Engaging a friend to renovate your home. Is it the best or worst renovation decision?


When I started writing this post my objective was clear – I wanted to warn all you potential renovators about the perils of engaging a friend or family member to be part of your renovation project team. I was intent on highlighting a ‘Beware beware beware – disaster in the making’ type of scenario.  


Shortly after completing the first draft, our pool builder (aka a good family friend) came over to discuss an issue with our pool (to be clear – This was work undertaken by a third party not him but as it was one of his tradies at fault,  he is ultimately responsible for the work). We had a great experience working with him, and his professionalism and attention to detail was evident throughout the job and highlighted further by his continued care even after the job was completed.


It got me thinking about the purpose of this post. given what a great experience we had had when we engaged our friend to be involved in our renovation.


Which lead me to ask the question – What is the difference between a successful experience and complete disaster?

The fine line between success and disaster


It all comes down to your approach and your reasons for engaging
them in the first place.


Ask yourself why you are considering engaging them in the first place?


  • Is it to save money?  Read, I’ll get mates rates and end up paying way less if I get [insert name of friend] to do it for me
  • Is it to save time?
  • or is it that you know them so it’ll be less stressful and easier than dealing with someone else.

If this is your reasoning then this scenario has the potential to go very, very wrong…

Regardless of what anyone may tell you, making the decision to engage friends and family to design or build your house is not a simple one. On the surface, it may seem like a great idea, you’ll get time and/ or cost savings, you know them, you trust them and any number of other benefits.

But without the right measures in place, there are so many ways this can go wrong – both for you and your friend or family member.

There’s so much potentially at stake here – your future home, your lifestyle, your finances but also your friendship and/or family relationships.


So why did it work so well for us?

All the reasons why it worked for us are also the reasons, if you don’t approach them the same way, why it can go so horribly wrong, not just for you but for your friend or family members too. Remember they have potentially a lot at stake too.

Looking back our great experience with our pool builder, was largely due to the fact that we both viewed the arrangement as a business transaction and we respected the parameters of the roles we played in our business relationship and our friendship. Obviously, they aren’t mutually exclusive but respecting and maintaining clear boundaries is key to this type of relationship working.


7 ways to make it work

Before deciding to engage a friend or family or family member, make sure you are doing this for the right reasons, and approach the arrangement as we did.


1.  Decide if they’re actually right person for this job

We knew he did a good, quality job. He is qualified and experienced we checked this out, got references rather than just assuming because he told he did. I am a believer that true professionalism comes apparent when how they address an issue – big or small – that arises down the track when the job is finished, and it’s been paid in full.

Ask yourself – are they the right person for your project team – do they actually have the right experience and attitude to suit your project?


2.  Treat it like the business arrangement it is

Enter into this like the business arrangement it is. This means that you need to do due diligence ensure you understand your responsibilities, what the costs are, what happens if things go wrong that you are covered legally and financially.

Treating it like a casual arrangement will come back to haunt you.


3.  Cover yourself and get a comprehensive quote

We had a comprehensive quote  – the inclusions and exclusions clearly laid out so there were no grey areas. This was for both our protections and something you should have regardless of who does the job.

Sometimes when friends or family are involved it easy to become a bit lax on some or all of these things, Because we think we know them and with that comes a certain level of trust. They are family friends so we think ‘nothing will go wrong’ or  it won’t happen to me.’ or worse ‘She’ll be right.’ Make sure you’re both covered.


4.  Don’t expect something for nothing

We didn’t expect ‘mates rates’ – because in life ‘you get what you pay for.’  Our friend is a businessman and has to earn an income. We wanted a good quality pool and were prepared to pay a fair and reasonable price.  At the end of the day, everything costs and someone always pays the price.

So consider that your mates’ rate might come back to haunt you in the form of substandard work, differing expectations about the scope of the work to be undertaken and the priority of your job.


5.  Sign a formal contract

We had a formal contract in place. And as a result, there were clearly defined roles and responsibilities laid out that we stuck to.  

Similarly to the quote, it can be easy to forgo a formal contract. But without clear guidelines, how do you deal with things like project delays or poor workmanship? MAke sure you’re both covered.


6.  Set clear expectations and parameters

Didn’t try to Leverage off our friendship.  We tried not to use our friendship as a lever to get more out of him. The upside was already being friends was he was very approachable.

Don’t assume you and your friend are on the same page. Your expectations and theirs might not align if not clearly laid out.  Without this, in place, you can also lose a lot of leverage. This may include asking for rework, negotiating prices or getting tough when a deadline approaches. You may be unlikely to put your foot down for a lot of things. Everything is weighed by the fact that you could cause problems in the relationship or family.


7.  Respect their expertise and wealth of knowledge

We could bounce ideas off him and be honest about our situation and budget and he did everything in his power to get us to where he needed to be.


Go in with your eyes wide open

You need to enter this scenario with your eyes wide open. I know this sounds pessimistic and hopefully, nothing goes wrong and your renovation is successful and you have a fabulous experience … but just in case – allow for the scenario when it doesn’t go to plan so you can be confident that you and your friend or family member are covered.


Are you prepared to lose your friend as your relationship could change forever and not necessarily in a good way?


Consider the consequences – good and bad

To be fair in many cases, the working relationship between family and friends will work out fine, as we did, I can’t stress enough   – be aware of what the consequences could be if it doesn’t go to plan. Try to anticipate the worst-case scenario (a mildly ticked-off acquaintance, personal embarrassment, a relative who never talks to you again, a half-finished home), and consider the reasoning, benefits, and alternatives.


Depending on the situation, picking someone you know to work on your home’s renovations may be a good decision. It is crucial to weigh the pros and cons, and know that the person you are hiring is the right fit for your job.


Decide if it’s a risk worth taking and if you can live with the possible consequences if things don’t go to plan.


Have you used a family member for any reno work in the past?  How did it go?

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