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HGTV renovation shows tend to have several things in common: a competent contractor who is at once an architect, a construction expert, and an interior designer; a home which seems hopeless to begin with but is magically transformed into a beautiful dwelling by the end; a few hiccups along the way that the contractor is able to deal with by trimming the budget elsewhere, still bringing in the final product under budget and on time.

Yes, they try to make it more realistic by including a few mishaps and unwelcome discoveries along the way, but the fact that every episode ends with a perfect product might be stretching real life truth too far. Unfortunately, when it comes time for you to perform that major renovation you’ve been putting off, you’ll find things aren’t as simple as HGTV would make them seem.

A renovation horror story

For one, finding good help might be the hardest part of the business, something most renovation shows don’t even touch on. Forbes.com contributor Ian Altman related the horror story of his family’s recent home renovation and his first complaint was about his original general contractor.

“When we signed our agreement with [the] general contractor, Scott, he immediately responded that he wasn’t going to make much money on the project,” Altman remembered. He went on, “Every subsequent discussion seemed to include a rant about how he was not making money.”

Finding good contractors tougher than it appears

As a result of this attitude, Altman said Scott spent little time on site supervising the project and, unsurprisingly, it was run inefficiently. He failed a county inspection because he hadn’t met base building code requirements and explained it was because “these were ‘extra items’ and [Altman would] have to pay for them in order to proceed.”

Becoming your own general contractor

Altman’s response was to fire the contractor and become his own home renovation supervisor. A more time-consuming decision, to be sure, but cheaper in the long run because he didn’t have to pay an ineffectual middle man’s prices on top of labor and materials. Such a decision to proceed without any general contractor should be made after careful consideration of your available time, your knowledge of what the project requires, and your willingness to take responsibility for finding electricians, plumbers, and other such specialists when the job requires it.

Unfortunately, the complaints of an underpaid general contractor aren’t the only thing a home owner must face during major home renovations.

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