Emily & Aaron's Condo Renovation: Real-life Lessons from a Real-life Renovation

Emily & Aaron's Condo Renovation: Real-life Lessons from a Real-life Renovation

Renovation Diary
Nov 11, 2014

Name: Aaron and Emily Choi
Type of Project: Full remodel, including the kitchen and two bathrooms
Location: La Jolla, California
Type of building: Condo; 1300 square feet

We've been following along with every step of Emily and Aaron's condo renovation, witnessing their home's transformation from crumbly 70s time capsule to beautiful, modern new space. And now that all the dust has settled, they're sharing with us the lessons they learned along the way.

Now that the project is over and you're looking back on it, what are the most important lessons you learned through the remodeling process?

  1. When we were interviewing contractors, we were so desperate to find someone that could fit us in and start right away that we didn’t think to include a schedule in our contract. That was probably the biggest mistake we made on this project. Because we didn’t have a schedule on the contract, getting them to finish the job by an agreed upon date was like pulling teeth. There are a lot of great things we can say about our contractor, but unfortunately finishing on time was not one of them. I would say the whole project took 1.5 months longer than anticipated.
  2. Don’t be afraid to tell your contractor you’re not happy with certain details and have them do it over again. They don’t have to live with it, you do. (My contractor told me that!) Our tile guy messed up a couple times on our fireplace. and after the second time I just wanted to be done with. Now I wish I had said something, because every time I look at my fireplace hearth I think to myself “why is this herringbone pattern rotated at 15 degrees?”
  3. When I was in architecture school, we were told that construction projects have to always negotiate between time, quality/design and cost. Rarely can you have all three your way. I think that helped us prioritize and have perspective during this process. It’s easy to get frustrated by a delayed schedule or not finding the right material, but if you remind yourself to look at the bigger picture, it’s easier to make the next decision.
  4. Splurge a LITTLE. This might sound crazy but it’s your home, after all. We were so concerned about coming out on top when we sell this place in a few years that most of our decisions were bound by the budget we set for ourselves. Now, looking back, the things that I splurged on, like the bathroom tiles, the farm style sink, and the customized furniture, make this place our own. We don’t regret spending a little bit more here and there if it’s something that we love and treasure.
  5. Black flooring is impossible to keep clean, especially with a puppy!

If you were to do this again, what would you choose to do differently?

After this project, I’ve learned a lot about how to work with contractors. A project this size has a lot of components, and it is nearly impossible to itemize everything on the initial contract, which gives room for interpretation and misunderstanding. If I were to do this again, I would be more vigilant about the contract and demand more communication with the general contractor. Sometimes the subcontractor will offer to try it multiple ways for you to decide, but it’s the general contractor that will charge you for the time. I also think spending a little bit more time in the beginning planning out everything could have sped up the project. We were in such a hurry to start construction that a lot of decisions were made right before they needed to be made. Had we figured more details out in the beginning, it would have saved more time and heartache.

Did your schedule go as planned? What took more time than you thought it would? What took less time?

After we demoed and restructured the stairway, there was a lot of patching up that needed to be done. I was surprised by how long it took to patch up drywall and retexture, something that I had never thought much about. The stairway also took a lot of coordination, mainly because it involved three subcontractors: the flooring guy, drywall/framing guy, and the railing guy. When you have multiple teams working on the same area, it can be chaotic and time consuming. The parts that took less time than I had anticipated were installing the tiles in the bathroom and the cabinets in the kitchen. The fan shaped bathroom tiles were done in a day!

What is your next project going to be?

Like most of the other renovation diaries alumni, we will be sitting still and replenishing our savings for a while. Truthfully, there will always be something that needs to be done. The stairway down to the garage needs carpeting, the master shower needs a glass door, and the garage could use a new coat of paint and storage. In the meantime, we are just happy getting settled into our newly renovated home.

Any other final thoughts?

Thank you for the opportunity to share our renovation story here. It’s been a pleasure sharing our experience with a like-minded community that also cares about and values home design.

This concludes Emily and Aaron's renovation diary. You can check out the full series to see the whole renovation process, step-by-step, or you can explore all of our Renovation Diaries.

The Renovation Diaries are a new collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

(Images and diary text: Emily and Aaron Choi)

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