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Advice for HomeownersNew Builds & RenovationsOne bad decision pays for the designer

Should you leave town during your renovation?

By 06/13/2024July 15th, 202415 Comments

Planning a big home renovation and thinking about living somewhere else temporarily, or even going on vacation during installation? You’re not alone! BUT choosing whether to stay or leave town during a major renovation is a crucial decision that can make or break your project.

I’m sharing some renovation disasters that will make you think twice.

Should you leave town during your renovation?

Honestly, I can’t believe this is the first post I’ve written about this. However tempting it may be to go away and escape the mess and chaos of a renovation…

That is a hard no, IMO.

hard no gifs | WiffleGif


Because as many project managers have learned and reported, ‘You get what you INSPECT, not what you EXPECT.’

There are only two circumstances where you could leave town.

  1. If you have a designer whom you already love and trust (ie you’ve worked with him/her before), who will be micro managing the contractor and trades every step of the renovation. 
  2. You don’t care about the details, you’re just happy you’ll have a new kitchen/bathroom/basement/house.

Happy endings don’t just happen

Years ago I met a couple who told me this story about their renovation. They too went out of town to their summer home during a 6 month major renovation. When they came home they were so upset with everything that had gone wrong, they sued their designer and spent the next two years in court.

If you don’t have a designer back home managing all the details, no one and I mean no one will care as much as you. And it’s not even that you care more, it’s that you want to make sure that all the plans and details you’ve laid out actually get executed. 

Your contractor can’t read your mind

After all, your contractor might ‘care’ but he didn’t make all the choices, you did. So you’re going to have the plan in your head, he is just doing what he’s told. 

You might not know anything about construction, but you will still have opinions about everything that is happening and you want to make sure the least amount of mistakes happen that you either have to change at a cost or regret forever.

For example, you didn’t make a decision about which grout colour so the tile guy made it instead.  Or one number was off and now because you weren’t there to see it go in, it’s wrong, FOREVER, unless you painfully get it taken out.

So what does it take for everything to go perfectly?

Every time I lead one of my workshops I ask my students if they’ve ever had a renovation go perfectly. In 15 years only one person has ever raised their hand. A designer who said “I’ve been doing this for 25 years. My trades do everything the way I want, they know me, I know them, my renos go perfectly”. A rare unicorn indeed.

And that’s it.

You have to be able to predict how every single thing is going to look BEFORE it gets installed. Only a very experienced designer can do that.

The reason why you never like the house you’re about to buy is because no one managed the details. And when it comes to homes, EVERYTHING good or bad all hangs on the DETAILS.

I asked for some stories on Instagram and I have a few of my own to share on my YouTube channel this week! And I think you’ll enjoy this whether or not your planning a renovation!


Share your renovation stories

And I’d love to hear your stories too! Please post them below! Should you or should you not go on vacation? What other lessons have you learned after going through a renovation? I’ll write a post with the best stories next!


If you’d like to learn how to create your dream home I have two virtual workshops coming up this Fall, register here.

For the Design professionals and those of you who want to create a side hustle GETTING PAID to do what you love, Dallas is for you, register here.

Related posts:

The Best Grout Colour for White Tile

5 Kitchen Design Details that Matter; Before & After

Do’s and Donts for Installing Accent Tile



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  • KL says:

    I agree with this advice, although I didn’t take it myself… We renovated our home from 17 hours away in a different state with no direct flights 9 months of the year. Just doing one onsite walkthrough would have cost us thousands of dollars, not to mention the health risks as this happened in the middle of the pandemic. We relied instead on full service project management from our architects/designers (they bundle design services in, but their skills are in architecture first; I ended up DIYing and micromanaging the actual aesthetic decisions from a distance). They only did monthly site visits but kept in contact with the GC.

    Was it perfect? Nope, we have some outlets in very strange places (even though I specified most of their locations, I didn’t tell the electrician to put it near the baseboards instead of counter-height or TV-height) and basement wall heaters in locations I wouldn’t have chosen. But it was realistically the only way we could have accomplished this gut reno which left our house unlivable for months (raised roof, reframed larger windows, etc.) and was planned as part of a big interstate move. In the end, it was worth it; I still LOVE living here even with the renovation quirks.

  • Jill Buckingham says:

    My husband and I are avid DIY people I had a new vanity to install and told him to take out the old one ready for the new one, I was on my way to play tennis and walked past the main bathroom where I noticed he was messing around, what are you doing I ask! removing the vanity! not that vanity the one in the ensuite! Phew, that was a close one.

  • Maryanne says:

    Never, Never,Never!

