Five Tips to Keep Your Project in Budget

  1.  Start with the right budget.  Be realistic about your budget and honest with your construction professionals.  I’m not sure why people aren’t honest about their budgets with the people who are working very hard to help them make that budget.  I wonder if they feel that the same thing will cost less if they throw out a lower number?  Does that make any sense?  There’s no way to know which clients are holding back their real budget and which ones aren’t.  As an architect, it’s hard to watch clients adding items to an already tight budget, not knowing if they’re just getting the house they really want, and are prepared to pay for, or are pushing the whole project to the point of collapse.
  2. Prioritize your wants and needs. Financial adviser Suze Orman says to consider every purchase as a want or a need.  The same advice goes for your new home or remodel.  Make a list and work with your family members to prioritize your wants and needs.  I had a client that added “want” and “need” next to each item on their design list.  While this was helpful, it’s better to prioritize everything.  A valuable tool that I learned from working with a Cohousing community, where all decisions had to be made through consensus, was to put all the wants and needs on separate slips of paper.  Then only two items are compared, starting with one item and adding each new slip with the mantra, “would you rather have this or that?”  Sort each slip, working from the bottom until a completely sorted priority list is compiled.  It may seem like a lot of work, but this is not just a home, but also the biggest investment most people make.
  3. Contain the creep.  This is especially important in a remodel or addition.  The newly improved or added space is going to make the rest of the house look tired.  It’s so easy to say to your contractor, “While we’re at it . . .” without getting a written price for that change until the work is done.  Keeping the construction contained to a discrete section of the house will help both your sanity and wallet.
  4. Sometimes less is more.  There are many ways to achieve a great look with less expensive materials and great design.  The cost of hiring an architect or interior design can easily pay for itself in creativity.  An example is in the choice of tile.  Stone tile looks great and many aren’t that expensive.  The real cost comes in the labor to install stone tile.  A good designer can achieve a great look using porcelain tile as the base and adding stone or other tiles as accents.
  5. Understand the full cost implications of the choices you make.  You’ve asked the architect to make a room one foot bigger.  How does this change the structural efficiency of the house?  Have you just added a new beam and post line in the structure of the house because you’ve gone beyond the maximum length of the joist system?  Added a hip and valley to the roof, increasing cost to the roofing, framing, and roof framing material?  When I design, I’m thinking in plan, elevation, and structure all at the same time to come up with the best solution.  In many cases, that efficiency is lost as the client makes changes.  Don’t be afraid to ask how a change affects the budget.  While I can’t give a definitive price of a change, I do have a feel for when the complexity of a house no longer fits the budget.