How to Budget for Your San Diego Home Remodel in 2023

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A home renovation is a big and complicated project. Understandably, when we meet prospective clients for the first time on our free initial consultations, we get a lot of questions about everything from our design process to how we will protect their home during construction.


The Holy Grail of answers that almost all clients seem to be seeking, however, is how to budget for that new granny flat, garage conversion, kitchen, bath, or whole home remodel. If only it was a simple answer…


The Most Common Budget Complaint

The most common budget complaint we hear from potential clients is that they received “bids” or “estimates” for their projects that are all over the map in price ranges. These clients are generally very frustrated, and understandably so.


They feel as though they’ve wasted valuable time, and they don’t understand how there can be such a wide variance in the descriptions of the work and cost ranges from each of their prospective contractors.

The first question we ask is how their prospective contractors arrived at their estimates. Was design completed? Are there drawings? Were finish items specified? Engineering completed? Measurements and quantities confirmed? In other words…is the project properly planned?


When most homeowners think about a remodeling project, they imagine guys knocking down walls, setting tile, putting up new cabinets and basically all the building aspects of the project. While the remodeling phase usually gets the most attention (mainly through the dust, noise, and inconvenience it causes), the remodeling phase can only happen after a design has been completed and approved.


Ask yourself this question — How much is a bag of groceries? The answer really depends on a lot of things: What do you like to eat and drink? How many people are you shopping for? Gourmet or generic? Where did you buy the groceries? Is it a special occasion? How big was the bag?


The more you think about it, the more you might see how difficult it is to answer that question even understanding your own shopping habits.


Now, ask that same question of someone who you just met and who has no idea of your lifestyle, needs, likes or wants. It’s hard to imagine getting anything close to an accurate answer, much less getting three or four strangers to all come up with an accurate answer, isn’t it?


And, yet, this is a scenario that happens repeatedly in the remodel world, confusing potential clients and frustrating contractors.


Even Small Projects Require Design Decisions

Even the smallest remodeling projects will require some design work. Whether it be picking out paint and tile colors to deciding on the style of cabinet doors you would like, each of these decisions falls within the realm of design. On a larger project, you’ll want to work directly with a professional remodel designer who is specifically trained to help flesh out your remodel vision into practical instructions for the build team.


Think Design-Build

Often your medium to larger sized remodel companies have trained designers and architects on staff or, at least may be able to make recommendations. If possible, look for one of these firms, which are called Design-Build remodel contractors. Having the design and construction professionals working on the same page from the very beginning of the project results in a faster, more organized and streamline process.


If your chosen remodel contractor does not come with a designer, you’ll need to choose a freelance designer and budget appropriately. The best way to approach the task of budgeting for a designer is in terms of the overall remodel budget and what percentage of it should be allotted for design.

Pricing Designs

The issue with designers (as well as remodel contractors, architects, bookkeepers, lawyers, mechanics and, heck, just about any small service-oriented business) is that the hourly rates and services offered are all as varied as the individuals offering them. If one considers that designers are very much on the artistic side of the spectrum when it comes to remodel planning and execution, they are, by definition, not very duplicable. Therefore, your first and most important consideration should be whether or not you are working with the right designer for your whole house, kitchen or bath renovation.


Exacerbating the issue is the fact that many designers are not great business people or time managers, which means that when they start charging by the hour, things can get very scary and very expensive in a hurry. It is often a good idea to interview designers with a budget in mind. I usually recommend setting the budget as a percentage of the overall construction budget for the remodel.


We would say that for a small remodel budget, allotting 3%-6% of the overall budget to design would be enough. On a $15,000 bathroom remodel, for instance, $400 – $900 should be sufficient to cover the cost of a designer for simple items like paint color, tile design and maybe even specifying a style of fixture.


On a mid to high-level remodeling project, 5%-10% of the overall construction budget would be a fair amount to allot to design, as the design needs would be greater and would likely encompass more duties for the designer, such as finish specifications, shopping trips, etc. So, on a $150,000 room addition, $7,500 to $15,000 would be a reasonable budget for design.


Don’t Pay Hourly!

While interviewing and deciding on a designer, work to eliminate the hourly rate if at all possible. Ask the designer if they would be willing to put together a “package” that would include most, if not all of the designs tasks needed to successfully build out the project. Often, this package will still be accompanied by an hourly rate that will kick in if the parameters of the “design package” are exceeded. But, this approach should help to keep the budget under control to a great extent.


Know Your Range

As the client, know your budget before meeting with contractors. Or, at least, know a budget range.


It’s okay to say that your budget is between $20,000 and $30,000 for a bathroom remodel if that’s what it is. Although, you may find out that what you thought was a plentiful budget turns out not to be enough once you start interviewing contractors. 


But that’s much better than going down the road for weeks or months with a contractor and finding out you can’t afford the project. You may also find out that you’ve got a comfortable budget and have room to either do more than you thought or look at some cost saving options.


Be willing to invest some time up front with your contractor to help define your “bag of groceries” a.k.a. your remodel project. Let your contractor guide you regarding coming up with a design and drawings for your space, connecting you with their industry contacts to pick out items like cabinets, fixtures, lighting, tile, appliances and all the other things your project will require.


These are all required tasks for the success of your project. Doesn’t it make sense to do it up front so that your budget is based on facts instead of guesses?


That doesn’t mean you should blindly enter into a professional services agreement or a preliminary design phase with just anyone. Make sure you’ve discussed your budget range with your potential contractors.


Make sure they are firmly committed to working with you to ensure your project comes in around that range.


Doing so may mean you have to make some difficult decisions through the design and specifications phase. But, your contractor should be able to help with those by presenting different options.


