Couple embarking on home renovations.

How To Survive Home Renovation Stress: 5 Strategies

Carey Chesney8 minute read
October 05, 2021

So, you’re thinking about updating your abode. What an exciting time! Visions of your dream house float around in your head as you think about all the ways you can change your “good enough for now” home into your “forever” home.

While this can be a fun exercise, it's important to remember that house renovation stress is also very real. Maybe you're concerned that moving is the better route and renovating your home won't get you exactly what you are looking for. But maybe that feeling is counterbalanced with a feeling that you like where you live and don’t want to compete with other buyers in today’s competitive housing market. 

At some point, most homeowners reach a point where they decide they’ll either need to renovate their home or move. If renovation is the route for you, understanding the stress that comes along with it is a critical component of making it as smooth a process as possible.

Why Home Renovations Are Stressful

The reasons are plentiful, unfortunately. Concern, anxiety and serious stress can come from a number of different places. But understanding a few of the more common sources and how to combat them can set you up for success.

Loss Of Sanctuary

For many of us, our homes are our sanctuary from the world. The consistency and familiarity they bring provide an important respite from the rigors of daily life. The calmness most of us feel at home is an incredibly important part of maintaining good emotional and mental health.

At times, renovations can interfere with that inner sense of calm, even when they go as planned and the results are just what we are looking for.

Loss Of Control

Even with the best-laid plans, things usually get moved around or bumped off track. As a homeowner doing renovations, we are at the mercy of a contractor’s schedule, or can face complications when dividing workloads between spouses or partners on a DIY project. This can make us feel helpless at times – a major source of stress.

Loss Of Privacy

Part of our home being our sanctuary has to do with the privacy it provides. Having a bunch of people in your home, even if they are as friendly as can be, can infringe on that sense of privacy.

Concerns Over Finances

Home renovations are rarely cheap, and with any big purchase, stress can creep in. What’s more, this large purchase also has a moving target in terms of cost, further adding to the uncertainty and stress. When the plan changes and the budget increases, our blood pressure usually rises with it.

Unexpected Emotional Triggers

Renovations to a home can unearth emotional attachments among family members, either to the past or competing visions of what the renovations must accomplish for the future. This is often something people overlook when planning, so the surprise element when they arise makes them even more difficult to address and overcome.

Relational Stresses

Not surprisingly, relationships can be strained during the renovation process. Maybe one family member pushed the idea of renovations more than another, setting up an imbalance from the start in terms of happiness with the vision.

Or, unforeseen road bumps such as contractor delays, cost overruns or interpersonal conflicts during a DIY project make things feel daunting enough that the light at the end of the tunnel seems faint.

Physical Effects

Losing their sanctuary for an extended period of time can make it difficult for homeowners to fully relax at home. This can be a serious strain on our physical health. In addition, for DIYers, underestimating physical limitations can be a frequent cause of injuries or fatigue.

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Strategies That Help Combat House Renovation Stress

OK, enough with the drawbacks, let's get into what we can do to combat them. Each situation is unique, as are the stress reduction strategies that will work for each individual, but here we will look at some common strategies that just might work for you.

Agree On A Mission Statement And Understanding Of Constraints

A sense of purpose can go a long way when combating the stress of a home renovation. Be clear upfront about the projects’ purpose. Some common motivators are increasing resale value or satisfaction with the living situation but yours might be different. Whatever they are, define them and agree on them in the beginning.

Then, put it in writing so you can reference it later. Include what the purpose of the renovation is, as well as your goals and how much time and money you’re willing to spend. This will help ground decision-making and prevent any upgrades or changes that may be unnecessary or unaffordable.

Prepare A Budget And A Schedule That Assumes The Worst

Reality home remodeling TV shows have a habit of glossing over the many pain points of a renovation, so don't make that your only source of ideas and expectations. Be sure to investigate all the possibilities, particularly if you’re planning a large DIY project. Determine what financing options are best for most home projects and why (for example, a cash-out refinance or a home equity loan).

Finally, always assume the project will cost more and take longer than you can predict going into it. That way, you won't be surprised if things go awry and you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they don't. 

Be Honest With Your Partner And Yourself About What You Will And Won’t Do

It’s very important for spouses, partners, roommates, etc. to be very honest about the strengths and weaknesses of everyone involved, and what each party can contribute to the project. For example, some homeowners may need to consider moving out during the renovation if they require peace and order in their homes. If that’s the case with you, be sure to factor this into your timeline and budget.

Decide Whether To Hire A Contractor Or DIY

First off, honesty about time and monetary constraints will be crucial to making this decision. It’s also critical to have a very good assessment of DYI capabilities among you, your friends and family. If you feel like in general you have more money than time, then hiring the right contractor (more on that below) will reduce the stress of a home renovation. If you have more time than money, DIY might be the better choice.

