All right, all right, I admit it – I am more than a bit of a construction geek, and one of my favourite soap-boxes is the budgeting component of any renovation project. Having executed literally hundreds of home renovations on-budget (with budgets ranging $50,000 to $750,000), we’ve learned a few things to protect our clients from nasty surprises and cost over-runs. Here are the highlights:
Surprise, surprise! The single most effective way to guarantee you’ll be on budget at the end of your construction is to have clearly and specifically identified what your goals are for the project up front. Write a list of your goals, prioritize them and clearly communicate them to your renovator. This information will be the vision that you and your renovator can work toward.
The only way to accurately understand the necessary components of your renovation is to thoughtfully assess the space under consideration. This means site visits, asbestos testing (if your home was built prior to 1980), consultations with related professionals; doing whatever it takes to ensure that qualified pros review your home from every perspective. An example: at the outset of design stage in a project we completed a couple of years ago, I inspected the basement ceiling and discovered that there were multiple sister joists tying into and overloading a joist that was too long to begin with. Yikes! If that family had ever hosted a party with 20 people in their living room the floor would have collapsed! So, we brought in an engineer and came up with a cost-effective solution to stabilize the floor. This planning was done as we were designing for the renovation, averting nasty surprises mid-way through construction and allowing us the time required to land on the right solution: one that would not blow the renovation budget.
Be very clear
Once you’ve identified the project goals, the only way to develop a truly accurate and predictable renovation budget is to precisely design the finished result. Stephen Covey probably wasn’t thinking about construction when he said, ”Begin with the end in mind”, but it’s sage advice nonetheless. Purchasing a kitchen is much like purchasing a car: there is a vast array of cabinetry available that varies wildly in terms of cost. Without a completed drawing of your kitchen, a verbal quote is almost meaningless.
Specifications are (Almost) Everything
Given the above, a completed set of interior design drawings is your friend, allowing you to get accurate, comparable quotes from several sources, thereby keeping everyone involved appropriately competitive. An experienced designer will have presented you with selections at varying price points, ensuring you don’t get surprised later by individual line item costs.
Completed plan and elevation drawings of your project, coupled with a brand-specific list of specifications for every item included in the construction should give professional renovators everything they need to properly price your project. Many builders and renovators use a base-line item and then charge for upgrades. (Example: some builders will allow for a $50 bathroom sink in their renovation budget, and when your selection is a $200 sink, this will result in a $150 upgrade cost). Make sure you understand clearly what specifications their quote includes – don’t get unwittingly caught in this cycle of constant upcharges.
Quotes (and Mind the Gap)
After design should come the quoting phase of a project. Get written quotes for everything!
At KHD, we host what we call trades day for every project, where we invite our team of trusted tradespeople to your home so they can prepare accurate written quotes. Everyone who will work on that project attends that meeting, both from the design and the construction side. We review conditions in the home, share info with each other, clarify any questions that may arise, and allow those trades whose work will overlap to discuss and resolve any questions. This is how to eliminate what I call the vision gap: the failure of the construction team to understand and actualize the vision of the design team. This vision gap can be huge and dramatically diminish the quality of your completed project.
The magic word is WORKFLOW
A true construction project management professional will prepare a sequential list of tasks to be completed to get your project across the finish line. Every detail should be plugged into a spreadsheet or Gantt chart that lists every stage of the project, starting with site protection and ending with a cleaning crew coming out to shine up the finished result. It is essential that the costs for labour and materials for every item in construction are included in this workflow document. Breaking things down into individual actions minimizes the possibility of overlooking any critical details.
We plug every detail into a spreadsheet and review this document carefully with our clients during planning phase. The individual and overall costs are transparently discussed, and final priorities are established at this meeting. At the end of it, we have our workflow: a crystal-clear roadmap of activities to get us across the finish line on budget.
Last, but certainly not least, is the time it will take to accomplish the construction. If someone can’t tell you exactly how long your renovation will take to execute, then they probably haven’t done their homework, and perhaps you should question if they are truly organized and trustworthy. A pro should be able to tell you in advance of commencement, exactly how long the renovation will take. We provide all our renovation clients with a calendar outlining who will be in on what days, and what they will be doing to execute their part of the project. Trades are booked in advance, all material orders are placed and timed to deliver before they are required on site, shipments are arranged, and materials are stock-piled. When construction begins, everyone knows who and when and what will happen every single day. It’s like we are all aboard the same train as it pulls out of the station.
Happy dreaming as you envision the changes you’ll make in your home. At KHD we know that well-designed and well-executed renovations will add value to your home and rich enjoyment to your life. I hope these ideas from the front-lines will protect you from unnecessary stress and save you valuable time.
Krista Hermanson Design is a Calgary Interior Designer that specializes in residential renovations. We have worked with many families in Calgary who have felt disconnected to a certain area of their home, and we listen just as hard when our clients talk about budgets and timelines as we do when they talk about their vision for the space. It’s this design process that has enabled us to complete hundreds of residential renovations on budget and on schedule.
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