“What will my home remodeling project cost?” That is a question almost every homeowner wants to know at our first meeting. I don’t blame you. You have a set amount of money for your remodel and you don’t want to run out before the end.

I have to admit that question scares me a little bit, and it probably scares a lot of architects. Why? Because here I am sitting with you, my potential client; trying to start a new relationship and cost is the last thing I want to talk about at the first meeting. Home remodeling cost estimates are difficult at any time, but at the start of the project, it is almost impossible.

We are just starting a long journey to your dream home. There are so many factors that go into a home remodeling cost estimate. Let us look at five reasons your cost estimate can be wrong at the end of your design process.

Inaccurate or Incomplete Scope of Work

The scope of work is your wants & needs for your home remodeling project. When you talk about how you want your home to be at the end of this process, you are setting the scope of work for the project. How much of your home will be remodeled or how big will be your addition? We will discuss this at our first meeting. The clearer your vision for your home, the better the project will be in the end.

Don’t limit yourself at the beginning. In fact, you want to, do a mind dump of ideas. Don’t filter or judge what you want in the beginning. The more accurate your scope of work the better the home remodeling cost estimate. We will be making compromises all during the design process (unless of course, you have a blank check—if that is the case just skip to the end for your checklist )

Scope Creep

Establishing the scope of work at the first meeting is great, but watch out for scope creep. Scope creep is when your project grows a little by little in the master bedroom or you expand the great room for a piece of furniture.

Scope creep can be a dozen tiny smart decisions that increase the size of the project. This can provide a nasty surprise when you receive the contractor’s bid for the project. Review the cost estimate for the project at the end of each phase of the design process.

The Complexity of Your Home Remodel Design

The design of your home will affect your home remodeling cost estimate. A single story addition and remodel is cheaper than a second story addition. A slab-on-grade foundation is cheaper than a raised foundation.

Keeping things simple and easy will cost you less. Add a second story, put your home on a hill, want high ceilings, special windows & doors will increase the complexity of your home remodeling project and thus the home remodeling cost estimate.

Hey don’t get me wrong, I love to design special spaces for your family. Your home is where memories will be made. Just know the more you increase the complexity of the design the higher the cost estimate.

FInishes and Fixtures

Hands down the most difficult item to estimate at the start of your project. The cost of materials & fixtures can vary by a wide margin. You may have an idea of the type of materials you want to use in your dream home, but rarely are finish materials discussed at the first meeting. There are so many big items that need to be discussed.

Also, a small change in the price of a product can make a big impact on your cost estimate because of how many items there are in your remodeling project. A change in the price of doorknobs multiplied by 15 doors can add up. That affects your home remodeling cost estimate.

The type of finishes and the quality you select are big factors on the cost. Having a wood floor or a tile floor is usually not something that is discussed in the first meeting. But the cost of wood or tile is different and will affect the home remodeling cost estimate differently. We haven’t even talked about plumbing fixtures or kitchen appliances.

I can’t tell you enough how I have made the mistake in the past of sitting down with a client, and they’re describing their dream home, and they’re thinking about granite and a specific type of hardware and solid core doors and all this, and I’m designing for the neighborhood, which is maybe a standard tile and very nice finishes, but not the upper end that you might see on some of the DIY television shows. That difference between our two visions can be quite a bit.

Construction Activity

The last item that can affect your home remodeling cost estimate is the construction activity that is in your area. If there is a lot of construction going on, then finding a good contractor is going to be harder and is going to cost more. It’s just the law of supply and demand.

If a contractor already has a couple of projects going, they have their workload set for the coming months. Can they squeeze in another project, absolutely? Since they are comfortable with their future workload they have no incentive to be competitive in their bid. That is if you can get a contractor to bid your project. I have found that when it is busy, contractor’s will do a project on a Cost Plus Basis.

Here are some takeaways for you.

  • Be clear & specific at the first meeting with your architect
  • Watch out for small changes in your project during the design process
  • Having a contingency is absolutely vital to your budget and peace of mind. 5 to 10% is a good target.
  • Carefully select finishes and fixtures that fit your budget. Work with your architect to keep cost down. Be flexible and creative with finishes
  • If there is a lot of construction activity in your area negotiate a Cost-plus contract with a good contractor.

Ready to Start Your Home Remodeling Project?

I’ve created a Dream Home Resource Guide that can help you sort through the major ideas of this article when starting your home remodeling project.