Reality Check: Your Renovation Won’t Be Perfect

How To Set Realistic Expectations For Your Home Renovation Project

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable general contractors, we talk to homeowners and contractors every day about their renovation experiences – here are some things we’ve learned along the way.

When things don’t go the way we expect, its natural to be disappointed and even frustrated.  When you’re dining at a restaurant, you expect a waiter or waitress to take your order in a reasonable amount of time and your food to come out warm and taste good.  

But, as we’ve all experienced, sometimes that doesn’t happen.  Things can go wrong at a restaurant that lead to low-quality food or service.  Although we may not be aware of it, the restaurant might be dealing with delayed food deliveries, staff shortages, mechanical problems with equipment, etc.  

Regardless of this, we always expect things to run smoothly and are disappointed when they don’t.  The good news is our restaurant dining issues are easy to remedy. The restaurant manager will usually offer you a new meal or refund your money. Problem solved.

Reality Check: Your Renovation Won’t Be Perfect 1

The same principle applies to our home remodels.  As consumers, we are spending a large amount of money on a renovation and therefore feel that we deserve a high level of service and quality.  This is not an unreasonable perspective, but we neglect to consider the challenges faced by the contractor. 

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Just like the restaurant in the example above and even more so, there are loads of potential issues facing the contractor on your job.  The daily problems faced by contractors that are largely out of their control are almost infinite: workers not showing up, truck breakdowns, traffic delays, material delays, material quality issues, subcontractor problems, equipment malfunctions, surprises hidden in the walls of the home, architect mistakes, worker injuries… the list goes on and on.  And unlike the restaurant example, there is no simple fix.

The point is that remodeling homeowners need to have realistic expectations for their contractors (but not pushovers).  There is some validity to the anecdote that homeowners should assume “the job will cost twice as much and take twice as long”.  Although this is an overstatement, homeowners need to set their own expectations at the beginning that most jobs will cost more and take longer than originally anticipated.  It is worth noting, however, that there is a fine line when it comes to delays and overages. Although a 10-20% delay or project cost overrun is normal with even ‘good’ contractors, a 50-100% delay or cost overrun is not normal and could be indicative of a dishonest or mismanaged contractor.

It’s a Matter of Principle

A friend of mine once ordered custom windows from a reputable local window contractor.  After completion, he was unhappy with two of the windows. He explained to me that these two windows didn’t look exactly like the others.  The contractor acknowledged that the manufacturer they used did seem to make those windows slightly different, but this difference wasn’t noticeable from 10 feet away (the industry standard according to them).  My friend wanted the window contractor to either

  • replace the windows for free or
  • refund the entire cost of those two windows.

The contractor offered to refund 20% or install two new windows, but my friend would have to pay the material cost of the windows.  My friend was enraged. But, when I asked him the pertinent question “Can you live with these current windows?”, his answer was “yes, but it’s the principle I’m fighting over”. 

Reality Check: Your Renovation Won’t Be Perfect 2

This fight between him and the contractor went on and on for months and just lead to further frustration!

My friend’s story is a good example of how things in remodeling, as in life, don’t always go exactly according to plan.  But, as homeowners, we often stand on principle when dealing with contractors and their issues.  We forget to realize that issues arise for contractors which are out of their control.  The best contractors will usually try to ‘make things right’ by offering a discount or offering to correct any faulty work.  

Negotiate a Solution With Your Contractor

In my experience, homeowners are much better off working with their contractor to negotiate a solution where each side ‘gives a little’ rather than digging in their heels and refusing to budge off their principle (even if they know they’re 100% in the right).  If you think about it, that’s the same advice we’d give to our kids when they’re fighting with their sibling (each one always thinks their totally right)!     

Reality Check: Your Renovation Won’t Be Perfect 3

Reach a Reasonable Compromise About Your Renovation

If you have an issue with a contractor, you’re almost always better off trying to reach a reasonable compromise with him/her.  The alternative is invariably a drawn-out battle which is likely to include further delays, lots of stress, a strained working relationship, angry letters/emails, and potentially, even legal issues.  Though you may spend more than you planned ‘based on the principle’, it will usually save you lots of money and stress in the long run.

Ask an Unbiased Third-Party

The best way to determine if you’re being reasonable or not in your specific conflict with your contractor is to ask an unbiased third-party.  Don’t ask your spouse or your best friend; they will always side with you. Instead, ask someone you know who has construction experience: an inspector, a retired contractor, or even an experienced renovator would be helpful. It’ll be helpful to find someone who has the experience to not only give you feedback, but also guidance on a reasonable compromise between you and your contractor.   

When you work with a Greatbuildz contractor, we’ll be by your side every step of your project. From meeting contractors and comparing bids to your final punch list, you’ll always have an unbiased third-party to support you.  Find more resources about specific issues relating to costs, delays, contractor concerns, etc. in our blog. Have a specific question about your renovation or contractor? We can help: Call 818.317.3567 or email us at

Have Questions? – Call 818.317.3567

What is GreatBuildz? We Make It Easy To Find a Great Contractor

Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.

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