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photo from our condo renovation in st joseph michigan

Renovating any sort of home is a big project with lots of pitfalls and possibilities for something to go wrong. However, as we discovered when I recently bought and renovated a 1960s era condo in Michigan, there's a bunch of special considerations that you need to deal with when doing construction projects on shared space like that.

Is it true that we learn best from our own mistakes? I've certainly stumbled through my fair share during our condo renovation, from underestimated budgets to ill-communicated plans. Now, I've compiled my hard-earned wisdom into a guide for you. After all, who wouldn't want to bypass the chaos and head straight for success? Trust me, there's a whole lot more to this story...

I didn't experience troubles with all of these but there were a few close calls. Regardless though, here's some quick notes to prepare you for things to avoid.

Top 10 Mistakes To Avoid When Renovating a Condominium

MistakeHow to Avoid
1. Underestimating Costs Always budget for more than the project's estimate to cover unexpected costs. Get multiple quotes and add a contingency of at least 20%.
2. Not Hiring Professionals When Needed For tasks that require specific expertise (like electrical work, plumbing, or structural changes), always hire licensed and experienced professionals.
3. Ignoring the Home's Overall Style Ensure your renovation plans complement the existing style and architecture of your home to maintain consistency and appeal.
4. Over-improving Consider the value of similar homes in your neighborhood to avoid spending on renovations that don't increase your home's value proportionately.
5. Skimping on Quality Invest in high-quality materials and workmanship for long-term savings and value. Cheaper options often cost more in the long run due to repairs and replacements.
6. Inadequate Planning Take the time to plan every detail before starting. This includes design, materials, timing, and how the renovation affects your living situation.
7. Neglecting Permits Always obtain the necessary permits for your renovation project to avoid legal issues and ensure the work meets local building codes.
8. DIYing Complex Projects Know your limits. DIY can save money but can also lead to costly mistakes if you're not experienced in the work you're attempting to do.
9. Ignoring Functionality Focus on improving both the aesthetics and functionality of your space. Consider how changes will affect your daily life and ease of use.
10. Underestimating the Time Required Renovations often take longer than expected. Plan for delays and be flexible with your timeline to reduce stress and ensure quality work.

Following these guidelines can help homeowners navigate the complex process of renovation and make the process smoother ... probably a bit less expensive too!

Under Estimating The Time It Takes To Get Things Done

Renovation projects often take considerably longer than initially planned, so it's important to factor in extra time in your timeline. During my condo renovation, I learned this the hard way. I had underestimated the time it would take to get things done, and boy, was I in for a surprise!

One of the biggest mistakes I made was not accounting for the time required for permit acquisition. The bureaucracy can be slow, and it really threw a wrench in my project timeline. Then there were the material deliveries. I had not anticipated delays, from supplier issues to delivery snags, that could occur.

Another aspect that took more time than expected was the coordination between different contractors. I had imagined it to be a smooth process, but there were long periods where nothing could get done because another party was waiting for something to be completed. For instance, the painter couldn't paint till the drywall was finished being patched up, which couldn't be done till the electrician did his work. The synchronization of schedules and tasks was more of a juggling act than I had expected but we managed to make it work without any major issues.

My word of advice here would be that if your contractor says "six weeks" ... assume you are looking at a minimum of 10 instead!

Not Factoring In The Unexpected Costs

Just as a ship sets sail with extra provisions for unexpected storms, you should begin your condo renovation journey with a contingency fund to handle unexpected costs. I didn't realize the magnitude of this mistake until faced with a slew of unforeseen expenses. Once again, we did a pretty good job of planning and so this didn't hurt us ... but we were significantly over budget based not just on the planned scope - but by us adding things that we wanted to get done as well as the cost of dozens of small tasks that just added up over the course of work.

When setting the budget for your project, it's crucial to factor in unexpected costs. In our case, we encountered a handful of unexpected issues early on escalated our renovation budget but managed to make things work out. These are expenses that you can't predict, but you should definitely prepare for.

The practical approach would be to allocate 10-20% of your total budget to a contingency fund. This might seem like a hefty amount, but trust me, it's a lifesaver when you're knee-deep in the renovation process and an unexpected cost pops up.

Being underprepared financially can lead to a lot of stress and can compromise the quality of your renovation. So, it's better to be safe than sorry. Remember, your condo is your sanctuary, and it deserves the best. Don't let unexpected costs deter you from creating your dream space.

Not Interviewing Multiple Contractors

While preparing for unexpected costs is an important aspect of planning a condo renovation, it's equally critical not to overlook the step of interviewing multiple contractors. This was a mistake I made in a couple different situations, though luckily, things worked out pretty well with our heating and AC guy. While I probably spent too much - his bid was fair and I had the understanding that there was a difference between the expensive guys with the fancy presentation, wrapped cars, uniforms etc. and the smaller independent contractors more focused on simply getting things done so that they can get to the next customer.

