The worst and most damaging mistake you can make when renovating or building

What’s the worst and most damaging mistake you can make when renovating or building? Read on to learn more …

It’s a rather dramatic title for a blog, but what I want to discuss today is super important – and I think will really help you prepare, endure and survive (and even thrive from) a reno or new build much more successfully.

I’ve noticed lately that certain posts and discussions get great discussion on Undercover Architect’s social media platforms. What are these posts generally about?

They acknowledge pure stress of renovating or building (and give tips to navigate it).

It seems to be a topic that is discussed broadly and glossed over … for many reasons. However, in the spirit of always taking an honest, warts-and-all, in my conversations with you, I believe it this topic warrants more conversation.

So what’s the worst and most damaging mistake I see homeowners make when renovating or building?

Underestimating how stressful your journey can and will be.

I’m making a few assumptions here …

Some homeowners choose to create or transform their new home from arms’ length. They outsource all work involved, make decisions and choices when required from the professional assisting them – be it an architect, builder, or team of people. Nothing wrong with that – that’s their choice.

However, if you’re like most of my readers though, that isn’t you.

  • You like to be involved in the process – even driving certain parts or most of it.
  • You appreciate expert assistance where you know it adds value and makes a difference to your home.
  • As with other times you’ve taken on projects or challenges in your life, you want to be informed and educated.
  • It’s YOUR home, and for you to feel that you’ll get what YOU want, you want to be an integral part of the process of creating or transforming your home.

I often have homeowners saying to me “We’re motivated, fairly intelligent people who like to research and be informed – and we’re finding this really hard! How do people who don’t explore and research like we do manage this?”

The fact that you do want to be informed and involved, and research the process, means that you are AWARE.

And in your awareness, you will uncover more options, more choices – which mean more decisions are required of you.

The difference (to use an analogy) is this. You’re either standing at the beginning of a road that’s fenced on either side, leading you to a destination.

Or you’re in the middle of a paddock and need to get to the same end point. You know the basic direction you have to travel in. You have to figure out whether it’s better to go over the hill, or through the forest … or along the creek … or a combo of all three. Or to find your way to the road and go from there.

Those that blissfully march through this process under strict guidance and limited outcomes will not even know that so many choices exist. That’s how they manage it. That’s their journey and it works for them.

You are different.

You are aware.

I like awareness. I believe it means you’re invested.

And I believe this is the best way to maximise every opportunity you have to make a home that works and is perfect for you.

Don’t be surprised

One thing that continues to surprise me – even in all the years I’ve been doing this – is how surprised homeowners are that building or renovating IS so stressful.

Even when we’ve renovated our own homes, I’ve been surprised at how stressful it is. Even with all the information and education I have KNOWING how stressful it would be before I started … I was STILL surprised when I got into the midst of it and was completely suffering those stressful experiences.

I’m not sure if it’s a case of self-preservation … like first-time parents tell each other “but our child will be different” … when seeing a friend’s screaming, non-sleeping, clingy child is enough to scare anyone into celibacy …

You say “Our experience will be different”. I know – I’ve said it myself. Ha haaaa.

Why’s this mistake so damaging?

When you pretend something isn’t significant, or you’re taken by surprise (or even shocked) that it happens … then you’re ability to navigate it is seriously handicapped.

What happens to me when I underestimate stress (and I’m speaking from personal experience here – no clinical expertise!) is this … I’m annoyed at myself for not ‘doing a better job’ of managing things. I work harder (not smarter) at trying to push through it. I take it out on my hubby, my kids. My fuse gets really short. Everything suffers.

Instead of accepting it – and then working out an action plan to get through it – I bulldoze it or ignore it. My experience is that stress doesn’t go away when you do either of those things.

What does work? Preparing for it, processing it, and progressing through it.

What I won’t tell you

If you want someone to tell you that renovating or building is easy, please stop reading now. Leave my website. You won’t find that information here. In fact, I’m completely frustrated and fed up with the “overnight successes”, “renovating/building is the easiest way to make big bucks”, “it’s super easy” approach to renovating and building.

