I see a lot of great articles online about what to expect from your contractor for your custom build or remodel project. They all mention some great information and remind you to be sure you look at permits, insurance, scope of work, timeline, etc… all very important items. However, the one thing I did not see mentioned is “please don’t sign anything unless there is a crystal clear budget and that you understand all of the verbiage”. We are not saying there might not be budget changes, additions or unforeseen construction issues to address during the process. On really large projects, a good contractor will often include a “contingency” budget line item as a set percentage of the contract to cover some of those hard to predict costs. But when you get started, it is so very important that the budget reflects all of the material & labor in the original scope of work by category or line item.
Of course, in my opinion, if you hire a good designer prior to the process getting underway you will get the best results. Often we can save you time and money, and you will be guided thru what can be a stressful process by a professional. It is our sincere goal to make sure your GC has a clear plan for what to build and this will typically help them to budget accurately from the start. However, some of our clients come to us after plans have been drawn by an architect and after they have hired a contractor with a general budget. And while it might be hard to believe, some clients even come to us after they are underway and having difficulties!
In this first case that we want to share, we have a lovely client that had such a vague contract from the GC for their fairly large “addition & remodel”. There was no clear cut line item by line item budget for the surfaces and finishes. The prices are all lumped together in each category, and there was no estimated square footage called out, even though they had final architectural plans in hand when they hired this GC. In your contract, there should be a detailed breakdown of the material price if you have already specified selections or had your designer do so, or a material “allowance” if you have not specified yet. Additionally, there should be very clear line items for labor in all categories as well. If there is a material allowance, it would be in your best interest to investigate if that allowance is “reasonable” for those type of items, or request more information from the GC, i.e…”what type of material would fit into that allowance”. For example, if you have custom wood floors on your Pinterest or Houzz, and they have included a budget for LVT or Laminate, you are not going to be happy with that change order. With this same thought in mind, ask the question if you don’t understand an abbreviation. On this same project, the General Contractor included “RTA Cabinets”, and the client had no idea what that meant or the limitations of “Ready to Assemble” Cabinets. This was not really the contractors fault, he assumed they understood what that meant and his goal was to give them a very reasonable budget to get them to hire him. It wasn’t until we started working with the client on the design details that we were able to understand that what they wanted for their new kitchen, was not going to be made with ready to assemble cabinets. Ultimately in this case, the client decided to spend the time & money for custom cabinets, and we know they will love them, but it was a stressful and costly process that could have been easily avoided.
We want to share a few of the most important interior items to clearly understand and expect in your budget, & while every project is unique, this list should be helpful:
Cabinets - (material & labor & hardware) will they be custom or “ready to assemble”, if you don’t understand the difference, ask your contractor or designer to explain this for you (see future blog!)
Counters - (material & labor) will these be “prefab” or custom – same note as above
Flooring - (material & labor)
Stone/Tile Work - (material & labor)
Paint - (material & labor)
Finish Trim - (doors/baseboards/casing/crown molding/wainscot – material & labor)
Hardware - (door hardware & labor)
Electrical – (parts & labor)
Plumbing – (parts & labor)
Fixtures – plumbing & lighting – often provided by the home owner or designer
Appliances – often provided by home owner or designer
Appliance Installation – most high-line, pro-style appliances require professional installation (this is very important!)
The real challenge in the case of the client we mentioned above, is that the client is now being given numerous, expensive change orders. Because so much of the budget was bundled together in the contract, it is very difficult to unwind parts of the contract. There are areas where they don’t mind spending some more money on items that are very important, make a dramatic design impact or function better for their family, and other areas where they would prefer to stay close to budget. Additionally, they have learned the hard way that the very affordable finishes budgeted by the GC did not align with their taste or quality expectations.
A good contractor won’t mind being asked for the budget to be broken down in detail. We have a few terrific GC’s that we work with on a regular basis and they do it that way every time. We weren’t there when the client hired this GC, and he is a nice guy (licensed & insured too), and the home owners are wonderful, smart people, and we will make sure the house turns our beautifully regardless, but they just didn’t know what they didn’t know. Now you know!
Design Your Life !