By Kenny Grono, Houzz

There’s no crystal ball that can tell you what might go wrong on your home renovation project, but you don’t need to be able to see into the future to be prepared for unwelcomed remodeling surprises along the way. Adding a contingency fund that’s 5 to 20 percent of your budget can go a long way toward averting financial setbacks, as will knowing about some common discoveries that add unexpected costs to a project.

remodeling surprises

Janet Paik, original photo on Houzz

1. Asbestos. Get asbestos properly and professionally remediated. This is not a place for DIY or to look the other way. You will need an abatement contractor to remove the material and give you a report on an air test that proves there are no fibers in the air. If that isn’t in the budget, cut the budget somewhere else. It’s that important.

2. Structural flaws. These often can’t be seen until demolition is complete, but you can look for clues: cracks, settling floors, crooked door jambs etc. If you see these, adjust your contingency fund accordingly.

remodeling surprises

Janet Paik, original photo on Houzz

3. Unreliable contractors. Check references and do your homework before you give anyone a deposit. If that deposit walks away or you need to walk away from a contractor, you’ve either got a trip to court ahead of you or a decreased project budget — maybe both.

4. Neglect on permits. Permits do cost money, and they are no guarantee that the work will be well done — that depends on the individual contractor. But if you are caught working without a permit, you can expect that the building inspector will be less inclined to work with you and your plan, any you may have to pay fines. Building codes are not black and white, especially when it comes to remodeling. You want to have a building inspector involved who will be on your side. 

remodeling surprises

Janet Paik, original photo on Houzz

5. Water damage. What looks like just a brown spot on the ceiling might turn out to be rotted rafters and a moldy roof and wall sheathing. Suddenly, what you thought was a ceiling repair job turns into an environmental hazard (mold, like asbestos, should be remediated by a contractor trained in this work) that requires new sheathing, a new roof and maybe new siding. 

6. Termites. Where there is water, especially when it’s close to the ground, termites are soon to follow. If you live in an area with termites, the water that infiltrates your walls brings termites into the walls and floor joists. Correcting this problem in a finished space can mean completely remodeling that part of the house. The termite inspection that was done when you bought your house should not be the last. Catching a problem early can mean the difference between hundreds and tens of thousands of dollars.

remodeling surprises

Janet Paik, original photo on Houzz

7. Property disputes. Before you add on to your house, even if you’re just adding a fence, make sure you own the property you’re building on and that you are adhering to any setback laws or stipulations in the zoning code. If not, this mistake can be costly to undo once it’s discovered. Build your brand-new kitchen 6 inches on the wrong side of the property line, and you could have to tear that new kitchen down when your neighbor finds out. These disputes can get ugly. Avoid them by having professionals review the deeds and submit site plans to your local zoning board for review.

8. Bank issues. If you plan to finance your project with a loan from the bank, make sure that loan is in place before you start work. It might be tempting to give your contractor a deposit to get started while you wait on the loan paperwork to be processed. But if that loan doesn’t go through, you may have just paid for demolition only to find out that’s the only part of the project you can afford.

remodeling surprises

Bud Dietrich AIA, original photo on Houzz

9. An incomplete plan. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Work with a designer and a contractor to come up with a plan that is thorough, affordable and buildable. If you plan to fill in the blanks once you start work, you may find that some of those blanks end up being a lot more expensive than you expected.

10. A portfolio plan. Sometimes a set of blueprints comes across my desk that is complete down to every last detail, and every one of those details will be expensive. These projects are exciting when the homeowner has set a realistic budget for the work. Ideally, a contractor is consulted early on in the process of developing the plan, advising on ballpark costs and the feasibility of the proposed ideas so that a realistic scope and budget emerge. If this doesn’t happen, you can end up with a portfolio plan: a design full of the latest, hippest, most expensive details.

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