I will however, tell you that it can be made simpler. And I firmly believe that if you KNOW about what’s in store for you, you can be KINDER to yourself and PREPARED to manage it (and yourself) effectively.

The reasons why renovating and building can and will be stressful

So let’s take some time to explore the journey of building and renovating. This is a list of 8 reasons why renovating and building is a stressful experience.

  1. Every project is different

Even as an architect, with truckloads of new homes and home renovations under my belt, I know this for sure – each and every project comes with its own unique challenges and issues.

If you’re renovating … your existing home will have its own individual character, construction nuances and surprising personality.

If you’re building … your land, your locality, your plans for your home will have their own characteristics.

The team you put together – their expertise, experience, methods of working and ability to help and communicate with each other and you – will make your project different to others.

And of course, you are the biggest wild card in all of it! You, your family, your own requirements and needs are uniquely yours. Of course, there will be consistencies with other homeowners building or renovating their homes. However, your personality, the way you deal with situations, communicate and live, will all have an impact on your project – in both how it evolves and the result you produce.

  1. Things will go wrong

It’s inevitable. As with everything in life. Even the most experienced renovators and builders make mistakes or have unexpected disasters. Life gets in the way … distracts you or complicates things overall.

  1. It will take time

Unfortunately, life is not like reality TV. We don’t get 24 hours with countdowns and tradespeople who are willing to work around the clock for peanuts, and shouts of “tools down” where everyone collapses in joy and high fives.

If you’re champing at the bit to be in your finished home, it can be thoroughly demoralising to experience delays – even when they’re expected. Council can delay you, you could take longer than expected to get the design right, it can take a while to find the right builder, and then you can hit the wettest weather in 50 years.

Like with anything worthwhile, it will take time (and effort) to get to the finish line.

  1. It may feel like it’s monopolising your life

It’s the all-consuming nature of renovating or building that can really overwhelm homeowners. Sometimes the big decision to start a renovation or build is the simplest one … because then there’s thousands of small decisions that need to be made after that big one.

Meanwhile you have a life to lead, a job to keep going, a family to raise. It’s not only the fact that you’re disrupting where you live, you’ll also be disrupting how you live – because you have to squeeze this in between all your other commitments in an already busy life.

  1. You probably haven’t done this before

Well, except vicariously from your lounge chair in the mountains of renovation and building TV you’ve watched. And even if you have – refer back to item 1!

  1. It will cost money – hard earned, or keenly borrowed

This can be the most stressful part. Renovating and building can feel like you’re profusely bleeding money – even if you are within your budget and managing your finances really well. Seeing the money leave your account in big chunks, almost racing away from you, really can impact how you feel about the project overall.

  1. It is where you will live, raise your family, spend most days and nights in the foreseeable future.

There’s a lot at stake. This one is much more subconscious – in that it’s not what I hear homeowners talking about readily, but it’s at the core of what drives most fears and concerns about everything else.

Because ultimately, the whole reason you’re embarking on this stressful journey is because you want to create or transform your home so it’s a better, more beautiful, more peaceful place for your family to live. That’s a big deal. That’s important. That’s why this matters. So of course, delivering this can be stressful.

  1. It is emotional – this is about dreams, hopes, memories and a sense of identity and accomplishment.

I know from personal experience what an emotional rollercoaster building and renovating can be. You can swing from nervousness, fear and overwhelm … to joy, satisfaction and exhilaration … very quickly – and then back again.

In fact it’s not a rollercoaster – I find it’s a cycle. It goes around (and around and around) in circles – and sometimes it can take you a while to get around the cycle, and other times you can roll around it within a 24 hour time frame! It’s the highs and lows of renovating and building.

Your home is intimately personal. When something is so personal, of course it is emotional – even to the most stoic of us.

You can do this

How can I be so sure?

