Inevitably, a new client will ask me “how much will my project cost?” There is not any black & white answer when you are talking about a remodeling project. What I can tell you is that regardless of your budget, a properly planned and executed remodeling budget will be about 30 percent labor & installation and 70 percent materials. This means that you, the homeowner, really are in control of up to 70 percent of your budget and can keep it on course if you work closely with your contractor and honor a few basic concepts.
1. Fail to Plan….Plan to Fail. One of the top budget busters is to start construction without a well-documented plan. A fully documented scope of work will tell you what will happen, and a complete list of what you have chosen will tell you exactly how much it will cost and when it can be delivered to your home. There are a myriad of decisions to be made during a construction process, but selecting just the right tile or plumbing fixture should not be one of them. Feeling pressured to make a decision or going with the product that is “fine” because it is available will leave you with a bad feeling well after the project is finished.
2. Hiring a designer can actually save you money. Shopping for your remodel is one of the exciting parts and can also be one of the reasons a budget gets blown before you even get started. A short example of this is a client that goes with her girlfriend on the weekend to the supply house recommended by her contractor, budget figures in hand. The supply house is closed for the day, but another “boutique” supplier is in the same parking lot, so the women decide to stop and look. Long story short, a lovely wall tile with a shimmering finish and individual glass decorator tile samples leave the store with the client, and from that point on, nothing else will compare and the tile budget has now almost triple. Professionals will design for your tastes AND honor your budget.
3. Beware of the “cruise ship” mentality. Invariably, something will come up while you are remodeling that might not have been considered in the planning stage and you ask your contractor to take care of it “while they are here.” If enough of these type of things occur, you can be looking at a substantial uptick in the cost. All is well and good during the process, but then at the end you get a huge change-order bill at the end (remember the free-wheeling spending on the cruise ship?). Go back to your plan, be thorough and detailed and stick to it as best you can. A detailed plan will pre-plan for many of these types of budget creep, and pay for changes as they come up so you will be very aware of the addition.
4. Prepare to compromise. Remember the designer tile story above? Know yourself and your tastes as you prepare your remodeling budget. Understand that choosing the most amazing tile, glass sink or designer light fixture will require a compromise on another line item to balance your budget. Your designer and contractor can likely recommend areas you can safely save some money without taking anything away from the overall design.
5. The value of working inside your existing structure. Updating and remodeling your home is intended to create a new space that will be comfortable, fits your tastes and living habits, and of course enhances the home with beautiful products and craftsmanship. Maximizing space and function while keeping major plumbing and electrical components in the same place will save time and money in your budget. Removing interior, non-bearing walls to make more room is popular and can be easily accomplished with a modest amount of additional labor.
Keep in mind that if you are trying to keep to a tight budget, removing structural walls and moving plumbing can be a significant increase. You can ask your contractor how to “value engineer” just the right solution.
6. Have a contingency for Murphy and his friends. Remodeling is different than new construction. There can be many surprises behind the walls either relating to water damage or previous remodeling done in less than a professional manner, etc.
Most areas of concern can be identified prior to construction, and some assumptions made as to the extent, but there is always something to learn. I would recommend putting aside at least 10-15 percent of your total budget for contingency and then as milestones such as demo, plumbing and electrical are passed, you can gradually relax on the “what-if” and re-allocate funds in other areas. Knowing you have a safety net in the finances will save headaches in the long run.
7. Participate in the project. I am often asked “where can we trim our budget?”. The answer may be that the homeowner does all the demolition and disposal prior to the anticipated start date. In a typical kitchen or bathroom project, this could save up to $1000 on the front end and be allocated towards something else.
You want to be careful in this area that you are skilled enough to do this and know your limitations so that you don’t create more damage and increase labor costs to repair your efforts. Another area to save is paint, however you must remember this is a finish detail and you or someone you know will want to do a great job so as not to lessen the rest of the “professional” work you’ve invested in.