by Brian on March 24, 2006

in Only in Israel

It’s common wisdom that you always spend 20-30 percent more on a home renovation than you originally planned. Jody and I were going to be different. After all, Jody’s whole business is about helping people make and stay on a budget. With the right project planning in advance, we figured, there’s no reason we should spend a shekel more on fixing up our new apartment than the numbers displaying on our highly detailed spreadsheet.

How naïve we were…

You know the children’s story “If you give a mouse a cookie…” That’s pretty much how it goes.

When we first bought the apartment, we thought it was just about ready to move in “as is.” We figured we’d redo the bathrooms, as they hadn’t been changed since our complex was built and if we didn’t do it now, it was only a matter of time before the cheap plastic circa 1986-era toilets completely disintegrated.

But once we’d decided on the bathrooms, how could we not redo the plumbing? Indeed, all three contractors we interviewed said they couldn’t guarantee their work if they had to use the original 20-year-old pipes. And if we were replacing the pipes, we’d have to rip up the floors in the bathroom as well as the dining room. So why not put in new tiles in those places?


Now, the dining room is connected to the kitchen and the old counters and carpentry and appliances would look pretty sad on top of all that brand new tile. That’s now a new kitchen became part of the plan.


And how about the stairs – they were chipped and rotting in some places. Or the light fixtures and the doors and the windows…suddenly everything looked old and run down. And as long as we were drilling holes in walls for new electric cables, wouldn’t a surround sound stereo and 37-inch LCD HDTV-ready monitor be nice?

But who’d want to sit in a nice home theater on a blazing hot summer night? Maybe we should splurge and add an air conditioning unit, just a small one…

Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

Before we knew it, we were touching virtually every room in the house and our simple renovation had become a major construction project. It’s not that we’d blown our budget; it was more that our original budget wasn’t realistic in the first place.

I heard once that building or renovating a home is one of the leading causes of divorce. At this point, I can understand why. Jody and I have been on the same page with most of the decisions. But there are so many of them coming in such a short period of time, the stress sometimes becomes unbearable. You have to become an expert in topics only a week earlier you had never even considered.

Such as standing or hanging toilets? Round or square sinks that sit on top of the counter, inside the marble, or half and half? Laser-cut tiles from Italy or Chinese-made cheap ceramics? A 70 or 80-centimeter kitchen sink, in white or silver?  What type of wood for the cabinets in the kitchen, the bathrooms, and the linen closet – there’s cherry, maple, oak or the latest fashion: Brazilian nut. Plus varieties of Formica, veneer and solid wood.

We had to become well versed in the nuances of stair rail design along with the benefits of plain white aluminum vs. green “Belgian” window frames. There were door handles, toilet paper holders, and bookshelves to consider; paint colors and “Magic Corners” to maximize kitchen space to ponder.

Family life started to slip. Work deadlines became inconveniences. The renovation was taking over our lives.

Fortunately, we had help. Early on we found an interior designer over the Internet to guide us. She created detailed blueprints and floor plans that we studied and commented on and changed for weeks. She brought us our carpenter, guided us to the right shops and held our hand while gently pushing us closer to our goal.

It was her recommendation of a contractor who came in with the lowest price (and had the added advantage of being the only contractor we interviewed who spoke a passable English) who we ultimately hired.

We delivered a box of chocolates and a handwritten apology to our new neighbors on the pain and suffering we were about to inflict upon them. And then the noise began. Walls were knocked down, floors ripped up, a constant buzz saw seemed to be cutting things into pieces. All the work we’d seen for years on other people’s construction projects were now happening to us.

It was overwhelming. It was insane. It was expensive. It was a blast.

The project is nearly over now; our move-in date is just after Pesach and our marriage has survived. So in the spirit of helpfulness, if you’re considering renovating your home, here are ten tips that that have worked for us that I hope will come in handy – no matter where you are in the world:

1. Prepare a realistic budget in advance. Choose an architect, designer or even a friend who has done a renovation recently and doesn’t have an unlimited budget and sit down together to go over all the costs. Separate out the construction work from the price of bathroom and kitchen items. Create high and low estimates. Don’t forget to calculate tax.

2. Remember who’s the boss. Contractors love to bark – with absolutely no advance warning – something like: “I need this delivered now. Go and get it for me in the next hour!” You don’t have to go crazy. Remember who’s working for whom. One time, for example, our contractor urged us to let him continue his work late into the night. According to the law, he can work up until 11:00 PM. We said no. We wanted our neighbors to still like us when we moved in.

3. Ride the rollercoaster. The process tends to start with a bang with a ton of work being done up front. Then it slows down. Near the end, you may be calling the contractor rather than the other way around. Recognizing the twists and turns in advance may save you some aggravation on that final plunge.

4. Don’t neglect your kids. It’s very easy for a home renovation to take over every free moment of your life. Taking proper care of your children sometimes seems the easiest task to let go. Pop in a video or let them surf the web and they’ll be happy, right? Don’t let the renovation change your priorities. This home is meant for your family. Don’t lose it along the way.

5. Repeat the mantra: “it’s not just an expense, it’s an investment.” Of course, you can’t spend money you don’t have, but if you keep in mind that what you put in today you’ll most probably get back in the future, it can put the cash flow intensity into perspective.

6. Don’t break the law. It’s very easy to get carried away in the heat of a project to do things for which you don’t have permission from the appropriate planning agencies. You wouldn’t stray from the straight and narrow at other times. Why now?

7. Take pictures. No one else will ever care, but those before and after memories will be part of your family history. If you have a digital camera, you don’t even have to print them. But you’ll have them, if you ever want to “relive” the adventure.

8. Visit daily. Unless your renovation is in another city or another part of the country, make sure you’re on site regularly. The devil is in the details. If you see a wall that’s crooked or a bathroom fixture that’s chipped, speak up immediately. Later on, may be too late.

9. Change the locks on the last day. The police say that more robberies are committed the day after a move is complete than any other time. And it’s – sadly – very often the result of unscrupulous contractors or their workers who have passed around too many copies of your main door keys. If you’re planning on putting in a new front door, save it until the end.

10. Most important: have fun. Easy to say, but it’s true. The details can be overwhelming, but ultimately, this is your home and when it’s all done you’re going to love it. Enjoy the journey!

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