Budgeting for Your Home Improvement Project

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

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, but here you go…

The Most Common Budget Complaint

The most common budget complaint I hear from potential clients is that they received “bids” or “estimates” for their projects that are all over the map. These clients are generally very frustrated, feeling as though they’ve wasted valuable time, and not understanding 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 I 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?

The Reason

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.

The Answer

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 $20k and $30k for a bathroom remodel if that’s what it is. Sure, 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” aka 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 tasks that will need to be performed at some point for your project to be successful. 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 and that 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.

Design/Build remodel firms like mine 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 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.