Day in and day out frustrated homeowners visit our studio toting a completed set of plans hot off the press from their architect or designer.  They are in search of a company to help them with the next step, building their project.  There seems to be something missing, the smile on their face, the bounce in their step.  Instead they have been pushed to the brink with a set of plans that they feel have been compromised and not within their budget.  Too often homeowners walk in, hand us a set of plans, and say help!  They have deemed their plans worthless.  Why, because they have visited with a few builders too little too late obtaining estimates far above what they expected the cost to be.  This problem occurs far too often for homeowners and here is some advice to overcome it.  ü       Establish an Investment Goal for your home Problem: Too often homeowners attempt to estimate a project themselves.  “The Jone’s next door did their kitchen for $75,000 ours must be less because we would pick out less expensive things”.  “I bet we could pull it off for $50,000”.  It’s very easy for a person excited about remodeling to mis-lead themselves.  Be careful not to put to much value in what your friends say they spent on their project.  Most boast about how little they spent when in fact they spent more and were miserable during the process.  The construction and remodeling business is one of the few custom business’s left in our society today.  Many costs within a project can be controlled by the homeowner.  It could be the amount of work you plan to contract out, the amount you plan to do your self, or the materials your specify.  Be aware that it always boils down to compromises, but you are in control. Advice: Come at it from a different angle.Rather than attempt to become a construction estimator over night spend your time reviewing the financials of your biggest investment, your home.  Determine a total dollar amount you feel comfortable investing in your home and allocate it to the projects you are planning.  Prepare a general overall wish list for your home. Then search for a company (see related articles) that can help you organize your thoughts and considers meeting your investment goal as part of the solution they provide.  Within a community there are likely a select group of remodelers with very good reputations offering both design and construction.  Many homeowners may rule these companies out as being too expensive, or, they may feel that their project does not require a company of their stature.  The truth of the matter is if your desire is to have the best end product these companies will provide the reality check that most need.  From design to cost listen to these companies because sooner than later you’ll get the truth you need to know while you still have control over your own money.  ü       The question of all questions.  How much? Problem: We call it the “Kitchen before the Egg”.  Many times homeowners want to find out how much their project will cost before any design or materials have been established.  Try going to your travel agent and ask “How much is a vacation for one week?”  Considering you haven’t told them how many people, where you are going, the quality of the accommodations, it’s an impossible question to answer.  Furthermore homeowners will continue searching until they hear what they want to hear.  Once they hear it, and they may, it’s often homeowners will select this company.  I have heard customers say “I didn’t feel that good about ABC Company but I figure the lower cost is worth the misery”.   This is the guy next door with the Remodeling Horror stories you have probably heard about.  He deserves it.  Solution: Search for a company specializing in design that accepts some level of accountability for meeting your investment goal and be prepared to invest in design (see article on “Design, who needs it, You!).  When it comes time to purchase a new car I doubt you would tell the mechanic at the dealership to deliver your new car, un-assembled, into your living room, not to mention any color or options he wants.  When determining an estimated cost you don’t want just the mechanic or the engineer whom designed the car, you need both.  Ideally you select a company that offers both design and construction known as Design/Build.  This more contemporary solution offers built in accountability to meeting your investment goal otherwise when conveying your investment goal to the design team you may experience glassy eyes since ultimately it is not their responsibility.  If you do select a design firm that does not offer construction services in house ask them if they have a working relationship with a builder whom you can depend on when the time comes to discuss costs.  Be cautious when the architect or designer tells you they know how much things cost.  All too often they are out of touch and surprises are waiting around the corner.    Homeowner Checklist
  1. Set investment goal and let your design team know the priorities.
  2. Select a company offering both design and construction for path of least resistance or…
  3. Select a designer that has a strong alliance with a builder and be prepared to mediate.
  4. Invest in design or pay the consequences.  
  5. Review presentation of companies’ process for achieving investment goal.
  6. Be cautious when you hear what you wanted to hear.
    1. What is you estimate based off of? If I don’t have a design yet?
  7. Ask the tough questions:
    1. How does your company help us meet our design and investment goals?
    2. What if the design exceeds our investment goal?
    3. Can I see the plans of a project that is similar to mine and how much it cost?
    4. Is the price the price?  Since you are designing and building my project I assume that during construction the cost will not increase unless I add or change something?  (look in their eyes J)
    5. Be cautious of material or work allowances.  How do I know I can specify something that meets my desires within the allowance you have provided?
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