First-Timer Primer: 10 Ways To Tell If a Home Renovation is Well Done

by Shilpi Paul

First-Timer Primer: 10 Ways To Tell If a Home Renovation is Well Done: Figure 1

DC’s housing market is full of houses and condos that have been recently renovated by developers. The quality of these renovations varies greatly, and we wondered if there was a way for house hunters to tell the good renovations from the bad.

Martin Ditto has done his share of renovations while developing houses and multi-family buildings through his company Ditto Residential, and he gave us a few pointers.

These tips are not foolproof: a home may have fancy appliances but shoddy workmanship where it counts, or be well done throughout but have mid-grade fixtures. Still, here are ten tips that we hope will help:

  1. Look at the locks. Schlage and Baldwin are the “gold standards,” said Ditto, while a Home Depot or Quickset lock may indicate a renovator who wasn’t willing to spend the extra money.
  2. The quality of appliances vary greatly. Write down the serial numbers and see what the developer paid for the appliances.
  3. Take note of the bathroom fixtures, and do some research on the price and quality. Kohler is widely used and respected, and a rain shower often costs significantly more than a typical shower head. Again, a mid-range product doesn’t necessarily mean that the house is not well done, but a high-range product shows that the developer was willing to invest more.
  4. The quality of plumbing fixtures can be determined by weight; the heavier the fixture, the more metal used, which generally translates to a more expensive product. You may not be able to pick up mounted fixtures, but holding a handle may give a sense of the weight.
  5. Doors also fall into the “the heavier, the better” category. Swing the interior doors to determine their weight; solid core doors are heavier than hollow core, and are more expensive.
  6. Cabinets and kitchen drawers also vary. One trick is to look at the drawers to see if they are dovetailed. Dovetailed woodwork indicates a higher quality, though a lack of dovetailing doesn’t necessarily indicate a poor job. Here are a few ways to check out the cabinets.
  7. Perhaps the biggest worry when buying a renovated home is whether the developer has covered up large problems — mold, cracks in the foundation, a bad electrical system — with drywall or quick fixes. Look for water damage, which may indicate mold, or bring a trusted inspector or experienced real estate agent with you.
  8. To that end, get your hands on the inspection report if you can.
  9. An A/C system can be a good indicator of how much the developer cares. The difference between the cheaper systems and the nicer ones, like Trane and Carrier, can be just a few hundred dollars and is sometimes determined by the installer; seeing a Trane or Carrier means that you have a developer who insisted on a better system.
  10. Finally, a good developer is usually willing to put their name on the product. If you have a hard time finding out who is responsible for developing or renovating the home, you have a right to be suspicious. Don’t be afraid to ask for references of past work, and call the current owners to find out if they are happy in the home.

Readers, do you have any other suggestions?

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/first-timer_primer_10_ways_to_tell_if_a_renovation_is_well_done/7237


  1. homebuyer said at 10:04 pm on Monday June 24, 2013:
    I don't find this particularly helpful. It's nice in terms of finding out about the cost the finishings but the proof is all in #7. The price paid on fixtures does not necessarily reflect the quality of work that was done. I know plenty of folks in newly renovated houses with nice trappings who's HVACs were installed improperly, had hidden water damage, improperly done roofs.. huge list of problems, actually from nearly every single person I know who's moved into one. And an inspection is not going to be able to point out a single thing that is not readily visible to the inspector. I would skip all steps to #10.. I would never ever buy a renovated house unless I knew who the developer was and able to talk to other owners who live in other renovated houses by that developer. You can also review the permits that were pulled for the work that was done. Seriously, it's not worth it. I'm watching too many people going through protracted battles with their developers right now.
  1. mona said at 11:01 pm on Monday June 24, 2013:
    Don't know if I agree with the stuff in this article. I have owned a home from a very reputable builder in DC. They didn't have over the top faucets or locks and the house has held up extremely well and I am going on its 9th year. I have had just as many Kolher faucets go bad on me as I have had home depot Pegasus faucets. I have owned 7 homes in my life time and have seen good and bad on a lot of these things and can't say any are that consistent or indicative of quality. Time is the real test
  1. Zesty said at 3:52 pm on Tuesday June 25, 2013:
    I think it's important to get a really good home inspector. They should be able to point out the major items; they know what to look for. Will they catch everything....no....But, they shouldn't miss anything big, like HVAC unit improperly installed.
  1. Micah said at 6:57 pm on Wednesday June 26, 2013:
    I'd be more concerned with plumbing, electrical and the roof than appliances... Check the breaker box and see what size panel it is and how many slots are being used. The more the better! If you have a big house and only 1/2 a dozen breakers then there is something very wrong! Check the windows. Cheap replacement windows only last a few years and can get condensation in between the panes of glass. Check the attic for insulation. The more the better when it comes to heating and cooling. When was the roof done? Did the roofer nail the shingles in the correct spot? Was the roof covered in ice shield first? As for plumbing, are there clean-out traps all along the pipes in convenient places to access them? Are drain pipes all angled to flow down and out the main sewer drain pipe in the basement? Is there easy access to the water pipes in the bathroom for the tub/shower? There are lots of other things to look for.
  1. Kes said at 8:23 pm on Tuesday July 2, 2013:
    Yeah, I agree with the other commenters that this list is pretty superficial, and concerned with relatively minor aspects of a "quality" renovation. Checking the size and age of the breaker box is key, will give you a good idea of how much work was done on the electrical. Checking the roof, checking the walls (plaster or drywall) with a moisture sensor, and keeping an eye out for old water stains are also vital. Our developer did a complete gut reno on our house, and he spent money on quality stuff in the kitchen, but clearly didn't bother with the other finishes (cheap carpeting, hollow doors, old bathroom fixtures.) Frankly, I'm glad that he spent money on what we cared about: nice countertops & cabinets, quality kitchen appliances, and quality HVAC. The cheaper finishes are easily upgraded to our own tastes.
  1. Kevin said at 1:11 pm on Wednesday July 17, 2013:
    In my opinion, We don't have to tell anyone if the renovation is good or not, You can check in the eyes of the people who watch it and all the credit goes to the architects.
  1. Cornerstone Roofing said at 5:47 am on Tuesday May 6, 2014:
    another amazing house...simple, atmospheric. it creates the feeling of a loud "silence". nothing more is needed.Roof windows look great in a loft extension.Get in touch with Cornerstone because they have roofing experience in the building industry.
  1. Steven Charles said at 5:33 am on Friday October 21, 2016:
    This certainly isn't an exhaustive list but for someone who has no idea what to look for, it's at least a start. I think the other posters have done a good job in expanding on what is without a doubt, critical pieces to look for.

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