Confirming the Budget Range

Design-Build remodel firms like Specialty Home Improvement will generally give you a budget range or confirm whether we can work within your budget range after our free initial consultation. It’s in our best interest to ensure that we only take on clients for whom we believe we can build within their budgets.


We work with our clients in the initial phases to determine design elements, material specifications, measurements, quantities and the myriad other details of your project so that we can make sure the budget proposal that we present to you is accurate.


As you can imagine, all that up-front work costs us time and money as well. There is nothing worse than spending weeks or months working to design and specify a beautiful remodel project only to find out that our client can’t afford it.


So, know your budget limits going into your project. Do some research on the different finishes you want to add to your kitchen or bath renovation or room addition. Look at cabinets, plumbing fixtures and appliances.


Make lists of the things you think you’ll need for your project. Find pictures of spaces you like. And, trust your contractor to guide you through a successful project starting with an accurate budget that reflects a remodel project as unique as your home and you and your family’s needs.


Tell Your Contractor Your Budget

The first thought that most people have is that if they tell potential remodeling contractors their budget, the contractors will most likely find a way to use up every penny…and then some. On the other hand, most remodeling contractors are so used to being stonewalled when asking the budget question, they may not even bother to ask.


Our opinion is this – you should be concerned if a potential remodeling contractor doesn’t ask about your project budget. Project budgets can range from very low to very high, depending on the quality of fixtures, workmanship, and detail requested by the client. Most reputable remodel contractors know that without at least having a basic budget to shoot for, it is impossible to bid a project properly.


For this reason, it is wise for you to at least share a budget range with potential contractors. If, for instance, you are planning a guest bath remodel and know that you would like to spend a total of $15,000 to $20,000 for the entire project – that is the number you should share with the contractors bidding on your project. On the other hand, if you feel you have $60,000 or so to spend on your dream kitchen remodel, let your potential contractors know that as well.

Here’s the bottom line… most good contractors can do a bathroom remodel project from somewhere in the $3,000 – $5,000 range all the way up to the $100,000 range. If you don’t let them know what your budget expectations are, bids may come in all over the place.


The most common complaint we hear from potential clients is that they received bids that are all over the map. The first question we ask is whether or not they shared their budget up front. Without doing so, it is impossible to get apples-to-apples bids from multiple companies.


Look at it this way, If you walk onto a car lot and simply say, “I want to buy a car” without sharing your budget with the salesperson, what keeps them from showing you the most expensive cars? Now, it may be that you can afford and want the most expensive car. If that’s the case, then you don’t want to waste your time looking at the cheapos.


Leave a little bit of your budget in reserve. Do a little shopping for fixtures, appliances, and cabinets prior to meeting with potential remodelers. Understand your project and budget and make sure to give this information to potential contractors so they can provide accurate bids. It will save you time, money and give you an opportunity to choose your contractor based on the scopes of work and contractor’s reputations instead of deciding who to hire solely on the basis of price.


Do Costs Vary Based on Location?

We think it’s fair to say that remodeling in San Diego and all the different cities and regions in San Diego County would represent a colorful quilt of cultures, styles and wealth distribution. From the strong military presence to the unique climates from one valley to the next, San Diego is a social hodgepodge and unique melting pot of the best of the best from around the world – and I wouldn’t have it any other way!


Some of our clients have wondered from time to time how remodeling pricing in San Diego and throughout San Diego County differs from city to city. For instance, they worry that San Diego remodelers and remodeling contractors may see that they live in La Jolla and charge more for a kitchen remodel than they would for a similar kitchen remodel in Poway.


We can’t speak for any other remodel contractors in San Diego, but when it comes to Specialty Home Improvement, remodeling prices do differ from city to city, though not for the reasons you might think!


Remodeling project costs in San Diego tend to increase in higher-wealth areas, but this is a direct result of the needs and sophistication of the client. For instance, when performing a kitchen remodel in the coastal areas of San Diego like La Jolla, Solana Beach, Delmar, Encinitas and Carlsbad, clients tend to have residences and tastes with more unique needs, ranging from the accessibility challenges to eclectic finish fixture selection. Remodel clients in some areas of San Diego tend to request higher-end finishes, finer quality workmanship and seek more extensive remodel projects to keep up with the standards they are accustomed to.


Homeowners living in more moderate cities, such as Escondido, San Marcos, Oceanside, Chula Vista, Scripps Ranch, and Vista are more likely to request standard remodels and look to cut costs on finishes. They can also tend to shy away from some of the specialty design extras that can quickly increase the final price of the project.


Obviously, this is a broad stereotype and doesn’t come close to applying to everyone in every area. There are plenty of high-end remodeled homes in Escondido and plenty of homeowners in La Jolla who only want a small kitchen renovation.


Generally speaking, however, San Diego remodel clients living in more affluent areas tend to prefer intricate tile backsplashes and $8,000 tubs, while a homeowner with a remodel project in a more middle class area may be comfortable picking out a nice $1,000 tub and passing on the tile backsplash.


Also affecting the budget at this level is that higher end items often take more care, knowledge, and time to install properly. In short, every little decision affects the bottom line of a remodeling project. Consulting with your experienced San Diego remodel contractor will help you to determine what best suits your needs, budget and neighborhood.


Regardless of location, our opinion is that each custom remodel project in San Diego is unique (that’s why they’re called custom!) and the costs should be based on the requirements of the project, rather than where it is located.

If you found this blog post helpful, you may also be interested in reading more specifics about bathroom remodel and/or kitchen remodel costs, or spending some time with our ADU cost calculator or our home addition cost calculator.

Take advantage of our experience remodeling in all of the various regions of San Diego County by contacting Sheen Fischer at (760) 738-6270 or fill out our contact form.