  1. You’ve worked hard for what you have accomplished so far.

You’ve done lots of things for the first time and figured them out. You’ve achieved success and overcome big challenges elsewhere in your life. This is no different.

  1. I’ve got your back

Even if you have no budget for architectural support and design assistance, please read my blog. My commitment in this business is always that anyone can access great information regardless of their budget – even for free. My blog is designed purely to help you, guide you and support you in your journey – and it costs nothing.

And of course, if you do want some architectural assistance, I have a range of packages to support you – as your coach, designer or auditor – you can choose.

  1. You are a clever bunny

You know what? You’re already miles ahead of most novices who attack renovating and building like bulls at a gate … scared and nervous they make decisions quickly, take bad advice, and miss golden opportunities to make a great home.

Give yourself a pat on the back for the research you’re doing. You’re honing your skills and abilities to make this journey you’re about to take, actually lead to the home (and life) you truly want.

Here’s how to manage the stress of renovating and building

  1. Accept it will be stressful

Seems odd, but I think in being aware that it will be this way will help empower you to manage it more effectively. Be kind to yourself.

  1. Build in buffers

In your time and your budget – and in your life. It is and will be a project – so try to dedicate attention to it like you would any project. Put activities into batches if you can. Get a jump start on decisions. Get friends to look after the kids for a weekend, and head to the local homemaker centre to make as many decisions as you can in one hit. It will be an exhausting weekend, but it will be done.

If you’re renting or living with friends whilst this work is occurring – make sure you have some room in those arrangements incase your completion date is delayed.

If you’re renovating, build 15-20% contingency into your budget. If building, build 10-15% in. Why is it less when building? Because you don’t have the surprises an old house can throw up as it starts to get peeled apart.

  1. Give yourself a break

It can and will monopolise your life whilst it’s occurring. It will seem to consume every conversation you have with friends, family and your partner. Like when you’re pregnant, everyone you speak to will offer you unsolicited advice, or a horror story of their (or someone they know) experience.

Take some time out. Even if it’s an afternoon in the park with your kids, a day at the beach, an evening at the movies … where conversation about the reno or build is strictly off limits.

  1. Get some support

I believe you’ll generally need two types of support … someone to vent to, and some expert advice. I’m happy to help with both! My social media is a great place to ask questions, or make comments, and I respond to every comment and query.

  1. Remember your why

This is THE most important part of this whole process.

There will be a reason why you even started this journey – why you embarked on this crazy adventure. It will be bigger than a leaky roof, or needing more storage, or another bedroom, a newer kitchen, or even a new family member.

Connect with it. Know it intimately. Your big picture goals about the life you want for you and your family – and where your plans for your home fit into that – it will be your sustenance in your journey.

A final word from my own experience

Our own renovations were always about helping us build a financial nest egg that would enable us to make the move to a home in the Byron Hinterland … one day.

We made truckloads of mistakes. Even with all of my industry experience, there were still unexpected challenges and times when we made silly choices or missed things. Throw in 3 young children, our careers, living in the homes whilst we renovated, and sleep deprivation – things are bound to get hairy every so often.

And when I was neck-deep in dramas, little sleep, mess and chaos, and things going wrong, it was really difficult to keep motivated. To be honest, the last renovation where we turned a 100m2 home into a 400m2 home, almost undid us. We bit off far more than we could chew, and chewed really, really hard to get through it.

However, now we are here, living in our dream location and enjoying our new lifestyle, I know that our ‘why’ was crucial in keeping us going.

I’m really careful about the promises I make at Undercover Architect, because integrity and honesty are incredibly important to me. 

I CAN promise you this …

It may not be easy, but when you get it right, it will be SO worth it.


And I’m always in your corner.

Other blogs you may find useful for your project …

What makes a family home work now, and always? Here’s my tips.

These are the top 6 reasons I hear to not use an architect – is your reason in here?

This one is about some of the lessons my fave reno taught me.

How do you choose a good builder? Here’s some suggestions.

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