What I learned here, though, was really a twofold situation. The first part is that our relationship - both from a trust perspective as we as the understanding of his abilities is essential to pick the right guy for your general contractor. In our case, Jerome was awesome and I consider him a friend now. His guidance was always spot on and he always told us his honest thoughts (even when we maybe didn't want to hear the bad news). However,. for some other contractors he let us make the decisions though we ended up coming back to his recommendations more times than not.

Interviewing multiple contractors gives you the opportunity to compare their expertise, communication styles, and pricing. Whether it's insulation companies or heating and air installers or something else, each contractor brings a different set of skills and experiences to the table, which can greatly influence the outcome of your condo renovations. Meeting with several of them allowed me to assess their understanding of my project requirements.

By not doing this initially, I limited myself to a narrow view of what the renovation could be. I missed out on potentially better ideas, techniques or cost-saving measures that other contractors might have brought to my attention.

Moreover, by requesting quotes from several contractors, I got a more accurate picture of the range of costs for the renovation. This helped me plan my budget more effectively, and avoid any nasty surprises down the line.

Failing To Have A Long-Term View

Another error I made during my condo renovation was not considering the long-term view. This is essential for maintaining the property's value and appeal over time. I was so engrossed in the excitement of the renovation project that I focused more on the present than the future. This can lead to decisions to spend a few hundred dollars less on things like flooring - but may result in materials that need to be replaced sooner.

In the real estate world, it's important to think about the long-term value of your property. For us we decided to spend more on things like the floor, shower, and AC/Heater to have things that were going to last and give us a premium experience no and 10 years from now too.

Crucially, align your renovation plans with your long-term goals for your condo. Not doing this can be a significant oversight. Remember, we're creating a space for our future selves to enjoy. By keeping a long-term view in mind, you'll guarantee your condo renovation brings lasting value, functionality, and appeal.

Not Following The Plan

On top of overlooking the long-term perspective, I also found myself straying from the original renovation plan, which turned out to be a costly mistake. Deviating from the detailed plan caused unnecessary delays and confusion, leading me down a path of common home renovation mistakes. This failure to stick to the plan resulted in extra costs and rework. I didn't realize then, changing design elements midway through the project could cause such setbacks.

While it is crucial to make on-the-fly changes, especially when new, exciting ideas pop up, it is crucial to resist. What seemed like a minor tweak spiraled into a lack of cohesion in the final outcome. I can't stress enough how important it is to adhere to the original plan. It not only streamlines the renovation timeline but also keeps the budget in check.

In retrospect, the mistakes I made were costly, but they were also great learning experiences. If you're planning a renovation, remember, sticking to the plan is one of the surest ways to avoid deviating into chaos and extra costs. I've learned the hard way so you don't have to.

Ignoring Rebates On Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Overlooking rebates on energy efficiency upgrades is a mistake that can cost you significant savings in a condo renovation project. During our renovation, I failed to factor in these rebates, and it was a missed opportunity that I deeply regret.

Making eco-friendly upgrades can seem challenging due to initial costs, but the potential for long-term cost savings and rebates can greatly offset these costs. If I had considered these rebates, the overall cost of our renovation would have been reduced considerably.

Here are some key points to remember:

  • Many utility companies and government programs offer rebates on energy efficiency upgrades.
  • These rebates can substantially decrease your renovation budget.
  • It's important to research and apply for these rebates before starting your renovation.
  • Cost savings from rebates can make eco-friendly upgrades more affordable.

I urge you to take advantage of these opportunities to not only save money but to also make your condo more energy efficient. You can usually find these listed on your electric utility company's website or just call them up and ask. This not only benefits your wallet, but it also contributes to a healthier, more sustainable world.


Renovating a condo can be a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. Trust me, I've been there. But, with my hard-earned wisdom, you can avoid the common pitfalls. Remember, factor in extra time, plan for unexpected costs, interview multiple contractors, think long term, stick to the plan, and don't ignore those energy efficiency rebates. It'll save you stress, time, and money. Learn from my mistakes, and your condo renovation will be a smoother, more successful journey.

Written by:
#MenWhoBlog MemberBlogging GuruThought Leader

James' passion for exploration and sense of duty to his community extends beyond himself. This means he is dedicated to providing a positive role model for other men and especially younger guys that need support so that they can thrive and be future positive contributors to society. This includes sharing wisdom, ideas, tips, and advice on subjects that all men should be familiar with, including: family travel, men's health, relationships, DIY advice for home and yard, car care, food, drinks, and technology. Additionally, he's a travel advisor and a leading men's travel influencer who has been featured in media ranging from New York Times to the Chicago Tribune, and LA Times. He's also been cited by LA Weekly "Top Travel Bloggers To Watch 2023" and featured by Muck Rack: "Top 10 Outdoor Journalists for 2022".

He and his wife Heather live in St Joseph, Michigan - across the lake from Chicago.