How to avoid the renovation doldrums – SheBuilds

My Home Renovation

Unlike The Block or Renovation Rumble, where high octane performance levels are sustained with all-nighters and one week entire house renovations, it’s more likely your renovation will be completed at best within 6 weeks.  However be prepared for something more like two to six months or (gasp) longer.

You’ll hit the wall a bunch of times and feel lost at sea – in the doldrums just as much.  This was my experience during the recent Frankston renovation.

Demolition felt like a massive achievement, it was great to see all the structural carpentry repairs done and then it felt like the whole job ground to a halt until plaster could go up.  It seemed to take forever to prep before painting and then ages were spent just to prepare the floors for sanding.

“Finishing” almost broke me.  A myriad of tiny jobs and a never ending to do list seemed to be replenished with another list at the end of each day.

My advice is to simply expect during your renovation that there will be a number of periods where motivation will stagnate, dilemmas, decisions, budgets and delays will get you down.

You’ll feel like the renovation will never end, that all your effort in planning and preparation was wasted (it wasn’t it would have been worse if you hadn’t done that) or that you are busting your butt for no result.

But with some forethought, planning + emotional resilience you’ll get through.

PS – if you don’t nail that emotional resilience opt for forgiving yourself.  I lost my s*#t at the end of my renovation.  It was crap at the time but with a few weeks under the belt and the first rental payment in the account I have a better perspective on it.

Top 3 Renovator Headaches

1) Tradie delays

You know the ones, I’ll be there Wednesday, but they arrive the following Monday.

Or they arrive but they don’t have a part and you have to come back.

Or the job isn’t ready so they leave and go onto some thing and someone else’s job.

Or another trade needs to do something first before they can continue.

Or they just don’t answer the phone.


How to deal with Tradie Delays:

  • Give your trades an overarching time frame for the job at the start (on paper – preferably in a pictorial format like a graph) blokes are good with visuals.
  • Break it down by week and ensure that the order of the trades is correct (that’s another entire post!).  That way they at least have the ability to plan their schedules in relation to other jobs
  • Keep in contact, even a text to say you are on track and definitely need them on Wednesday or whenever.  Tradies prefer txt msgs to emails (if they are under 40) or a phone call if they are over 40.
  • Get over any reluctance to call them especially if you are delayed and you need to put them off
  • Identify barriers before they start.  Is there a critical task to consider? For example do power or gas have to be off or another trade has to be finished before they can do their work.  Are there materials you definitely must have on site before they can start?  Be on top of this stuff.
  • Pay promptly or better yet early – on time payment of trades bills is your best guarantee to keep them hopping, if you are a lazy payer you’ll only ever get lazy tradies (its karma).
  • Don’t have them on an hourly rate, it incentivises them to stuff around, get fixed price quotes for a package of works and don’t enter into hourly rate arrangements.


2) Bullshit and bluster

The blame game is common in a renovation and could be played out between your tradies or between you and them.  Generally it’s a he said she said game of incorrect materials orders, quote v bill budget dramas and instructions gone awry when things go wrong.

You are doing so much that inevitably you too will drop the ball or miscommunicate where you want that feature light.

Similarly sometimes you’ll just get it wrong, you’ll miscalculate your paint order and have to do another god damn Bunnings trip.

The tradies will  be frustrated because they have to repeat work, it may throw them out for some other commitment or cause extra costs.

The flip side of this is one trade will tell you one thing and another trade will tell you a different story about the exact same thing, you are left in the middle trying to work out who is right, often with out the skills or experience to do so.

Worse still, you’ll get guys trying to bluff you and tell you more work is needed than it really does.

Or they’ll try to get you to choose the most expensive path or the easiest path for themselves, telling you something can’t be done.  They may attempt to use your inexperience or perceived lack of knowledge (based on your gender) to bullshit you.


How to deal with bullshit or bluster on a renovation site

  • Accept that it’s going to happen, people’s egos are involved!  If you can predict and accept it, you’ll be less surprised, disappointed and frustrated.
  • Focus on the solution and engage the tradies in helping you find one.   Ultimately the time and emotional energy you’ll spend assigning blame, redressing financial wrongs and dragging your butt back to Bunnings is wasted.  Finding a solution is a way better way to spend your time.
  • If this doesn’t work, call in an expert to circuit break the situation.  If your renovation is running seriously off the rails and you have tradies arguing and big dollar blow outs happening an independent inspection by someone like Jim’s (I’m the Director of Jim’s Building Inspectors so I have an obvious bias) can help get your renovation back on track.  This can also help if you suspect tradies are attempting to bullshit you.


3) Renovation preparation work and shitty little things

There are two major times in a renovation when time seems to slow ‘picnic at hanging rock’ style.

You’ll be either prepping a surface like walls and ceilings for painting or floors for sanding or you’ll be drowning in a list of teeny tiny tasks that feel like they’ll get the better of you.

Generally this looks like seemingly covering the same area again and again, or not being able to see the progress you make moving from first coat to second coat of paint.


How to get on top of renovation prep work and all the shitty little things:

  • Call in the help.  If you are doing prep work alone it will seem like eating an elephant, you’ll maybe feel like you are never going to finish.  Get some help in.  Airtask it, call a family busy bee or put on pizza and beers for your friends to help you get through it.


  • Multitask; I love podcasts. I got hooked with that one by This American Life about Adnan Syad.  Check it out especially if you like a good mystery or true crime.  You can go either way with this one, upbeat inspiring podcasts about intentionality in your life; like The Lively Show.  Something to keep you on track in your business Tim Reid, Small Business Big Marketing or maybe go for a fiction option like an audio recording of Games of Thrones.  Is there such a thing?  Its like how to recreate and renovate at the same time or educate and renovate or ….


  • Consider it meditation.  I had to remove what seemed like five thousand tiny staples from our old timber floor before we could sand it.  If you don’t remove any metal protrusions they just rip the sander.  After that I moved line by line across an entire living, kitchen, dining, laundry and master bed floor working plank by plank with a hammer and a nail punch to smash each nail down about 2-5mm (that’s three decent whacks or four to six ‘chick sized’ taps of the hammer on every single nail head).After that I retraced the path adding wood putty to each divet.   A job like that can send a lady mad.


  • Lists :  When struck by overwhelming sense of never being finished just work your list, cross it off as you and go and add to it, you will eventually whittle it down and there may be some things you have to let go.  Things you’d like to do but that don’t add functional or financial value.



And finally, sometimes, you just have to know when to draw the line and call a job finished.  Sometimes the effort expended in getting to perfection is not worth the reward, especially when renovating for profit rather than love.

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About Suzanne Commerford

Suzanne has stepped out from behind the desk of Australia's largest home inspection business to build the skills, confidence and independence of women to tackle maintenance and home improvement projects around the home.

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