by Mina Fies
Fielding budget-related questions is one of the trickiest parts of our job, because there’s always a fine line between giving clients what they want and what their budget will allow.
We often see budget-conscious clients who want to choose lower-quality products to keep costs down. The problem is, those choices don’t always correspond with the quality in the rest of their home and can ultimately affect resale, often doing more harm than good. On the other hand, some clients have a propensity towards great-quality products, and create visions for their space that if executed, would tip them way past their stated budget.
So how do we help clients when they are unwilling to share their budget? The simple answer is: we can’t. Most clients think that if they explain what they want to a contractor, the pros should easily be able to tell them how much it’s going to cost. Unfortunately, that’s a complete misnomer. Picture yourself walking into a used car lot and telling your salesman you want a white sports car with power windows and navigation, and asking them how much it will cost. They’d look at you like you were crazy – clueless whether to steer you towards Toyotas or BMWs, and unable to help you until you shared some solid numbers.
The same goes for renovations. Take a kitchen sink for example: they can range from $60 to $8,000! You’ll soon find that large price swings like that will apply to every selection you make during your renovation. Even simple selections like a toilet can be a choice between a basic American Standard for $250 or an ultra-contemporary Toto for $1,400 or more.
What most people don’t realize is that pulling together a proposal for a renovation project is a delicate and detailed process. To come up with an accurate estimate, a good contractor acknowledges the tastes and wishes of the homeowner, takes note of the quality in their current home and what they’re trying to achieve, and uses his or her expertise of various products to craft a proposal unique to each client. The best contractors are those who truly have their clients’ best interests in mind – both the stated expectations, and the acceptable levels of quality that the clients aren’t even aware of.
Interior Designer Lauren Liess lays it out pure and simple on her blog, Pure Style Home:
“People often fear telling a designer their budget because they fear she will ‘spend it all.’ Well, guess what? We will!!! A designer’s job is to know the client’s budget and do as much as she/he can with that budget. If a client tells me she has $45,000 for a room, I’m going to use every cent of that $45,000 to get her the best quality she can afford. Similarly, if a client has $18,000 for a room, I’m going to use all of it too so that she can have the best she can afford. Is the client who spent $18,000 getting the same thing the client who spent $45,000 is? No, definitely not. If a client really has $15,000 to spend and tells me he has $10,000 … I’m going to make decisions and present based upon a level of quality and value that’s lower than what he can really afford.”
(“Reality Check: What Does it Really Cost to Furnish a Room?” http://purestylehome.blogspot.com)
A good design professional knows the difference in quality and price of products that will be used in your project. Contractors who have their own in-house design staff will be even better equipped to help you choose, as well as understand the differences, between various finishes and materials.
Once your contractor and designer understand your budget, they will be able to determine which items may be highlighted in your renovation and which must be scaled back in order to achieve the vision. Will you be looking for lots of bells and whistles in your cabinetry, or a special “distressed” finish? To achieve the cabinetry goals, perhaps the appliance or plumbing budget needs to be a bit more modest. Or maybe the current flooring is outdated or a change in wall configuration necessitates new hardwood — these important items may necessitate simplified choices for other finishes such as countertops, tile, and lighting fixtures.
Much strategic consideration and creativity are needed to achieve everything on your wish list AND stay within your budget. It’s your contractor or design professional’s job to be knowledgeable about the products and construction costs involved so that they can strike this delicate balance, and put your mind at ease. In the end, it all comes down to trust. You need to feel comfortable in sharing your investment amount (if you need help determining a realistic budget, the Cost vs. Value Remodeling Report is a great resource), and also know that your contractor is your partner in creating the best quality renovation possible for those allocated resources.
As a homeowner it’s smart to stick to your budget, but don’t be afraid to let your designer or contractor share their savvy when it comes to getting the most for your money or adjusting the project’s scope to achieve your vision. A relationship that’s built on trust will ensure that your best interests are always in mind!
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