Every renovation comes with a steep learning curve. To help would-be reno’ers identify the biggest pain points before they pick up a sledgehammer, we’re talking to real homeowners about their greatest renovation lessons and what they would do differently the next time around.

Meet Rachel Yeager, a Toronto-based marketing professional and real estate investor.

Seven years ago, Rachel and her husband Mark had the foresight to look east at a 50-year-old bungalow with a lakeside view in Prince Edward County. The first-time cottage owners yearned for a place to escape outside the city and planned to split their time between the two properties, occasionally renting to vacationers to help make the home financially viable. With their family, friends and rental guests in mind, the couple cut their teeth in renovating for the first time.

Photo: Rachel Yeager 

“Most of the rooms were closed off to the view of the lake, so we set out to open it up, make it bright and maximize the gorgeous views with an open-concept space and big windows,” Rachel explains.

“We definitely learned a lot taking the house down to the studs to give it a new lease on life,” she goes on. “I knew that we were making rookie mistakes.”

1. Build timelines into the contract along with the payment schedule

Photo: Johnny C.Y. Lam

“Our contractor verbalized timelines to us rather than having them on paper and they were way, way off,” the homeowner tells us.

Rachel discovered contractors may be willing to lower the price if you’re a smaller job, or looking to save money. Just know you won’t be top priority as they juggle your home with others.

To avoid disappointment when timelines take longer than expected, Rachel offers this nugget of advice: “Look for someone who is a good communicator and willing to be honest and up front about how long it will realistically take. If you get a lot of promises that seem too good to be true, this could become a source of frustration in the long run.”

Getting it down on paper helps to keep your contractor accountable and gives you a paper trail to adjust expectations as needed.

2. Shop around for quotes

Photo: Rachel Simpson 

“It’s also worth it to spend the time getting a couple of in-depth quotes,” Rachel suggests. “Even if you are leaning towards working with someone, you can learn a lot from a second opinion and you may be surprised by things you had never thought of before.”

3. Get a one-year warranty from your contractor

Photo: Rachel Simpson

“It’s not unusual for little hiccups to occur post-reno, so ensure your contractor provides a warranty,” Rachel advises. “One year if possible, as it takes time for things to settle and you will notice changes with the seasons and weather fluctuation.”

Luckily, the couple did have a warranty, which came in handy when their faultily-installed shower faucet caused a leak in the laundry room and ultimately mold. The wall had to be ripped out and replaced, but thankfully, not at their expense.

4. When it comes to selecting finishes, think in the long-term

Photo: Rachel Simpson

Budget was top of mind in the process and Rachel was savvy—refurbishing a vintage chest of drawers for the bathroom vanity and saving on high-impact tile from the Restore, for example.

But when Rachel installed laminate over hardwood in an attempt to save some dollars, she learned a valuable lesson in where to splurge and where to save.

“As a contractor recently said to me, you install hardwood floors, you will have them in your home forever. You can refinish them but you won’t replace them. Laminate on the other hand generally looks good for 15 years max, depending on wear and tear. Then they are usually replaced. Over a 25-year period, the hardwood floors are less expensive per square foot.”

Photo: Johnny C.Y. Lam

Ultimately, the experience sparked a love of design and renovation for the homeowner. Rachel’s most recent labor of love has been renovating the The Library Pop-Up Shop, a bookstore on Main Street – and now – pop-up space for local businesses, in support of the Prince Edward County Library expansion project. Adorable tile on the floor spells “County Up.”

While lessons were learned along the way, Rachel is ultimately thrilled with the end result and being able to see the glistening lake from anywhere in the home. She tells Livabl, “Every time I walk through the door, I’m still awed and humbled by it.”

Photo: rachyeegs/Instagram

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