    Having done numerous installations for both my self as well as clients, it is always imperative that you remain on site throughout the entire install.
    This not only helps you as well as your contractor understand the project at all times as well as being able to answer any questions or concerns that can arise during the day.
    Mwhite Design Inc.
    ( The Garden)

  • Liz says:

    We lived in our house during a 6-month, five-room renovation and extension add-on.

    Dust and noise all day, six days a week, for six months.

    And everything was finished on time, to our standards, because one of us was always there to triple check the work.

    If we do a reno again, however, I would rent someplace nearby and stop by the reno house daily. That was far too much noise and mess to live with for that long.

  • Bette says:

    Lots of lessons learned the hard way, through several renovations and one large addition. Every single thing that you think is obvious is, of course, not obvious to anyone else. I specified the location of every outlet — but not the height. The paint color I meticulously chose for the bathroom walls was done in semigloss, rather than the eggshell I wanted (that was redone — I hate semigloss). — but who knew to specify? The floor tile in the bathrooms was laid 90 degrees off from the direction I wanted — and the plain, simple, subway wall tile was stacked rather than staggered (fixed, but only because I walked by after two rows and stopped the insanity). When I decided I just could not deal with another contractor decision and allowed him to choose the marble door sills without my okay, he picked the ugliest possible ones, out of spite, I think. Still living with those. The lesson is: Force yourself to be present for every decision, no matter how sick of it you get.

  • Deb says:

    After our house burned to the ground in 2017, we were able to rent a house nearby (thankfully). I was able to fast-walk to the house site in 4 minutes, to monitor the construction, usually twice daily. Was able to ask a lot of questions and had good communication with the contractor. My regular visits stopped the tile from being installed in the wrong bathroom -among other things! I had never built a house or had a major reno, so all this was new to me at age 65. I found Maria through my never-ending research- thank goodness. Timeless is the way to go-since I don’t plan on doing this again! No matter how good the communication is with the contractor, the subs can still get it wrong. Definitely recommend regular visits to the job site!

  • Cheryl says:

    Marie’s advice goes double if you are building a new home. Being on-site each day to catch problems ASAP will go a long way to keep costs down and jobs on schedule. The sooner you find a problem, the better, especially if the subcontractor hasn’t been paid yet. They are motivated to return quickly and fix the problem. Here’s some examples we ran into on our build:
    – We arrived on-site to find that the subcontractor had left early and didn’t insulate the garage floor for in-floor heat (which was being installed the next day). We called the contractor, who had them return to the job site and finish the garage to keep things on schedule.
    – We were told the trusses for our home didn’t have adequate space for the furnace ducts, so the HVAC guy and our contractor wanted to lower the ceiling on half of the house. (If we didn’t show up that day, that’s what they were going to do.) We met with the HVAC guy three times and finally came up with a good solution to avoid changing the height of the ceilings.
    – Just before the first floor was going to be sheetrocked, I noticed the wall for a pocket door was askew. I sent pictures to the contractor. He arrived first thing the next morning with two guys to rebuild the wall.
    – Set aside time each day to clean up after the subcontractors. Having brooms, a shop vac, and several garbage bins on site is a big help. (Then you won’t be wondering if they sheetrocked over that trash between the studs.)

    • KJG says:

      Very good advice on monitoring the trash. We went so far on a new build as regularly using a shop vacuum, especially on sawdust and drywall dust around edges of the room. What you don’t pick up can infiltrate your house over the years through airflow. Think of those dark carpet edges around a room.

  • Kim says:

    I agree 100% with Maria’s advice. We were building a new home and stayed in an apartment 1/2 mile or so down the road. I was there twice a day and thankfully so. Stopped by once to find the kitchen tile being applied to the walk-in shower walls. I immediately put a stop to that and called the contractor who was off site. He had the tradesperson take that tile off and put on the correct tile. Luckily I’d ordered enough extra of both tiles. There were other issues, but that’s the worst one.

  • Linda says:

