Vacation home remodeling

3 Vacation Home Remodeling Mistakes to Avoid

It’s the end of the summer. You’ve been using your vacation home for the last few months, and while you’ve enjoyed every minute with your family, there are also a handful of things you’d like to change, and you’re considering remodeling altogether. A new kitchen? A retiled powder room? Those bedrooms the kids used to use but now seem outdated?

There are a few seemingly minor improvements that would make it so much better when you come back next year. But, you’re worried: If you go about making these changes, will you actually be able to use your vacation home next year? You and your family don’t live or work anywhere near your vacation home. You can’t personally supervise the work. You’re getting ready to leave the property for the next six or seven months, and above all, you’re worried about the essential risk in any second home renovation: “Will my house be ready when I want to use it again?”

At Your Home Concierge, we’re committed to helping shore homeowners and their families relax at their second homes, rather than worry about them. To that end, here are three mistakes to avoid when renovating a shore home, along with some tips to avoid each mistake. As always, our advice will blend data along with our over 30 years of experience. 

Mistake #1: Under-Budgeting Time and Money (or assuming the original budget and timeline will be the final budget and timeline)

Explaining the Mistake

This advice isn’t limited to shore homes: cost overruns and project delays are everyone’s biggest fear headed into any renovation.  A big tip of the hap to Brian Potter of Construction Physics for the following data:

These general problems tend to be exacerbated at the shore because remodeling a vacation home tends to be more expensive than remodeling a primary residence. This is driven by a couple of factors:

  1. The homes and the land tend to be more expensive. Let’s take a look at Avalon, NJ—one of the markets that Your Home Concierge recently began serving. According to the Zillow Home Values Index, as of July 2021, the average value of a single family home in Avalon was around $2.1 million. At the same time, a single family home in Bryn Mawr, PA—a mainline Philadelphia suburb where many Avalon homeowners maintain a primary residence—was around $750K. 
  2. Construction costs are higher. Labor is more expensive because it tends to be more scarce in vacation communities than around cities and suburbs. And materials cost more as well. Part of the appeal of vacation communities is that they’re somewhat inaccessible, whether on a barrier island, a mountain top, or a remote lake front. If it’s a hike for you to get to your vacation house, then you can bet it’s similarly challenging, and therefore more expensive, to transport materials.

TImeline delays are exacerbated by some of the same reasons: more unpredictable labor and more difficult supply chains. Moreover, the customer is often not on the ground, adding in a unique layer of management complexity to a shared home renovation. 

How to Avoid

Most people know that it’s impossible to perfectly estimate the cost or timeline of a renovation ahead of time. There are just too many unknowns until all the walls are literally opened up. Our advice is to hire a contractor who you trust to be a skilled risk planner. 

It’s not reasonable for you, the customer, to view your initial contract as a fixed budget and timeline. While you should absolutely approve any change orders in a contract, you should understand that a budget and timeline are dynamic tools. But even as you need to remain flexible, you should force your contractor to give you as much clarity as possible about where the cost risks are, and what his or her plan is to control those risks. More plainly, ask your contractor these four questions before signing your contract, and check back in on the same questions every couple of weeks:

  • Where do you see the biggest 3-5 cost risks in this project?
  • Where do you see the biggest 3-5 timeline risks in this project?
  • How are you planning for these risks?
  • How will you communicate with me when we know more about these risks?

Finally, and this might be the most important advice in this entire blog: Be very clear with yourself and your contractor about whether you absolutely want to use your shore home by Memorial Day next year. If so, make sure that you have a tremendously conservative timeline—one that can accommodate for lots of unforeseen errors—and push anything extra until after the following summer. If it’s more important for you to get all the work done than it is for you to use the home next summer, then you can be more aggressive. 

Mistake #2: Hiring a Person and People, Rather than a Team with a Leader

Explaining the Mistake

A renovation isn’t just a skilled carpenter doing beautiful work. A renovation is a project involving many stakeholders who are ideally pulling toward a common objective. That said, if you’ve ever been to a job site, you know it’s easy to forget that folks are supposed to be pulling in the same direction. 

To get a bit more academic, Carnegie Mellon’s project management for construction class teaches that design and construction are a single “integrated system” with multiple interconnected, contingent, and complex tasks. 

If you just hire somebody because you think he or she is a good carpenter to be your general contractor, you’re overlooking what’s most vital about the role: He or she not only has to be a great craftsman, but a great leader—one who turns design into construction by leading a team comprised of the designer and contractor, as well as electricians, plumbers, framers, painters, and so on who will ultimately execute the job. 

Too often, homeowners fail to test their general contractor’s leadership ability before signing a contract. If there is a needless timeline overrun in your renovation, it’s likely that it’s caused by a breakdown in communication between the contractor and designer or an inability of a contractor to properly line up skilled trades. 

As mentioned above, such mistakes are made worse when renovating a second home because you won’t be there to personally supervise anything. 

How to Avoid

Simply put, it’s imperative to screen for whether or not your contractor (or your designer/contractor team) are just skilled craftspeople or good leaders as well. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you’re working with a designer-contractor team, ask for any references of customers who’ve dealt with that team in the past.
  • Meet with the contractor and designer independently and ask if they have any issues with their counterpart.
  • Ask your contractor how he or she manages projects. What software? How do they communicate with subcontractors? 
  • Ask your contractor about their team. Does he or she talk about them as a team? 

Mistake #3: Viewing the Renovation as a One-Time Transaction that Ends When You Move Back In

Explaining the Mistake

It’s easy to view a renovation as a project that ends when you move in. But living in your revamped home and enjoying the space with your family and friends is the most important part! With companies that only do major construction, this challenge becomes most salient when you get down to the punch list. You just want the last handful of tiny things done so you feel great in your home, and your builder needs to get moving on the next big project. 

How to Avoid

There’s a common theme to all of this advice: Ask ahead of time! In this case, ask your contractor:

  • How they deal with punch list items
  • If they or a partner provide ongoing maintenance or home watch services

Your Home Concierge is your team of local, trusted, and responsive home experts that provide top-notch home watch and home concierge services. Everything from changing a lightbulb, to opening your home next summer, to renovating your kitchen—we’re the single, full-service company you can call. Contact us today to learn more about our offerings!

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