The Real Cost of Home Improvement

Last week a gentleman called me to inquire about my design services for a home remodeling project he was planning. After discussing his needs and how I could help him make the project a reality, I asked if he could share his budget. I can tell you that it was terribly unrealistic, and unfortunately, this is often the case. Before you get in over your head or find out you can’t achieve all of your goals, let’s get down to business to find ways to help you establish realistic budgets for your home improvement projects.

The wealth of information available on design is a double-edged sword. Frankly, the projects you see on TV are often the stuff of fiction, low-cost and faster than humanly possible. I’d love to be able to source their materials at those costs and build out a project in three days, but that’s just not the real world. Online design magazines and bloggers create exquisite transformations with the click of a mouse. Yes, you can buy new pillows and lamps and feel the effect of these changes immediately. Yet the truth of these design matters is that the most successful and satisfying renovation projects require enormous amounts of planning, thousands of decisions, and a team of professionals whose experience will guide you through the known and even the unknowns that always pop up in renovations.

ImaginEco family kitchen dining remodel (1)-crop

Just a few of the 1000s of decisions that are made on a project!

START BY HIRING A PROFESSIONAL    A licensed architect, accredited interior designer, or licensed builder can assist you with cost ranges for your project scope, be it an addition or remodeling your kitchen or bath. Invest in a consultation with one of these professionals to see if you’re on the right path for your budget and expectations. If you decide to move forward, keep the design pro on board to save you time, money, and headaches. Design pros provide expertise in solutions and materials that usually exceed your expectations. And they present options of which you may not have been aware. Instead of spending weeks wondering if that wall is load-bearing or selecting a faucet or door knobs or grout, yes, all those fun things, your design pro will present a few options to which you can say, yes, yes, and thank you very much!

ESTABLISH AND STICK TO YOUR BUDGET    You must have a budget…period.  It’s the same as buying a car. You wouldn’t go to the car dealer without knowing what you want to spend and what you can afford. When my clients don’t have a budget, I present potential project budget numbers (for example, kitchen remodels average around $20,000 but the sky’s the limit) until I reach the number where they become uncomfortable. I call this their fall-on-the-floor number which allows us to discuss and pinpoint a realistic number that will build the project and to which they’re comfortable making a commitment to spend and proceed.

Throughout the design and build-out, you must stick to this number, the most difficult part of any project. In renovations, typically at least 10% of the project budget is set aside for unknown conditions that will be found and must be handled. So if your project budget is $50,000, at least $5,000 will be set aside for these unexpected conditions.

Wanting the best of every thing is a common trait. Select the best products that fit your current budget and provide the aesthetics, maintenance, and durability that suit your family. I want a Viking stove too and maybe some day I’ll have one! Also, avoid scope creep. It’s not a scary person but it’s just as frightening. Remodeling your bath may not mean you have the funds to remodel the kitchen too. Upgrading every item by $100 can add up very quickly.  Another benefit of working with a design pro is that they will assist you in this, including anticipating areas of work that may be outside of the project scope but will require work. For example, an open kitchen remodel will likely require fresh paint and perhaps flooring throughout the open area, not just in the kitchen.

Also consider the costs you’ll incur indirectly. For example, will you be able to stay in your home during the construction? Or will you have to pay for a short-term rental or hotel? If you’re remodeling the kitchen you may need to plan to dine out frequently.

ADDITIONAL COST INFO RESOURCES    Your location is an influential factor in material and labor costs. Costs in Michigan are not the same as in Alaska due to local labor rates and material availability. Here in Michigan, our contractors who rode out the 2008 financial crisis are busier than they’ve been in years, so planning your project early is key as well. If you’re doing the work or creating a budget yourself, enlist your local shops for flooring, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, and window cost quotes.  There are thousands of online and print remodeling budget resources for you to peruse as you plan your project. Here are a few to get you started.

National Association of Home Builders has resources and will connect you to your local chapter. provides the average cost for 30 popular remodeling projects across the US and specifically by your broad geographic region. provides average costs for remodeling projects across the US and specifically by your city. is in-depth dependable cost data that is locally relevant, accurate and up-to-date, typically used by pros only but is available online.

I’d love to hear your design project stories and your questions are always welcome. What are your home design projects for 2016? Be sure to follow my blog, twitter, and Like ImaginEco on facebook for daily design tips and inspiration.

Imagine the possibilities,


4 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Home Improvement

  1. So true! Also remodelers should consider “contractor’s time” as an entirely different creature than clock time. Whatever the original plan, count on it taking at least twice as long.

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