Updated: May 7
Renovating a home is exciting—from the initial concept through the final coat of paint, a renovation can be utterly transformative. It can be tempting to rush through the planning and get down to work, but I’d like you to stop, take a breath, and slow down. If you want to renovate the right way, you have to do your homework, ask the right questions, and insist on transparency from your contractor. If some details aren’t done correctly, your seemingly perfect renovation project could be a proverbial can of worms.
Consider a “green” upgrade
If you’re replacing your roof, look into adding solar panels. For flooring, research sustainable woods such as bamboo (which is actually grass!). Ask your contractor if there are locally-sourced options for granite, glass, and other materials. A home with sustainable components has a smaller ecological footprint, which is good for everyone. Curious about going green? Read Ellie’s blog, or peruse our green resources to learn more.
When planning to add a dormer or skylight, take a look at the roof at the same time. Maybe it needs to be replaced before you can do the other work. Adding a dormer to a home with a leaky roof will cost you more in repairs and time than you can imagine. Similarly, if you’re finishing a basement, take steps to waterproof the space. One heavy rainstorm or burst hot water heater could render your new space musty, moldy, and in need of expensive cleaning.
Ask a lot of questions when interviewing contractors
Your first questions should be about their credentials: What is their license number? Who insures them and for how much? Can they supply a variety of references? Of course you need some specific answers to questions, but you’re also looking at your builder’s communication style. Are they upfront, honest, and realistic? Do they “yes” you without listening, or do they answer thoroughly? Are they patient and professional? If you’d like to get some guidance on great builders, ask us. We know some incredible people in the business.
Permits aren’t optional
If you decide to do any renovation or construction on your property, make sure to get the proper permits. Yes, it sounds obvious, but I’ve personally had to insist on this with workers in my own home. If your contractor tells you you don’t really need a permit, or that getting a permit will slow down the process too much, that’s a red flag. Ultimately, it is you who will face the consequences—which can range from having to redo work to the loss of a sale—if a permit hasn’t been secured. Furthermore, sometimes a builder will tell you they pulled a permit when they didn’t. Yes, that happens. Ask to see the permit, and post it where any potential inspectors can see it.
No permits can translate to a lost sale
Here’s a cautionary tale: We were working with a client who fell in love with a beautiful Cambridge home, and their offer of $2.5 million was accepted. We were deep into the sale when it became apparent that the home’s finished basement had been done without the proper permits. Our buyer, though heartbroken, backed out of the sale. Unpermitted work is illegal in all cases, and dangerous in some. We’d never push a buyer to move forward with a sale if there had been work done without a permit. Now, imagine you’re the seller of this home—you wouldn’t want to be in that position.
Once you’ve asked the tough questions and made thoughtful decisions, you can go ahead and jump into the project. Then you can marvel at your new space without ever worrying about unpleasant surprises down the road. Just remember to take before and after pictures, and write a review of your contractor on Angie's List, Yelp, or your favorite platform. It’ll help others do their own renovations in a safe and ethical way, just like you did. Well done, you.
Are you considering a renovation and need help finding a contractor, or need to know how the changes may impact the future sale of your home? Contact us with any questions. We’re here to help.