Delegate Decision-Making Authority According To Strengths And Passions

Consider starting with a long talk among all the stakeholders about how to delegate final decision-making responsibilities according to each person’s strengths and passions. If one person is more interested in getting the exact right paint color than the other, give them the final decision making on that choice. If another person is better with understanding the household finances, let them be the final decision maker on budget projections and possible increases.

Managing The Stress Of Working With Contractors

Delegating work by spending more might seem like the easy way out, but it’s not without possible headaches. Working with a contractor can come with its own set of problems that working with the right contractor can alleviate. Bottom line: Make sure you choose the right one.

When Choosing A Contractor

Once you have decided on vision, budget and timeline, choosing a contractor to bring your dream alive is the most important decision you will make. Don’t take it lightly, and consider the following strategies to make sure you get the right person for the job.

Research

Online reviews can be helpful, but they need to be seen in context and checked out. Don't just rely on internet chatter – it can actually be misleading sometimes. Call any references personally.

When you call references, be ready with your list of questions instead of just trying to wing it. Was the contractor punctual? Were they transparent? Did things stay on schedule? Is the end result what the client was looking for? These are all the types of questions you will want to get answers to.

Verify

When it comes to the paperwork that shows the person you are entrusting with the job is legit, don't take anyone's word for it. Verify that the contractor’s bonds and insurances are up to date.

Why? For one it says a lot about their integrity, but if a contractor fails to pay their workers or those of a subcontractor, you, as the homeowner, could be responsible and subject to a lien on your home.

Communicate

Clear communication with a contractor is a must, which may seem obvious, but shouldn't be overlooked. Think about how they communicate with you during the research phase and assume that will be a pretty good representation (though not perfect) of how they will communicate while they are doing the work. However, in any service business, sometimes the communication is top notch when they are trying to get the job and then falls off a bit once the contract is signed. This is a good thing to gauge when calling references by asking “did the communication and tone change after you signed on the dotted line?”

Trust

You are about to embark on a time-consuming, costly and emotional journey with your contractor. Therefore, trust is of paramount importance. Many renovations could reveal something unexpected and unpleasant, and there might be cost overruns.

Homeowners that trust that their contractor is honest and looking out for them will feel a bit of comfort if these issues arise. Homeowners that don't have that trust will allow every problem that comes up to lead to suspicion and argument, which almost always means more time and money.

When Working With Your Contractor

So, you’ve chosen the perfect person for the job. Awesome! Now it’s time to think about the nuts and bolts of working with them to ensure a positive outcome.

Hire A Dedicated Project Manager

Many contractors work as their own project managers, but having a dedicated project manager can greatly reduce the communication challenges between contractors and homeowners. If possible, have the contractor designate a point person on their team that you can continually communicate with.

Move Out, Or Give Them Space

There are some serious advantages (for both parties) to simply being out of the house as much as possible while the contractor is at work. Afterall, avoiding the noise and mess created by renovation can be a key to better mental health during renovations for the homeowner.

For the contractor and their team, do you think having you there looking over their shoulder the entire time helps? Not so much.

Managing Your Expectations Of DIY Renovations

So, you’re thinking of going the DIY route? Good for you! Saving time and money and taking pride in working on your own home can be very fulfilling.

That said, it’s not without its own set of stressors to look out for. Let’s look at a few of those so you don't get blindsided by them once the work is underway.

Time Constraints

DIYers who work full-time jobs and also plan to complete major home renovations need to be realistic about how much time they'll really have to work on the project. If possible, take time off from work so you're not essentially working two jobs during renovation.

Either way, build in rest periods between phases of a project to recharge.

Physical Limits

Even if you think you have the time and energy, your body may not cooperate with the additional physical demands needed for a successful DIY renovation, particularly if you aren’t used to that level of physical stress. Listen to your body and don't push it too far.

Working Together

Relationships can be hard under perfect circumstances. During a renovation? You guessed it, they can be much harder. Establish some ground rules before taking on a project together to maintain peace and mutual respect.

The Bottom Line: Home Renovation Is Stressful, But It’ll Be Worth It In The End

Home renovation is often stressful, but having clear rules and expectations can alleviate much of that stress and put you on the path to your dream home. And remember, research and prep are critical, especially when it comes to finances.

A good place to start is by learning more about home improvement loans and selecting the one that’s right for you.

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Carey Chesney

Carey Chesney brings a wealth of real estate sales and marketing experience to his buyers and sellers as they navigate highly competitive markets. Carey and his wife Ilze work together as Realtors® in Michigan.