Ask a Builder: What’s the Best Way to Keep Remodeling Costs in Check?

Consulting with a remodeler before drawing the plans will save expense and headaches.

Most remodelers have had clients show up at their office with a set of finished plans for a major project that, in reality, will cost 25% to 30% more than their target budget. Fortunately, this problem is easily avoided. Working with the remodeler on a pre-budget can eliminate unpleasant surprises and help the clients get the result they want at a price they can manage.

Pre-budgeting is essential because a lot of people base their budget expectations on average remodeling project costs they hear from acquaintances or find on the Internet. This approach may yield an accurate rough estimate for a simple project —a basic rectangular deck or a bathroom facelift, for example—but it’s not very helpful when planning a major custom remodeling job.

Specialized contractors like roofers, window replacement companies, and even some cabinet replacement firms can advertise prices for jobs on homes they haven’t seen because their jobs are all basically the same. The work is repetitive, so crews can complete it quickly and efficiently, holding down labor costs. These companies also often buy materials in bulk, which qualifies them for volume pricing.

The professional remodeler working on a major custom job operates in a vastly different world. Each project has a unique design and often includes engineered structural features as well as custom products and finishes. The homeowners are able to get exactly what they want, but project costs can vary widely based on the features and products they choose.

Remodeling costs for the same type of job can also vary from one home to another. For instance, it might take more time to add a feature, such as a dormer or cathedral ceiling, to a particular home because of its existing structural condition.

With a major custom remodel, it’s best for customers to ask a professional remodeler to review their initial vision and inspect their home before they get plans drawn. The remodeler can suggest value-engineering approaches to shave structural costs, as well as ways to save money on products and materials. Years of experience have taught the pro the most efficient approaches and—just as important in a remodel—the potential problems they might find once they start removing parts of the existing structure. Understanding about potential concerns will let the homeowners know how much of a contingency to include in the budget.

And while most remodelers don’t buy products in bulk, they are highly skilled purchasers who know how to get the best available pricing. They can suggest brands and models that look and perform as well as those the customers have in mind, but that are kinder to the budget.

Once the actual design process gets underway, it’s a good idea to have the remodeler do spot checks at different stages. A design-build company will do this as a matter of course, and many architects and designers will involve a contractor in the design. Be sure to ask. If the design firm doesn’t offer this service, then insist on having it done. If the remodeler hasn’t been chosen yet, paying one a consulting fee may be a wise investment.

The bottom line is that involving a professional remodeler at the earliest stages of the design is an investment that more than pays for itself.