Brinkman’s Remodeling Tips

As I sit here and write this, I look over at my unfinished kitchen…Yes, there are pretty painted cabinets and fun backsplash (I chose myself ahem with the wrong color grout), and a new sink and quartz countertops…but in the grand scheme of things–it is still not what I pictured in my mind–

Basically I want to rip off the tile and make someone start over.

I have this weird flaw where I like to point out the negatives to people that visit as almost to say “Yes, I know this isn’t right, and I am living with it, I know what you are thinking.” The funny thing–> They probably didn’t even notice.

Many times my clients want to take on remodel projects. And sometimes they ask me for recommendations of contractor.s

One would think that due to my profession I would have some really great contractors to refer. It isn’t that I necessarily don’t, but it is really hard to find someone to do “small jobs.”

Build me a house–No prob.

Handyman items–No prob.

However, to find someone who can put in new countertops and backsplash and do some paint without leaving a huge mess, communicating expectations, not delay, and not over charging–> No can do.

I have noticed in referring contractors–what one client “loved” and “was great to work with” is the next client’s “he never called me back,” or “they were so dumb, they couldn’t put the door on right.” (I can’t make this stuff up).

Now don’t get me wrong–there are some (few) great contractors and companies out there, but what I find is the hard part is the “in between” projects.

Here’s a few “lessons” I have learned from my most recent remodel project: My kitchen. (ahem…that is still…kinda…in the works).

And I am not talking about moving walls or new cabinetry, here was the plan:

  • Painted cabinets with new knobs
  • One cabinet box removed (and tiled up to ceiling)
  • New backsplash
  • New countertops (which means new sink and faucet)
  • Tile from living room floor taken into hall, bath and kitchen
  • Changing out pendant lighting

The pics below are before and afters. The before pictures are ACTUAL photos of the home that was online (don’t get me started) I bought this from a “for sale by owner” so think I got a pretty good deal! And the “after” pics are literally a few minutes ago when I decided this blog needed pics, so excuse the mess (hidden in the sink).

This may sound like a lot, but it really is not. Anyway, here are some lessons I learned in the “remodeling your home while you live there and have a million other things going on” business. I would like to share

You get what you pay for

This applies to many things in life, right? When you hire the cheapest “guy” (person) on the block…Expect cheap work. When you hire someone who doesn’t have a website, testimonials and typically that was on a paid site and referred by a friend with rave reviews…well, ya get what you pay for.

And I have learned this lesson multiple times (mainly due to impatience).

I usually want something done yesterday. This creates a problem when it comes to hiring people.

Double the budget, triple the timeline.

This piece of advice I have been giving to clients before I even owned my first home. After hearing the horror stories from friends, clients and co-workers, it seemed almost accurate that what you THOUGHT you were going to spend and how long you thought it may take…was incorrect. After you start demolishing (because let’s be real, once you do the tile on the wall, then you want the floor done too, then you want new fixtures, and may as well paint the cabinets and if you do that-well may as well change the countertops and because you did that it now doesn’t fit the sink…sooo basically it never ends).

{My first project I ever hired someone to do (that wasn’t painting the exterior) was a guest bathroom in my first home. I didn’t even do the flooring or cabinetry-it was just a tub and tile work and trim work. OH. MY. GOODNESS. All in all I ended up spending twice as much for tile and (terribly done) labor and he told me it would take 3 days and it was a little over a week. And the mess…oh the mess (and he did all the tile cuts in my garage)…which leads me to my next tip.

Prepare for the Mess

If you can avoid living in your home during a project, I highly recommend this. This can be tricky…while I do think one should schedule their start date of their remodel or interior painting/popcorn removal (super messy project) the day after they close, I also believe it can be nice to live IN the home (if you have lots of changes in mind) FIRST before hiring someone. I have noticed in the past (personally and by checking in with clients), as you start to spend money, priorities adjust–what you thought was really important isn’t after a few months dissipates, but perhaps a new project arises (i.e more storage in the closets vs the tile you found ugly from the start).

{When I purchased my first home I was adamant about the continuation of flooring into the bedrooms and carpet gone. After a few months, lots of online searching for the same brand and color of wood. I was out of luck. Instead of doing the whole home or replacing what was currently in the rooms, I focused my energy elsewhere…and now it doesn’t even bother me}.

When getting bids, be sure to ask the person:

  • What do you plan on doing with the mess/leftover materials?
  • Will the hauling off of trash/materials/debris be included in your bid?
  • Do you clean up at the end of each day?
  • What will your hours be? (ie when can I expect you/your crew each day?)
  • What is your plan for the rest of my items while you are working on my kitchen/bath/patio etc?

Tips I have learned from projects:

  • No matter if their saw/tools is outside and the work is inside….there will be dust tracked in…and everywhere.
  • When they clean up and use your hose outside–expect paint/dirty water/caulking etc to end up on the side of your house, sidewalk, in your yard, in your plants, on your fence, on your hose and hell-even on the side of the neighbor’s house (sigh)


Watch Over Your Contractors

I know this somewhat contradicts my paragraph above of not being home if you can manage. But even when you hire a GC (general contractor) who has hired out sub-contractors for your projects, you have to “stay on them.” If your project is large enough, you most likely will not need to do this. You can pop by your home and see its progress, but I will admit often times you will be told one thing–> “Today we are working on your floors” only to go by and find that the floors haven’t been started.

I think there is quite a labor shortage in Austin. And the fact less people have learned a trade skills, there is quite the demand, but most of the time a lack in customer service, attention to detail and communication are the pitfalls of remodeling contractors.

Expect excuses such as:

  • Finishing up another job
  • Car trouble
  • Sick child to take care of
  • Family problems/drama
  • Needing a break because they worked for too long
  • Lack of material to perform said job for the day
  • Bad weather
  • Could be bad weather
  • Had to go to another job due to issues, will be back “tomorrow”
  • Falling from a ladder and hurt themselves (I can’t make this stuff up, folks)


Unfortunately you don’t know, what you don’t know. Right?!

And I have found contractors to be tricky (aka play dumb) or…are dumb in general. ha.

IRL Example:

{When I had my tile flooring done in my current house. They texted me they were “All done.” Yet a pieces of trim and corner round sit in a pile on my living room floor. “Umm excuse me, aren’t you going to put this back?” As I texted a photo. “Ohhh you want that done too???”

No I want a big pile of trim work in my house and my floors with spacing and gaps looking shitty and unfinished. Sigh.

They did come back and finish it out, but they acted as if that wasn’t apart of the bid or “their job”}

So the tricky part of communicating exactly what you want, is that sometimes you don’t know what small details you are to factor in. You can typically tell when talking to a contractor how experienced they (and detail oriented) are when they start asking you choices in finishing touches and details.

I wish you all the luck in your remodeling endeavors. And would love to see your before and after photos. I don’t really want to hear about the bad stuff haha. I already know all about that.


Thanks for reading and best wishes!