Allowances and Budgeting Can Be a Nightmare for Both Contractor and Client
There are two really frustrating issues that can (and usually do) surface during the course of a remodeling project. Inadequate allowances and/or not identifying and budgeting for all the items a client wants, can really turn a project sour. To anyone getting ready to plunge into a project or to those in the early stages of a project, take heed and insist that your architect/designer help you avoid these pitfalls. This second piece of advice might sting a little, but here it goes…take control of your own budget. If there is a line item allowance for a material and you select another material that is more expensive, that’s your choice as the homeowner. That does not become your contractor’s problem. This is one area where contractors and homeowners sometimes have issues, so avoid this altogether by paying attention that each purchase or expenditure falls within the set allowance for that item. It is, after all, your project and ultimately your check book. Now, to avoid the issue of an inadequate allowance by your contractor, you need to be very clear about what you want in the early stages of design and planning, so both of you are clear on what is expected. Material samples are a very important part of gaining clarity. When a material is chosen from a sample (be it flooring, cabinetry, tile, trim, whatever), budgeting is a piece of cake and no one gets hit with a surprise when it’s installed or when the bill comes. The other communication that needs to happen is a design. Cabinetry, for instance, needs to be planned in terms of layout, door style and finish and accessories installed inside. All of those details need to be understood, and there’s no better way to communicate those details than with a set of approved drawings.
It can be difficult for a contractor to create a budget, when the client isn’t extremely specific about what they want. I tend to budget “middle of the road” when figuring allowances for materials that are not specified, rather than going low just to get the job. I can closely predict what a particular house may dictate construction-wise, but I cannot possibly know what finishes an individual may want in their home. The vast amount of selections required with an even larger range of pricing for these items makes it nearly impossible to define a budget. Ultimately it is up to the homeowner to decide how much they want to spend and what finishes they would like in their home. Because I am also a designer, I help my clients make all those decisions. Plan, plan, plan is the only way to have a project hit budget. And if you choose not to plan and wing it along the way, please do not blame the contractor. We would love to have detailed material lists, so we may price your project accurately. It is equally frustrating for us to wait for your decisions and re-schedule due to changes you have made (or not made). We are forced to bite our tongues when you ask “why is it costing so much and why is it taking longer than you said it would.”
Please understand, I am not trying to throw my clients under the bus for having unrealistic expectations and an undisciplined approach to budgets and choices (which by the way are both based on emotion). I think the most effective approach to prevent budget creep from happening is early material selection and design planning. I ask my clients to provide me with a folder of pictures of what they like, so I can see their design aesthetic and know what finishes are most important to them. Then, I ask them to pick material samples with my vendors so I can establish a realistic allowance for each material expenditure. I also put in a contingency allowance for those unexpected expenses that arise.
The important thing for me as a designer and contractor is to bring awareness to these issues that are quite common, so they can be addressed in the beginning before the first check is written.