Remodeling Need To Know Secrets: How to remodel a house within a budget


It's a Common Scenario...

A client has a house the he or she would like to remodel with a strict budget.  The typical path is to hire an architect whom will create plans for the dream remodel of the client.  The plans then go to an engineer whom engineers the remodel based on as-built information either he gathered or was provided by the architect.  Once the plans are complete, they go out for bid to maybe three contractors , only to have the bids come back at twice the budget or even more.  The client is then extremely disappointed and will often give up on the remodel all together or go back to step one and start the process all over again, costing money that did not need to be spent.

When doing a remodel in the Tahoe Truckee areas, we are predominately working with structures that were built anywhere from the 60’s to the 90’s under much less stringent codes and much less stringent inspections by the building department or engineer.  It is also rare to get accurate as-built information, with-out destructive testing which is usually discouraged, because plans were hand drawn and either lost over the years or un-readable or just do not exist.  This leads to unknowns when opening up walls as the building begins.  These unknowns are like opening a can of worms and can cost a great deal of money.  So basically the contractor bid the project off of a set of plans that may not reflect the entire scope of work to be done.

The problem lies in the process. 

The contractor (where 90%+ of the budget is spent) is the last person to be involved in the process.  He or she is typically unfamiliar with the existing structure and often does not even visit the site and bids directly off the plans.  The contractor is also the best person to be giving you estimates on the cost of construction, demolition and can also often provide cheaper solutions to difficult situations that will be encountered in the field.  It also helps to have prevent dreams from getting too big i.e. if ideas that come up in the design process have a price tag associated with it, you might be a little less apt to becoming attached to the idea if it has a high cost.

It is also a good idea to get the engineer involved in the process.  The engineer can help regulate the design process by discussing such things as code requirements for wood shear walls so the client does not end up with a moment frame costing 10-20 times more than shear walls or just letting the contractor and architect know that a substantial cost has been added to the project.

The idea is to create a design / build team from day one. 

In other words, interview several contractors prior to beginning the design process and decide on a contractor to do the remodel or at least retain their services thru the design process.  It is extremely important to create a strict budget and let the architect and contractor know the budget, the engineer just needs to know that he or she is to be doing value engineering.  The contractor can then become familiar with the structure and get a reasonable idea of the level of existing construction.   The goal here is to get the person that controls the highest costs involved right away.  So on day one, you can get the Architect, Engineer, Contractor and Owner at the same table, or have an electronic meeting, where the scope of work can be discussed and a budget established.  A good contractor can provide estimates thru-out the design process so the project does not have a chance to get out of control.  This process will typically not net you the dream remodel, but will net you a remodel that you can afford, which from what I have found is the most important thing for many clients.

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  1. Annie Craven
    Annie Craven May 21 2014

    Excellent post! It’s definitely a great idea to get everyone involved right from the get go. Do the proper research and you will be able to make your dreams come to reality. Thanks for sharing.

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