There it is – the kitchen of your dreams. You’ve envisioned it for years now with the help of home shows, television makeover programs and the shiny pages of your local remodeling magazines. You might have even started a scrap book, set aside a budget and picked a timeframe. But how do you make your dreams a reality while keeping the kids’ college fund untouched?
For the experienced do-it-yourselfer to the seasoned contractor, balancing a remodeling budget isn’t the result of luck. Instead it starts from the beginning – from the very first magazine clipping to the last cabinet. Throughout the process, the relationship you form with the contractor and the guidelines you set will ultimately determine whether you get the kitchen of your dreams or a remodel disaster. But how can you save money and get it all? Here are some of the top ten ways to make your next kitchen remodel a success:
- Know Your Contractor – Just like people, kitchen remodeling contractors have personalities and reputations. Look for a company that not only knows what they are doing, but also one that specializes in communicating with their customers. Spend the time reviewing references, looking at pictures of previous projects and talking with the design and production teams. Avoid contractors utilizing only sub-contractors for projects and instead give special weight to those construction companies with in-house crews. Not only will it hasten the speed of the remodel, but it will avoid the inevitable communication issues that come with a different carpenter showing up at your door each and every morning. Also look for a contractor that offers itemized estimates based on activities that not only allows you to confirm the scope and avoid later surprises, but also provides you opportunity to verify costs. A good contractor will not only be confident in his or her product, but will be prepared to justify each and every activity on the jobsite.
- Know Your Budget – Set a budget and know it. Too often people looking to remodel a kitchen meet with a contractor and let them set the budget. This can result in a project that is frequently more expensive than planned and out of line with your expectations. Expect that a kitchen remodel will typically cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 and determine what you’re willing to spend as a family. Then as you interview a contractor, set this expectation early. Contrary to popular belief, giving your contractor a not-to-exceed budget not only makes it easier for you, but also the contractor.
- Look for Value – When considering a remodel project, look for values instead of bargains. While a quick $50 savings on a reduced faucet may fit the budget, it’s only a deal if it lasts. The worst thing you can do in a remodel project is to do it twice because of a poor selection in both contractors and materials. So while budget may be king, don’t shy from spending where it matters.
- Don’t Price Yourself Out of the Neighborhood – A kitchen remodel is an investment in your home. Treat it as such by taking the time to view other homes in your neighborhood and comparing your plans to the competition. Make sure you are not under or over remodeling your home by talking to your contractor or a real estate agent. Then plan accordingly. Some of the best remodeling projects are those where the budget doesn’t exceed the home’s increase in value. And while you may not sell the home immediately after the kitchen remodel, the investment you make will do nothing but grow.
- Go Direct – Most kitchen remodeling projects do not require extensive architectural or design services. Save the extra 10-15% in costs by utilizing a full-service design-build contractor instead. They will often include these services free of charge to remodeling clients. Also look for remodeling companies that offer in-house cabinetry and countertop distributorships. Not only will they be more familiar with the cabinetry they install, thus improving efficiencies, but they will also combine trades, offering better discounts.
- Remodel in Phases – In most cases, kitchen remodeling projects can be done in smaller phases over five years. As part of the planning process with the contractor, separate phases of work that can accommodate budgetary restrictions. In the first phase you might replace flooring, cabinetry and countertop, utilizing existing appliances – provided they are of common sizes. In the second phase, replace appliances and lighting. A final phase may include such items as a tile backsplash or trim. While the initial phase will still absorb the largest portion of the budget, by adding additional phases, you may defer $5,000 to $15,000 in costs.
- Do-It-Yourself – While a full kitchen remodel may be beyond your skill set, pick a contractor that is willing to allow you to complete at least a portion of the estimate yourself. Obvious money-saving trades include painting and demolition. Just make sure that your savings are clearly delineated in the estimate and you can complete the job in the allocated timeframe. Doing so will ensure the best savings and a kitchen completed on-time.
- Shop Around on Materials – Even if you can’t do part of the remodel yourself, ask for a materials budget from the contractor. Often on items such as appliances, lighting and countertops you may, in fact, be able to strike a better deal than the contractor. And don’t be afraid to bargain. In today’s price sensitive economy, material suppliers are often willing to offer special discounts to the homeowner if they purchase multiple items at the same time. Keep in mind that on larger items, it may still be necessary to pay your remodeling contractor for pickup, delivery and installation, so make sure you know that the actual material budget is before you start shopping.
- Mix It Up – Can’t afford granite throughout the kitchen? You may be in luck. With kitchen design trends favoring a diversity of colors and materials, consider featuring granite on an island while using laminate or solid surface elsewhere. You can do the same with cabinets too. Try using more expensive cabinets where they will be seen and less expensive cabinets in the work area. Doing so can save you an additional 10-15% in your remodel project.
- Watch the Clock – Nothing offers as much savings as time. When planning your remodel, don’t rush. An hour spent in planning can often save a day in production. Plan out subcontractors carefully so as to avoid lost time. Then, once you start work, avoid the temptation to change the plan. Often doing so will not only delay the project, but might even cost you more than you planned. Not only will you appreciate having your new kitchen weeks earlier, but the final bill will reflect your efficient planning process. And don’t overlook restaurant expenses during the renovation. Ask your contractor to install a temporary sink and range while waiting for countertops. Although this service may cost around $100, it may just save hundreds more in restaurant bills – which, you’ll appreciate as the project comes to a close. Lastly, consider the timing of the project. Jobs over the holidays will often be 10% less expensive than other times during the year as contractors look for work for their crews. Remodel when everyone else is typically entertaining and not thinking of tearing up a kitchen and not only will you save, but you might even have somewhere else to eat while your kitchen is under construction!
Use these ten tips to remodeling on a budget and you’ll not only have a kitchen faster, but probably for less than you expected. But then again, that’s the way you planned it – right from the very first magazine.