    I could write a book about what I have learned about Reno’s and new construction.
    In our case, we had a “perfect storm” situation.
    In retirement, we wanted to split our time between New Orleans, where we purchased a condo, and another state, where we already owned a lot. We began renovation on the condo in January, 2020, with the expectation that the Reno would be complete and the condo would be set up by the time we broke ground on the house in June, 2020. At the time, this was a realistic expectation since the same contractor in New Orleans had just completed a similar Reno in the unit above ours in 5 weeks. It was my intention to be in New Orleans throughout the Reno.
    The first challenge arose when we learned that we had to replace the HVAC system. This was a special system that had to be custom-built. Progress stopped for a month while we waited for the system to be built, delivered and installed. The week that I planned to return, I came down with what I believe was a mild case of Covid-19. (Test kits had not yet been developed). By the time I was well again and ready to return, the Covid shutdowns had begun.
    Work on the condo had to be done without my presence. Now progress slowed to a near stand-still, because it was difficult to get the subs to come out. As things eased up, we began making occasional trips to check up on things. There were a few missteps, but they were fixed. And then the contractor hired the carpenter to do the painting. A bad paint job can ruin a good remodel, and that’s what happened. A year and 4 months later, the contractor had not completed the reno. We paid him what we owed him, fired him, and took over the job ourselves. The main work is completed, we have moved the furniture in, and the unit is livable. But there are still outstanding projects that we need to finish.
    Meanwhile, back at the lot, which about an 11 hour drive from where we were living, construction began in June, 2020. When we signed the construction contract, it was our understanding that the contractor would be the project manager. After we signed the contract, the contractor’s adult son moved back home. The contractor decided to make him project manager for our project, even though he had never done this work before. There is no indication that our contractor made any effort to train him. While the materials I selected were installed in the proper rooms and in the way I specified, there was no quality control performed. The subs seemed to be aware of this, and they took advantage of the situation. We moved in in late November, 2021. Once we moved in we discovered a multitude of problems. As of June, 2024, we are still waiting for some of the punch list items to be resolved. The contractor is resolving them, but he is clearly not making any effort to get them resolved in a timely manner. The quality of some of the craftsmanship has been so poor that my poor husband has had to go behind the subs to repair their work. His current project is to re-grout the tile in the master shower. It is currently not usable, because grout is missing in large areas. The on-going stress of all of this is wearing us down and putting stress on our marriage.
    Please, please be present when you are paying someone to do construction on your property. While it is still stressful, it is so much easier to catch problems as they occur (and before the subs are paid!) rather than after the fact!

  • Michelle Abbott says:

    Totally agree with the advice! Countless little and big things come up that need to be addressed as soon as possible. I’m retired so was able to be home while our contractors did work downstairs. It was loud, noisy and hectic but I’m so glad I was there. The only exception was when the wood floors were sanded and stained. We were away on vacation while during that, but our designer checked in to make sure all was well.

  • Christine Kwasny says:

    We have done numerous renovations and just completed the build of our new home. You have to be involved. End of story. When building renovating you MUST: 1) visit often and 2) document everything.

    We were on site at least once per week during the rough construction, and at least one time daily as the finishes were completed. The builder told us we were “too involved”. There is not enough time to list all the details that were changed or not implemented correctly that we caught at the start and were able to be changed relatively easily and either for free or for a nominal change fee.

    Besides being “too involved”, the best thing we did was DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!!! Every single detail. Every discussion. There are millions of details and decisions that can be forgotten (or “forgotten”). Without documentation, you can be left either 1) very unhappy; or 2) both unhappy and looking to pay big bucks to change a “mistake”.

    Best example, of the above: the delivery of our floor tile. We ordered a classic oak. A rustic, aged barnwood was delivered. If we weren’t onsite to see this immediately, it would have be installed. In the entire house. Think that would have been replaced after installation??? No way. I had thorough documentation via a spreadsheet that specified every tile for the house including manufacturer, style name/number, color, size, lay pattern, grout size and color, and source. This was included in the finalized tile contract with the builder. There was zero push-back from the builder about replacing the incorrect tile that was delivered. But without the above, this would have been a massive disaster.

    While it was exhausting, I am so happy with our home. Every detail. When I didn’t feel like fighting, visiting, or documenting I just remembered that the process was temporary, but the result is forever. And I am so happy that everyday I don’t see cringy sourvenirs of “mistakes” around my home.

  • Julie S says:

    This is all the more reason why we rarely hire out jobs that our home needs, and ALWAYS are present for the work being done! Mostly when updates need to be done, we do it ourselves because we are detail oriented with a small budget, and between the two of us have collected a wide range of renovation skills over the years.

  • Vicki says:

    I agree it is always better to check a site daily but we are building a new home with production builder and things with them are not as easy as when you contract directly for say a Reno or a custom build. We were not supposed to talk to any of the workmen directly if we saw something we thought was wrong—we had to go through channels. And there were some things we were able to get/upgrade and pay for in initial construction but we also had our favorite electrician come out yesterday to go over what we want done after we close and take possession. We are adding some outlets, changing out some light fixtures. The builder added pre-wire for island pendants but they don’t install them. They added blocking for grab bars in showers but won’t install grab bars—but there were reasons why we went with this builder vs another that over-rode other negatives.

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