5 budget tips for remodel projects with a contractor

5 min read

Few household expenditures are as unpredictable as home improvement projects.

We've all heard the horror stories from our friends and family members; the faucet they thought cost $300 actually retails for $800; the shower redo that seemed straightforward got real pricey when the contractor discovered the sub-floor was rotten; the additional lighting that forced an entire new service panel to the tune of two grand.

The recipe for success is trying to account for these unexpected expenditures up front. That's not always easy, but here's 5 tips that should help when you're working with a contractor on a remodel:

5. Pick your budget level early on and stick to it. Figure out what you can spend first and then learn how far that money can go, not the other way around. Sure, we may all want to remodel several rooms, but may only have enough money for one. Be realistic here. And you'll likely need to prioritize. Most of the times kitchens and bathrooms lead this list.

4. Don't make contractors guess your budget. I know several designers and contractors personally, and I can tell you that they all want to get you the best bang for your buck. They can't do that if they don't know your budget limit. And playing a guessing game with contractor or designer will only add time and frustration to the planning process.

3. Don't believe everything you see on TV. Home remodeling shows are all the rage on television now, and many of them do a huge disservice to viewers by giving them false impressions of the costs of remodeling projects. In most cases those shows are working co-op deals with appliance, flooring, counter-top, and paint manufacturers--so these companies get product placement shots in the show in exchange for donating materials. That skews the actual cost of the project. A full kitchen remodel, for instance, is rarely ever going to cost less than $20,000, especially if you hire a designer.

2. Remember the 20 percent rule. As you create your budget, subtract 20 percent for cost overrun, material cost-difference, or other "surprises." Most Design-Build-Remodel firms already build this number in their margins, but you need to know that while budgeting for a remodel project. If neither of you build in the 20 percent and something goes goofy (which it always does!) then money will have to come from somewhere. I don't know about you, but I generally don't have a spare $20K hanging around.

1. Change orders hurt. Nothing adds costs to a remodeling project faster than changing your mind halfway through the job. If it adds a little extra time to the front end of a project, then so be it. It's much cheaper to spend a little more time making sure you get what you want, rather than switching materials and appliances in the middle of the project. Plus, change orders nearly always add time to every project.

Of course there are some takeaways from these tips for everyone but if you're looking for tips more specific to DIY projects, stay tuned for our top 5 list of DIY budgeting tips next week. (The best way to do that is to sign up for our blog e-mail subscription. Sign up, and we'll send our blog posts directly to your inbox.)