Top 3 Most Common Remodeling Problems & How to Avoid Them

Remodeling your home is a process that carries risks no matter how you approach it. If not done efficiently, you may end up spending more time, money, or effort than originally planned to complete the project. To avoid costly problems when remodeling your home, it’s important to educate yourself on the common challenges you may encounter.

At Lamont Bros. Design & Construction, we work with dozens of Portland homeowners every year to turn their current homes into their dream homes. Part of our job as a full-process design and construction service is to help our clients navigate the risks and challenges of remodeling. In our experience, the most common problems homeowners encounter while remodeling fit into one of 3 categories.

In this article, we’ll discuss the 3 most common problems to watch out for while remodeling your home. With that information in mind, you can be proactive about avoiding those same pitfalls. You’ll notice that all of these issues have one thing in common — they’re all directly influenced by the contractor you hire to do the work. This is why it’s most important that you find the right contractor who will equip you to make informed decisions for your home. The 3 most common remodeling problems you should watch out for include:

No On-Site Authority & Leadership

When it comes to managing a remodel, there are a few different models construction companies may use. One of the most common models uses a lead carpenter to perform or oversee a portion of the work in-house. Typically, the lead carpenter will handle demolition, rough-in carpentry, and trim work. The remainder of the construction tasks, including drywall, flooring, electrical, HVAC, countertops, and cabinetry installation, are typically subcontracted to specialized contractors. Because lead carpenters only perform a handful of tasks, they often split their time between multiple job sites to stay busy.

Another common leadership model uses a project manager to oversee and organize the project. Project managers often oversee multiple jobs at once and are rarely on-site all the time. This is especially true for one-man owner/operator contractors, who often subcontract out most of the construction work and only show up to the job site a few times per week.

On-site authority is important to keeping a project running smoothly.

Why This Can Hurt Your Remodel

Both of these models have a fundamental flaw that can negatively impact the timeline and quality control of a remodel. While a lead carpenter can oversee the portion of the work they do, it’s more difficult for them to have leadership over the subcontractors, especially when a large portion of the labor is done by outside workers.

The same is true for the project manager model. While they may have more authority to oversee the subcontractors on site, the project manager isn’t there all the time. This often leaves the subcontractors to fend for themselves and complete the work without any quality control. Hiring a lot of subcontractors can work well if the project manager is heavily involved in overseeing the project. However, a lack of direct oversight and involvement from the project manager can cause the remodel to become disjointed and inefficient.

This combined lack of leadership and a disjointed build team can also spell disaster for your project timeline. For projects that rely heavily on subcontractor work, the schedule is entirely at the mercy of the subcontractors’ availability. It’s common for the site to sit empty for days or weeks waiting for the next team to come in and complete their work. These days add up to weeks or even months of lost time as the remodel progresses.

What’s The Solution?

At Lamont Bros., our team has remodeled hundreds of homes across the Portland metro area. From our years of experience, we’ve found some key solutions to mitigating quality control and project scheduling issues. Primarily, we do this by combining constant on-site leadership through our remodel superintendents with oversight and authority from project managers to coordinate the work.

Our project managers oversee multiple jobs at once, providing necessary administrative leadership support. Meanwhile, our remodeling superintendents serve as the on-site leadership for one project at a time. As a result, our teams can perform most of the remodel work in-house. We only subcontract out a select few trades. Because of this, our jobs average an actual completion date within 3.3 days of the original schedule since the start of 2022.

No matter what contractor you choose to work with, you’ll thank yourself later for making sure that they will provide project leadership that is always present, informed, and equipped to handle your project. This will ensure that the construction team has a clear direction that puts the project’s vision first.

It’s also important to consider working with a contractor who has their own in-house carpenters. By providing labor through the remodeling company itself rather than outsourcing it, most of the workers on your project don’t have to wrestle with each other’s schedules to get the job done. Plus, project managers can take a more direct role in quality control with their own teams. At Lamont Bros., our on-site carpenters are skilled craftsmen with strong leadership abilities. We make sure each one is qualified to manage the day-to-day operations of their projects.

Rushing to Construction Without Proper Planning

Another one of the most common problems homeowners encounter when remodeling their homes is beginning the construction project without an adequate plan in place. Oftentimes, contractors will pressure homeowners to begin a remodel without fully understanding the scope of the project. They expect the homeowner to design the project as they go, filing change orders to the original agreement when necessary.

During remodeling projects like these, it’s common for the construction team to encounter unexpected problems with the home that require extra work. It’s also common for a homeowner to change their mind about something after construction begins. While it’s certainly possible to change the project mid-way through construction, it’s typically much more costly and time-consuming to do it this way.

Properly planning a remodel reduces the risk of finding surprises once construction begins.

