Here’s How To BEAT The Homeowner’s Emotional Reno Rollercoaster



Emily and Brian made it to Portland. I am so happy. It is going to be great having them nearby. Emily’s exuberance and passion for every little treasure and Brian’s kind and funny observations are such a joy to be around. Of course, they probably are not all that enthused at this point. Their lives are in boxes, in mud, dusty and dirty while making sure their kids feel somewhat stable and sheltered. What a challenge they have taken on!

The emotions associated with remodeling tend to follow a path that I share with many clients to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel, including Emily and Brian. So, they asked me to share what I told them with you.

I have a lot of compassion for people that go through these experiences. My favorite representation of the emotional ride that most experience is this chart:

It is surprisingly accurate. So, brace yourselves 😊

1. Excitement

When I meet new clients for the first time, they are both excited and nervous, letting complete strangers into their home, telling them about their goals and dreams, being self-conscious about the state of their home, and trying to gauge these strangers’ personalities… what a moment. The first meeting is almost like a first date.

Clients want to get to know us and feel that they are being heard. Hiring the Design-Build firm you jive with is extremely important. You will know a lot about each other by the time the project is over. How do you know if you can trust these strangers with so much?

Our approach is to leave our egos at the door, focus only on the clients, and filter our thoughts through the gauge of what would we do if we were them, considering the house, their goals, and their financial situation?  

And then there is experience. Let’s be honest, in construction one can fake it quite easily; it is not like we are doing brain surgery. Be sure to check up on CCB numbers and references. Not hiring an experienced team might seem like the less expensive route to go, but it can snowball into a nightmare quickly.

I tell my clients that feeling comfortable telling us their concerns and not worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings helps us all move the project in the right direction. We are lucky at ARCIFORM because we have worked with each other for so long that we can banter in front of the clients about our flaws and strengths, which makes it possible for them to get to know a little bit about us right away.

2. Reality Is Mind-Boggling

Unlike the chart above, we tread very lightly during the design process, way before final estimating, to be sure we align everyone’s expectations with reality while not hampering dreaming and the creative process. As so often is the case, money takes the fun out of things, and we try to address this hurdle head-on and not wait until the working drawings are all done to find out we have outlined a project that is too expensive.

Not to be too hard on reality tv, but I must say, the numbers they run for construction costs during their home improvement shows make me roll my eyes. They leave out half of the costs and one cannot purchase supplies for the prices they quote.

My Impression Of A Reality TV Remodel Budget:

Plans & Specs Free
Project Management, Acquisitions & Delivery Free
Permits What?
Demo Free
Waste Disposal Free
Framing ???
Heating Cooling Plumbing Electrical Why talk about that?
Windows and Doors Free
Insulation What?
Drywall ???
Flooring Free
Cabinetry, Counters and Tile Free
Millwork ???
Painting ???
Plumbing & Lighting Fixtures Free
Appliances Free
Furnishings Free

Sometimes we might be a bit too straightforward about the costs of things since some clients want to be left in the dark as to how much they are spending, but we rather have this difficult conversation early on.

We run preliminary designs by our construction team and our trusted subs as soon as possible.

Then we have “The Talk.” This is when the first emotional crash happens. In my mind, it is the hardest.

The Dream

design by catalano architects

The Reality

image source

But once we move beyond it, we can make informed decisions from here on out. As I hear so often, construction is a game of averagesOne thing may go great or cost less and then the next takes longer and gets spendy. Overall, we come out right where we’re meant to.

3. Shopping

This is euphoria for some and an identity crisis for others… or both. We make as many of the decisions before we do the final estimate and start construction to control costs and timeframes. Choosing what goes where, how big to make a window, which light brightens which corner, which lightbulb puts out the most flattering light, which tile pattern makes you the happiest… there is so very much to consider.

For the best results, the space plan, shapes, and volumes, all the finishes, fixtures, case goods, windows, doors, millwork, hardware should be considered in context. We take it one step at a time, circle back, document it all, and wrap it up in a tidy package.

4. The Dirty Work!

Now that we know what we are building and for how much we are feeling good. Construction begins! Yes! Finally, we get to see things taking shape.  –  Hold it! What! Noise, dust, destruction. Strangers in my house at 7:30 in the morning. For how long did you say? More strangers? My house is being temporarily supported by what?

Our clients are champions of flexibility? From doing the dishes on their porch in snowy weather to…

having microwave and barbeque cook-offs with our carpenters.

We often build temporary kitchens in basements which have their own “charm”:

There are times during construction when it seems nothing is happening. Electricians are monkeying around in the basement for days, parts are broken and need to be reordered, one carpenter is sick and now the domino effect of rescheduling causes frustration. And the sheetrock dust – no matter how many protective measures we take, the fine dust sneaks through and will find a way to settle where it is not welcome. This is all so normal, and I am so thankful for the project managers, site leads, and carpenters for focusing on the tasks at hand, keeping their cool, shuffling and sorting and keeping everyone informed.

I wanted to bring in another perspective, so I asked my friend of almost 30 years what she remembers unfavorably from the many years she had Arciform remodel her home:

“I’ve been remodeling my house for over twenty years, starting with structural issues like dry rot and drafty windows, then moving on to more creative, albeit necessary, projects. When I think about the process, it’s very easy to access the bad memories. I once googled why we remember bad things so easily, instead of good, and one theory was that it harkens back to living in a cave and having to remember which plants killed your friend, or where the sabretooth tiger lived. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, my memories never got in the way of me doing another project. Though sometimes it took a while for me to get back on that horse, that’s for sure.

I did not move out during the process. At the crack of dawn, I would go downstairs to get my coffee before work. I take milk in my coffee. During this project, my refrigerator kept moving around the house, and in the dark early morning of winter I would crack my foot almost every day on some new pile of construction the guys left blocking the new route to the fridge. I’m pretty sure they did this on purpose. You get paranoid after a while, you know?”

This friend supplied our crew with Red-Bull to make them work faster:)

And last but not least, probably my favoite story is when we were in the middle of a kitchen remodel and our lead carpenter Jack was buckling up his tool belt to start right at 7:30 am when a sleepy client walks into the kitchen to get his coffee, stark naked. Sadly I do not have a picture of this. But we will never let this client live this one down. 😉

5. How Lucky We Are

Now is when all the hard work and emotional ups and downs show fruit.  The sheetrock is up, the dust has been swept up, and yes (!), the tile is being set, the floors are going in, so are the cabinets and counters and finally the beautiful hardware and light fixtures. Every day is a new surprise, and, in my experience, the reality is always better than our imaginations.

Let the team finish their work before putting up the blue tape. 😊 We do a walk-through when we feel we are all done to make sure you are happy with everything. We also come back a year later to repair where paint seams and caulk lines might have opened through a full rotation of the seasons.

As Emily says, we are truly privileged to be able to do this for ourselves and our families, and while it is stressful, it is also an extremely rewarding experience. Hang in there!

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