First-time renovator? No matter how many of episodes of Fixer Upper or Love It or List It you watch, nothing can truly prepare you for the turmoil—and yes, sometimes even tears—that a full home improvement project entails until you’ve gone through one yourself. That’s why, before walking into unfamiliar territory (hammer and paintbrush in hand), it’s helpful to have a realistic roadmap to refer to along the way.
Luckily, Sweeten, a free renovation matchmaking service that connects ambitious homeowners with their dream contractors, is here to offer a little guidance. From setting a budget to conducting daily check-ins, their team helps keep first-timers grounded by painting a practical picture of the home reno process. Which is why we tapped them for answers; because while we already know how much an extensive kitchen or bathroom renovation will cost IRL, have you ever wondered how long it will actually take?
Though we’ll be using a one-bedroom apartment renovation as the example, the advice ahead rings true for any complete home improvement project. Depending on your goals, square footage, and the complexity of the redesign (are you moving walls? Changing plumbing?), your timeline may look a little different, but we’re laying out how much time you can actually expect to dedicate to each part of the process. Sledgehammers at the ready!
Step 1: Close on your property (1-3 months)
Contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot that has to be accounted for before you start smashing windows and knocking down walls. Soon-to-be renovators who just laid down the deposit on their dream fixer-upper will have to budget plenty of time for closing. Yes, the idea of taking a sledgehammer to that gaudy built-in in the living room is certainly exciting, but good things come to owners who wait (and owners who have the keys in their hand).
Step 2: Hire your team (1-3 weeks)
Set aside up to three weeks to scout for potential contractors, schedule site visits, and solicit bids. Once all the bids have come in, you’ll want to make sure to take enough time (typically 1-2 weeks) to compare your options, sign a contract, and finalize the construction schedule.
Step 3: Obtain permits (time varies)
Warning: Your biggest delay might occur before construction even begins. Obtaining the right permits and board approvals may prove be your biggest setback—but don’t let it discourage you. While you should mentally prepare yourself for a few months, Sweeten contractors have reported that obtaining the proper permits can take as little as two weeks in some cases.
Step 4: Order materials (time varies)
Once you have all the right paperwork in your hands, it’s time to source the materials—from cabinetry to hardware to bathroom tile—for your space. The number one rule? Be sure to place your orders as soon as possible (as some items have long lead times) and try to schedule product delivery so that it coincides with the actual installation.
“You don’t want that one faucet to hold up the entire renovation. If time is a concern, look at what’s currently in stock and ready to ship,” says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten. “Speak with your contractor about timing the product delivery to coincide with the time of installation.”
Step 1: Demo (1-5 days)
Demo day has finally arrived! Okay, more like demo days (Chip and Jo just make it look easy). If you’re renovating your entire home, set aside 2-5 days to rid your space of the old—and, of course, properly protect the items that are staying. Tack on 2-4 extra days if you’re planning on rerouting plumbing and electrical, as well as scheduling any necessary city inspections and sign-offs. However, it all depends on the scope of the project: If you’re simply refurbishing a bathroom, the actual demolition shouldn’t take more than four hours. A full kitchen demo, on the other hand, may take up to two full days.
Step 2: Floors (up to 12 days)
Next up? Flooring. Installing new floors—be it a wood chevron in the hallway or a Moroccan-inspired mosaic in the bathroom—can typically take anywhere from 5-12 days if you’re redoing your whole home. Sticking to the bathroom? Expect to dedicate a good part of one day to tiling. That number’s upped to five days if it’s a kitchen refresh you’re after.
Step 3: Complete installation (up to 20 days)
When it comes to installing the rest of the home, Sweeten recommends leaving up to 20 days to complete a one-bedroom apartment. Kitchen installation alone can take between 1-10 days, and items should be installed in the following order: Cabinets, appliances, fixtures and lighting, counters, backsplash, and, finally, cabinet hardware. A basic bathroom reno should only take three days and you’ll want start with the tub, then go into updating the vanity and sink, toilet, and any built-in shelving. Tiling, lighting, and hardware can come last.
“If you’re doing basic painting and touch-ups, the work will be fairly minimal,” says Brownhill. “If you are adding custom built-in shelving or paneling, plan to add a few extra days.”
Step 1: Final walkthrough (up to 2 hours)
While the final walkthrough itself should only take an hour or so, give yourself an extra 5-10 days to fully inspect and actually live alongside your new space. Test all the drawers and doors in the bedroom, look closely at the edges and finishes of the kitchen cabinetry, make sure the grout lines in the bathroom are up to par. Budget a week or two to install any items that had previously been out of stock or straighten any lines or doors.
Step 2: Make your final payment (10 minutes)
After every chipped corner or crooked cabinet has been resolved, it’s officially time to pay the remaining percentage to your contractor. In reality, this should really only take a few minutes of your time, but it’s an important milestone in the process. And yes, you do deserve to treat yourself to a glass (or two) of wine afterward.
- One-bedroom apartment: 1 – 4 months
- Kitchen only: 3 weeks – 4 months
- Bathroom only: 2 weeks – 3 months
“On average, you should allocate about one to four months for on-site work in a top-to-bottom one-bedroom apartment renovation,” suggests Brownhill.
The major bonus of renovating your entire space at once (even though it requires a larger sum upfront) is that your design team can multi-task along the way—saving you both time and money.
But at the end of the day, go with whatever suits your lifestyle and budget. As with any serious home project, your timeline is totally dependent on the scope and scale of your plan. Altering the footprint of a space or changing plumbing and electrical can add significant time to your schedule.
Still not sure what to expect along the way? Check out Sweeten’s step-by-step renovation guides to the apartment, bathroom, and kitchen. Or, take a peek at this handy checklist to help you plan your project along the way.
Sweeten, a free renovation service, handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration, and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.
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