Home renovations are not for the faint of heart. Even the most well-planned projects can get thrown off by supply chain lags, building permit and approval delays – and contractor availability. Then there’s the rising cost of materials, which can bust your budget before you even hire a single contractor.

But what if other issues arise? What if the stone countertop you waited months for finally arrives with an enormous crack in it? Or the bathroom tile you carefully picked out gets installed in a not-so-careful manner?

While you can’t avoid issues like discontinued product lines, you can approach home improvement projects in a way that protects both your home and your bottom line, regardless of whether you’ve hired a contractor or you’re strapping on a tool belt yourself.

DIY Done Wrong

There’s a special corner of the internet reserved for videos and photos of DIY mishaps. They’re quite hilarious – until it’s you with the #fail to share.

Of course, DIY home improvement projects are on a much different level than, say, a misguided attempt at baking an elaborate birthday cake. Aside from any cosmetic mishaps that might occur, you could really hurt yourself using power tools or toting around heavy building materials.

“Before homeowners take on any DIY projects, it is a great time to ask ‘Do I have the time, tools and talent to do this job?’” Mallory Micetich, home expert at home improvement network and information company Angi, says.

If you can say yes to all three, then proceed. If not, hire a contractor or start improving your skills – and expanding your toolbox – so you have the confidence to do it.

Micetich suggests starting with small projects, like interior painting or even swapping out a light fixture so that you can build your skill set as you go.

“Most large projects require specialized tools and knowledge and shouldn’t be used as a learning tool,” she says. “Many people overestimate their DIY abilities and end up causing more harm than good.”

In fact, incorrectly executed DIY projects can result in property damage or even physical harm, Micetich says. A recent Angi survey found that 80% of homeowners made either a major or a minor mistake as DIY warriors.

“If you think your DIY project may harm yourself or your home, it’s time to end the project or bring in a pro,” she says.

Homeowners should be especially cautious with projects involving tools or materials that they haven’t worked with before. A pro is likely to get the job done right the first time – and you’re likely to spend less if you hire them in the first place, depending on the nature of the home improvement project you want to tackle, according to Micetich.

“In many cases, having a pro fix damage caused by DIY projects is more expensive than the original project would have been,” she says. It’s not just that you’re now paying for the labor, but you might have to purchase additional materials if you damaged any during your own attempt, she adds.

Hard Lessons Learned for Homeowners

Liang Zhao is the chief information office and founder of Vansary, a financial technology marketing and public relations consultancy. She and her husband purchased a New York City co-op in 2019 and did a full-gut renovation the following year.

It was a learning experience.

From limited availability of materials to floor and tile issues to time- and money-saving techniques that only led to trouble down the road, Zhao and her husband are wiser now.

“My advice to homeowners is to ensure contractors and their (subcontractors) are familiar with instructions prior to installation,” she says. “Make sure that the product selected will work for the environment.”

Case in point: They had no central air in their unit, so the humidity levels could fluctuate anywhere between 15% and 90%, Zhao says. The engineered flooring installed in October already had gaps and was audibly cracking by January when they moved in. The contractor blamed the supplier, the supplier needed an inspection report to issue any refunds, but then the inspection report pointed the finger back at the contractor.

It wasn’t until Zhao and her husband threatened to sue that the contractor agreed to redo the flooring. It took almost an entire year to resolve it, though.

Her recommendation to homeowners: “Be on-site to oversee parts of the installation if necessary and work it into the contract that payment will not be paid unless work is 100% to client satisfaction,” she says.

When Projects Get Off to a Rocky Start

It’s one thing to have butterflies in your stomach in gleeful anticipation of that new home office or your updated kitchen. But if you’ve got a distinct feeling of dread after hearing something negative about your contractor before they show up for the first day of work, you might still have time to act.

According to Micetich, most states have a three-day contract cancellation policy that you should take advantage of if you’ve got any qualms about starting a home improvement project.

“If you are past the three-day window, voiding the contract will be more difficult,” Micetich says. “Carefully read your contract and look for an exit or termination clause, which will list approved reasons for canceling the contract. You may need to consult a lawyer to find the best way out of your contract.”

Getting a partial or even a full refund is possible, but it all depends on the details of the agreement.

“We recommend that in the contract drafting stage you have a clear conversation with the contractor you plan to hire about contract cancellation policies and include cancellation terms included in the contract,” Micetich says. “This will give both parties a clear understanding of what steps are needed to get out of a signed contract.”

It’s Not Always the Contractor’s Fault

It’s one thing to blame a contractor for poor installation or not finishing a job. But it’s another thing entirely when homeowners have unreasonable expectations for project timelines and budgets. That’s why ongoing communication is vital for the timely and satisfactory completion of a project.

“As a contractor, it’s important for homeowners to understand the importance of clear and consistent communication in order to keep a project moving along,” Stacy Elmore, co-founder at The Luxury Pergola in Indianapolis, says.

Elmore notes delays can and do often happen, especially when it comes to getting local permits and approvals. “This can be a time-consuming process, so it’s important to plan ahead and allow for potential delays,” she says.

Her company’s contractors use an online tracking system so that homeowners can easily check on the work progress and note any important project milestones.

“The plans should include all of the necessary information, such as materials and labor costs, and the tracking link can be used to monitor the progress of the work and ensure that everything is on schedule,” she explains.

Should You Give a Contractor a Thumbs-Down Review?

If you feel that you’ve been wronged as a customer, it can feel cathartic to leave a scathing review online. Micetich says while online reviews are a great way to let other homeowners know about your experience, it’s better to address the problem directly with your contractor before leaving a bad review.

“Be clear about your expectations involving resolution and give your contractor time to rectify the situation,” she says. “If you have reached an impasse, let the pro know you plan on leaving a review.”

Contractors should follow through on the work they’ve promised to do but it’s important for homeowners to have some patience and flexibility, too.

“Renovations can be complex and unpredictable, so it’s important to be open to changes and willing to work with your contractor to find solutions to any obstacles that might come up,” Zach Barnes-Corby, head of construction at Block Renovation in New York, says. “At the end of the day, the contractor is your partner, not some adversary. They want to do a good job, get things done quickly, and do work everyone is happy with.”