Why This Can Hurt Your Remodel

There’s a common fear among homeowners that surprises could derail the entire project. “What happens if we open up a wall and discover something that will increase the cost of the project?” In remodel construction, surprises are a bad thing.

When builders encounter something they didn’t expect during the build process, there aren’t a lot of options for the homeowner at that point. You can’t go back and undo the work that’s already been done once your home is disassembled. Usually, the only reasonable option is to eat your losses and move forward. You’ll have to change the scope of the project and pay more money to complete it. Worse yet, many unscrupulous contractors will intentionally overlook issues within the home at first and plan to issue a change order at a higher markup later on.

Unfortunately, high-cost change orders can often be the consequence of inadequate design work before a remodel. Perhaps your build team discovers that a wall scheduled for removal is load-bearing when it was originally thought not to be. Or maybe the team discovers that the foundation is cracked and suffering from water intrusion. These surprises are often simple details that could have been identified with a little more planning and design work.

What’s the Solution?

Though it may seem like a no-brainer, the best way we’ve found to avoid surprises during a remodel is to thoroughly inspect the home and plan the remodel before ever beginning construction. Yes, it takes more time to get the project started. However, if you take the time to plan the project appropriately, you’re less likely to be slowed down by surprises later on.

Be wary of contractors who push you to begin construction as soon as possible and expect you to file change orders as the project progresses. Planning a remodel as you build it is an inefficient and time-consuming approach. Instead, work with a contractor who has a thorough, clearly-defined design process. It should address the scope of work in detail and potential concerns and challenges that may arise during construction. Their goal should be to identify and neutralize surprises before beginning the actual build portion of the project.

Lack of Budget Control During Project Planning

In a remodel, the scope of your design is directly tied to the total cost.

When remodeling your home, your project’s cost is directly tied to the scope of the design. This means that when the scope increases, the cost does, too. Therefore, controlling the cost of your remodel is about knowing how to fine-tune the scope of work. By doing so, the project will match your budget range.

There are usually two major cost decisions during a remodeling project. The first is a question of feasibility — “Can I even remotely afford this right now?” Before exploring your options or planning a remodel, you want to know if it’s even in the ballpark. This is what we would cal the initial budget.

The second is a question of hard numbers — “How much will it cost to complete my remodel.” We arrive at this number after designing a project and pricing out the cost of labor and materials it will require to build a specific set of design. We call this the contract price.

Why This Can Hurt Your Remodel

Unfortunately, many contractors out there don’t have an effective budgeting system that accurately estimates the remodel cost during design. It’s common for this to cause problems late in the design stage for a remodeling project. A contractor may start with a low initial budget, only for the project to increase in cost as the design progresses. In the end, you end up with a much higher contract price.

We’ve heard horror stories about project estimates more than doubling throughout the planning process. One notable example was a client that approached our team at Lamont Bros. after having a negative budgeting experience working with general contractor and separate designer. This client wanted to build an addition to his house and initially had a budget of $350,000. However, at the end of the design process, the contract price had ballooned in cost to over $650,000. At that point, the client chose to part ways their contractor and hired Lamont Bros. to help them design an addition that worked with their budget.

In cases where the contractor can’t effectively budget, the homeowner ends up designing an amazing space that they can’t afford. In the end, their options are to either increase the budget to pay the final price or re-design the space to meet the budget. It’s a waste of time and money due to a poor budgeting process.

What’s The Solution?

It’s nearly impossible to avoid every instance of inconsistency between the initial budget and the final budget of a project. However, at Lamont Bros., we’ve found that the most effective approach is to have a company-wide budgeting system that centers the client as the main decision maker.

When selecting a contractor, it’s important to find one that has an effective, predictable, and accurate budgeting system. This begins with a standardized budget based on historical project cost data that is kept up to date as the costs of goods and services change.

It’s also important that your remodeling contractor provides someone to act as your guide throughout the process. There are hundreds of decisions to be made during the course of designing a remodel.

Each decision will have some effect on the project budget; some big, some small. It’s important that you are equipped to make informed decisions for your remodel. Oftentimes, homeowners need a guide who understands the technical side of remodeling. This expert can help you understand how each decision you make will affect your project. At Lamont Bros., we call these guides “Design Consultants.”

Curious to Learn More About the Design-Build Process?

After reading this article, you should now have a better understanding of some of the most common remodeling problems and what you can do to avoid them. One of the best ways to ensure a successful remodel is to hire the right people to build it. If you’d like to know more about how design-build process helps homeowners just like you remodel their homes, check out our Process Page.

Ready to start discussing your project with a design professional? Click the button below to schedule a free video meeting with one of our design consultants. We’ll help you navigate the challenges of remodeling so you don’t have to face them alone.