Renovation Tips from a Rookie to a Rookie


By Shelley Visser

When I was originally asked to write this article on renovations my first thought was, “ME? Why me?” I am not that experienced with renovations. I am not a contractor. Other people are way better than I am. I’m a single mom and a girl who wears make up, does her hair. I’m a Flight Attendant who is gone ½ the month. And then I realized I did what so many of us do – try and talk myself out of it before I even started. Fear and my assumed lack of knowledge paralyzed me. Yes, all the above is true, but it is also true that, in spite of all that, I have gone out and renovated homes. I didn’t let any of those fears stop me. So I determined that this article would be for the very brand new person. The person who hasn’t done renovations – you may have not even painted a room yet. It’s not for the expert – I am still learning lots from the experts. This is a story of some of my experiences.

When starting any renovation project as a beginner, ask lots of questions and ask many people in the field. You will get different answers, which will then help you learn. One of the best questions I was told to ask was: “What don’t I know that I should know?” I have learned much from that question! To whoever said that at one of the REIN workshops – thank you! (Editor’s note: I think it was Patrick Francey).

Be Precise

Landscaping can be one important aspect to renovations. On one of my renovations I actually needed to have the trees pruned. I had a few quotes done. Each quote gave me a price and said they would trim back the overhanging branches. For future reference, have them explain exactly what they mean by “trim back”. And – when you only point out the overhanging branches – that is all they will trim. When the company was done they had shaved ½ the tree and sheared off one major limb. The tree looked awful – it appeared crooked and lopsided. It would have been better for it to have been chopped down.

Document, Document, Document

Documentation of everything is very important. During a demolition stage I decided to hire a well-known company to remove everything in one shot. I had a great day ripping up carpet, pulling down cabinets, removing tiles, etc. I was going through a divorce and it was fantastic therapy. I had everything outside for the guys to take. The guys arrived with their large cube truck and proceeded to back up into the space. The complex for this unit had a walkway with the neighbour’s fence on one side and the complex on the other side. He had to back the truck up into this space. There was lots of room except it was at a little bit of an angle. The driver watched the fence and had his helper on the other side watching the house. However, the driver forgot to roll down his window to hear the other guy. We watched him back his truck right into the corner of the complex, ripping the new drainpipe off the building and tearing the gutter off. I took lots of pictures. However, I trusted him when he said he’d be back the next day to repair it.  Lesson learned –don’t let them promise to come back to fix it.  It took me three months of follow-up to get them to reimburse me for the repairs I ended up paying for. Recording everything really pays off – every call, every person, time, date, etc.

The “Bigger” Project, May be the Cheaper One
Like everyone, I had a budget. But when I bought an older home that had wood paneling, I knew it needed to be updated. Painting over it wasn’t going to do it. I decided to rip them down. The first couple came down easily and I thought, “Great, fill a few nail holes and then slap some paint on.” Well, the rest were actually nailed and glued down. The glue had to be scraped and sanded off, which doesn’t work well. I talked to many people and one person suggested replacing the drywall. Everyone else said skimming it would work and would be cheaper. By the time we had someone skim, and sand it a few times it would have been cheaper to replace the drywall. The end result never did cover the black, tar-like glue and the wall was very uneven. As it was in a hallway with a large window at the end you could see the imperfections very clearly. I ended up spending even more to purchase paint with a sandcoat finish to cover it up.  When it will be time to repaint that wall I will need to rip it down and replace the drywall anyway. Next time slap up some drywall. Time is money too.

Sometimes Cutting Costs Doesn’t Work for Everyone
I love having new floors – whether it be linoleum, laminate, hardwood, long plank vinyl, etc. It really makes a difference. I was told when putting down new linoleum have a maximum of two layers beneath it. If any of the layers are torn it’s best to tear it up. The floor had at least three layers down, plus I had redesigned the kitchen. A new subfloor had to be put down in the places where appliances had been or cupboards moved around. It turns out the installers don’t like it when you are very frugal and cut and shape small pieces of subfloor to fit your spaces. I had very annoyed men who had to spend a lot more time gluing the floor down in between the cracks. Being too frugal, or not having the right knowledge, can cause frustrations for not only you but for your contractors as well.

50 Shades of Grey

No reno project would be complete without the painting stories. There are always painting accidents. If you aren’t familiar with colours, purchase a small can of paint and do up a large area on one wall. Sometimes that nice green is actually a very bright Granny Smith Apple Green and it doesn’t look nice on the wall. And sadly, when it cures, the colour doesn’t change that much!

Here are some invaluable, mental health saving tips:

  •          Always know where your paint tray is and close your cans. You get where I am going with this. Rushing can cause spills and feet can end up on the tray and in the can.
  •          Paint does seep through a tarp – especially when there is lots of paint on it from spilling a 5L bucket.
  •          Never try and pour that large bucket into a smaller container when you are tired.
  •          Wearing disposable gloves saves you lots of time in cleaning your hands.
  •          No matter how small the touch-up is, if you wear good clothes paint will drip onto them.


With today’s technology, the Internet and YouTube can provide many educational tools. Don’t be afraid to get out there and learn. Before you buy, know what you are good at, what you can do, what you need to learn, what you need to hire out for, what your budget is, the level of renovation for the product/area you are buying in, and your timeline. Ask lots of questions! Don’t worry about being the expert. You will learn along the way but have multiple back-up plans ready and a slush fund!

In time, you too will have your own stories.

And one word of caution – when going through old homes with attics and you knock a vase over – it’s probably not ash from a fireplace. It could be Great Aunt Betty that was forgotten, all over your head…

Shelley Visser is a real estate investor and a flight attendant with a major airline. She lives by the mottos “There are no mistakes, just learning opportunities” and “Obstacles are not excuses”.  She has been investing consistently since 2009.  You can reach her at           



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