DIY Repair & Maintenance

8 Homeowners Admit to Their All-Time Biggest Screw-Ups

Everyone makes mistakes—especially in the course of owning and maintaining a home: One wrong turn and a seeming straightforward job can turn into a money pit project, and a perfectly nice house might turn out to be a fixer upper nightmare. Here, real people share the worst mistakes they've made in the course of owning a home.

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Lesson: Listen to Caution

“If one contractor says they can do the job, but three advise against doing the renovation, listen to the prevailing opinion. When we got quotes for cutting skylights into our bedroom ceiling, a few contractors took one look at the ceiling joists and backed away. Turns out the beams were severely fire damaged and the contractors didn’t want to do any work that would put further strain on them. We went with the guy who said he could do the skylights without redoing the joists. Halfway into the project, it became clear that wasn’t going to work. Now we’re stuck with a more expensive project than we’d planned for.” —Robb J., Cambridge, MA

Related: 7 Signs Starter Homes May Be a Thing of the Past

Lesson: Pick Paint Carefully

“Our first house, a Colonial in a rural area, had a large first-floor bathroom with a beautiful claw-foot tub. This was ‘my’ bathroom—my husband used the one upstairs—so I decided to make it completely my own by painting it a unique color. I had some nice mauve-colored towels, so I decided mauve was the perfect, sophisticated shade. We hired a local handyman to do the paint job, and I went out and got the paint. We then went away for a week, and when we returned to the house, the bathroom paint job was done—but the whole room was a shocking purple, not mauve. I had completely miscalculated the color and it had to be completely redone—and by me, since we couldn’t afford to pay the professional painter a second time. At least I didn’t have to put on a coat of primer? Lesson learned: For the second round, I brought the mauve towel with me to the paint store.” —Judy C. from NY

Related: 9 Shortcuts to Picking a Paint Color

Lesson: Look for Red Flags

“I wish I had known more when I was buying about water damage and mold—specifically, what red flags to look for (like spots on the ceiling, a warped particle board under a sink, a musty smell, etc.). Maybe those things are obvious to most people, but I just chalked it up to being an old house. We discovered leaks late.” —Jane B., Tampa, FL

Related: 11 Signs It’s Time to Move

Lesson: Hire an Inspector

“We were in a rush to buy a house since my husband had started a job in Manhattan and we were still living in Salem, MA. Our sights were focused on a historic neighborhood in New Jersey. The house we fell for was a 3400-square-foot Queen Anne Victorian with a wrap-around porch. It had not been lived in for many years when two firemen bought it at auction. They did a quick and dirty reno—created a vanilla box with sheet rock inside—effectively covering up all holes and leaks and problems. The firemen had never lived in the house so could deny they knew about any of the problems. And there were many. I remember the realtor rubbing her hands and pulling the sides of her jacket closer before checking the thermostat the first time we looked at the house. It was set at 65 degrees, but the house was probably closer to 40-50 degrees. Later, I would learn the house couldn’t retain the heat because it had no insulation. In our first months of living there, it was not unheard of for us to get $2500 heating bills. There were many red flags. But we were under a lot of time pressure and I think we overlooked some obvious things. The home inspector was recommended by—and likely in cahoots with—the realtor. Lesson learned might be to get your inspector through the ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) rather than through the real estate agent (especially if that agent is representing the seller). The house is also haunted by a ghost named Edward, but that’s another story.” —Diana from Chicago, IL

Related: 7 Things You Need to Know About Your Home

Lesson: Prep, Prep, Prep

“It turns out that if you don’t want liquid cement to pour down your family room paneling and puddle in your carpeting, you should really, really tape off everything and caulk like crazy before you pour cement leveler on your second story bathroom floor—and let the caulk really dry. Apparently, you can’t miss even the tiniest little crack.” —Kathy J., Overland Park, KS

Related: The Cost of 2,000 Square Feet in America’s Cheapest Cities

Lesson: Cheaper Isn't Better

“I regret choosing less expensive appliances that ultimately stopped working as soon as the warranty expired! We’ve had three washing machines, which averages to a lifespan of less than fives years each.” —Kathy N., Edison, NJ

Related: Buyers Pay More for Homes with These 12 Features

Lesson: Plan Your Layout

“My mistake was knocking down too many walls. Open concept sounds good in theory, but it’s hard to hear the TV when people are clattering around in the kitchen! Walls were put there for a reason.” —Susan W., Tuckahoe, NY

Related: 11 Myths Homebuyers Should Never Believe

Lesson: Ask Questions

“When we were viewing the house, the realtor mentioned that the exterminator had been out to take care of a mouse problem. We assumed that meant the problem had been eradicated. Boy, were we wrong! After we moved in, it became clear we were sharing the house with rodents—LOTS of them. Our cat was thrilled but we were not. Turns out the previous homeowners hadn’t even bothered to patch holes and gaps in the house, so the mice just kept coming in. It took weeks to locate and patch the holes and we had to have the exterminators out three times to get rid of the problem! I wish we’d pressed for more information when it came up on the tour.” —Melissa L., Denver, CO

Related: 8 Signs You May Have Mice

Lessons Learned

Head the advice of other homeowners, so you don’t have to go through the same mistakes. Learning from them can save you from the hassle of irritating and expensive fixes.