.]

2. Take time out to get away from it all. We quickly learned that it's important to get out and have fun. The remodel was incredibly stressful, and during times when we didn't check out of it all and have some fun the pressure added up very quickly. We found a babysitter and went out at least every other week. It did wonders for our sanity.

3. Talk to other homeowners who have gone through a remodel. Once we understood what was going on with the contractor, we started asking around and talking to people who had experience with home remodels. We spoke to realtors, neighbors -- anybody who knew anything. We got the number for people they'd worked with and learned how they managed to keep costs down.

One of our friends gave us the number of a carpenter who was a genius with windows. We hired him for one-third the price we'd been quoted by other contractors and have been thrilled with the results.

4. Ask people in the home building and renovation industry for help. Contractors get special discounts on products from contacts they work with regularly. If you, as a consumer, buy the materials you will likely pay much more than if you get your contractor to purchase them for you.

[Want to renovate your home? Click to find a contractor in your area now.]

The previous owner of our house gave us the number for her flooring contractor. He was kind enough to purchase floor boards for us at a discount. My husband was able to install them himself, thus saving us thousands of dollars in labor and materials.

5. Map out the the home renovation project before you start. As we progressed with our project, many unexpected expenses popped up. Materials like glue, hinges, and other bits and pieces added up to thousands of dollars. If we had mapped out the project before we started and considered all of the potential costs, we would have had a more accurate budget and reduced financial and emotional stress.

Ultimately, our remodel was successful. The walls came down and we were able to open up and finish the space, replace the windows so they let in more light, change the texture of the fireplace, and add wood to the ceiling.

As much as it hurt to lose over $30,000 to a crooked contractor, we learned our lessons. We hope that you will take our advice and learn from our mistakes so you can save money, time, and stress.

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance journalist from Los Angeles. She writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, marketing, and parenting.

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