Dear Urbaneer: Help! We Want to Renovate, And Keep Our Relationship Intact

Dear Urbaneer

Welcome to another installment of Dear Urbaneer, where we listen to questions put forth from our client base, and offer salient housing advice.

This time around, we are carrying on with a theme that was addressed in our last Dear Urbaneer post : We’ve Moved in to our New Home: Now what? In that post, we discussed the usefulness of being proactive and organized as important tools that help lend efficiency and organization to help homeowners make both their homes – and the experience of living within the walls the best it can be.

The same approach can be used when considering renovations. Home renovations are a commonplace activity in the city of Toronto, especially given the age of many of the homes in question, and the growing phenomenon for Buyers to buy homes in their current price point, with the intention to place their own personal stamp on them over time.

Here is a question from one of our clients, at the doorstep of the renovation experience.

Dear Urbaneer:

Now that we’ve found our dream home, we want to set out straight away to make changes (some big, some small) to make this dream home even more dreamy.

However, we’ve heard from a number of our friends and neighbours about the many pitfalls (emotional, financial and otherwise) that can be encountered along the journey. We’ve heard that it can take a toll on relationships as well. Given that we were so proactive and organized, with success, in our house hunt, we’d like to employ some of the same strategies as we wade into the world of home renovations. Any tips on what our strategy should look like?

Love my House And My Partner


Here is our reply:


Dear Love My House And My Partner:

Firstly, kudos to you for recognizing potential problems before they begin, and in being proactive with addressing situations before they arrive.

Here is a comprehensive pre-renovation list that can help you get organized, but also serve as a middle ground for discussion – so that you can have all the important conversations before the hammers (and potentially figurative fists) get swinging in a bid to maintain both domestic and relationship harmony.


Find Mutual Ground

Individually go through home design magazines or online sites like and flag rooms which appeal to you, making a note of what you especially liked. This includes all design elements, like style, colour palette or particular finishes. Then sit down together and review – looking for commonalities that can become the basis for a mutually appealing renovation.  If you're hiring a designer or architect, do this in advance of your meeting.


Agree On Your Maximum, Maximum Budget

You no doubt have a ballpark budget in mind for your renovations. However, all renovations cost more than you intended, and may give cause to have a hard and soft budget (i.e. the cap- and then the definitive cap).

 Some expenses will be for surprises that you didn't know existed until the walls are opened up. And others will be because you keep upgrading your materials and fittings because it's 'only a few hundred dollars more'. Be diligent in your selections as it's easy to see a reno cost run high. Rule of thumb: always keep 20 percent of your budget for a contingency fund to manage the surprises, and to take the sting out of the cost. If there are none (most unlikely), then you have a tidy, well-earned sum to use for splurges

Treat Yourself and Each Other

 I always ask couples to purchase – at the beginning of their reno – one item each that is a 'dream item' within a mutually agreed budget. Love soaking in the tub? Buy the perfect one. Want that 6-burner gas range? Buy it first. This way, as the reno unfolds and all hell breaks loose – you each can cling to knowing that special item will be in your place at the end – and give you the motivation to work thru knowing your dream item is already purchased and not being cut from your renovation hell.

Count on it Taking Twice as Long

No renovation unfolds in a timely fashion. Delays are common. The plumber quits. The materials are on back order. The weather doesn't co-operate. Every possibility may – or will occur, so count on it taking longer. Give ample time and don't set an unrealistic goal like 'this should be done by Holiday', for you may be celebrating under tarps and seething.
Include a Getaway in your Renovation Budget

 We all have limited financial resources, but if you want your relationship to survive, you have to build in some escape time. Budget for a spa weekend, a road trip, or even a long weekend visiting family two-thirds thru your reno. Give yourselves 'date nights' where you don't talk about the project. Do whatever you need to do but remove yourselves from the environment and get grounded on different turf.

Even though it may seem wasteful to direct funds out of the house, this is non-negotiable. Living in or near an on-going reno will wear and tear on your relationship in a big way, so plan an escape.  Stress is a huge factor in breaking couples up, and you mustn’t underestimate the huge amount of stress that a renovation project entails.

Negotiate with Veto Power

You both have to like the renovation, which is difficult when disparate tastes are trying to create the perfect space. Be respectful of each other but employ your veto power until you mutually agree or – if necessary – trade off each other so you both can live with it. But be careful this doesn't build into resentment.

 In my past renovations, when my partner and I came to a standstill on finding the ideal gas stove, for instance, he’d choose his favourite three and I'd choose mine – and then we'd compare
 and select the one that most closely matched our choices. The art of compromise is a huge factor for both a successful renovation and relationship.

One Bling Item

As a realtor, I'm always looking for each room to have one bling item that steals the show and makes the room memorable in the eyes of the Buyers. It could be an amazing light fixture, beautiful flooring,  or a dazzling colour. The same applies to renovating. Your property doesn't have to be filled with expensive-everything to look good. Sometimes it just takes one special item in a room to steal the show and elevate the rest. Keep this in mind when you're selecting your cohesive finishes.
Leave Room for Furnishings

It is one thing to renovate your kitchen, but once it's done your breakfast table and chairs may look dumpy on completion. Remember that renovating a space is not only about the finishes and fittings but the contents. Keep in mind when you're planning your reno which of your existing furnishings will work and which might have to be replaced. Sort this out in advance to avoid disappointment.


Are you apprehensively about to embark on home renovations, but unsure where to start? Are you daunted by the time, money and relationship pressures that can come with such a project? At, we consider all parts of your homeowner experience- from all dimensions and vantage points. Our experience and success means that we have sage, prudent and practical advice to dispense, to assist you to achieve housing harmony. We’re here to help!

Remember, we're here to help with your Toronto real estate needs, including our specialty in unique urban spaces!

~ Steven and the urbaneer team

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