You just offered up a hefty down-payment on your home loan—and probably another smaller-but-still-hefty-ish amount on the closing costs—and your disposable income is at an all-time low. So what do you do when your new home’s porch needs attention, the kitchen is a bit cramped, and the main bath is from an era when shag carpeting was all the rage? The following are some tips to help you budget for a remodel when your funds are few, but your remodeling needs are many.

The Four Steps of a Home Remodel Budget

  1. Budget
    It’s important to set a limit because remodels can quickly get out of control if you let your eyes get bigger than your budget.Also, consider whether you’ll be paying for your remodel with cash or a loan such as a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). Both have their plusses and minuses, and you’ll want to discuss them with remodeling specialists.
  2. Specify
    Decide what you specifically want to be done. Not “a new kitchen” but “repaint cupboards with custom color; replace the dishwasher and sink with stainless steel options; install a new granite countertop”.Create a spreadsheet and hit up the home improvement stores and websites, and start pricing everything. If you’ll be working with a contractor, your prices may not be the same, but you’ll still be able to plug them in for a starting budget for each step of the work.

    If you’re working on more than one room, create separate spreadsheets/budgets for each one.

    Start your planning well before you’ll actually start remodeling. This will give you time to set schedules, make absolutely certain you want what you want, learn more of the ins and outs of the job, and give your contractor time to get a crew together.

  3. Get It in Writing
    Get at least three quotes from vendors you’ve researched through sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List or from referrals from friends and family.Here again, specifics will help. You’ll be able to directly compare each vendor’s itemized bid for, say, “16 square-feet of granite countertop in a galley kitchen” vs. “a new countertop,” which to them may mean cement, granite, or anything in between.
  4. Give and Take
    The quotes and final tally may be higher than you anticipated because there’s a lot more to remodeling than most people realize, therefore, you may need to prioritize. Ask yourself what’s more important, the new dishwasher or the new sink? Does the backsplash need to be a custom job, or can you live with a stock design?If it’s more space you’re looking for, smaller appliances, smarter-cabinet design, and modern storage and shelving options might be just as effective as a whole scale remodel.

    Your contractor, architect, or remodeling specialist can be a valuable resource here. Each should be up on all of the latest inexpensive alternatives and can act as an ally to keep you on budget.

Lastly, remember: nothing says you have to get everything done in one pass. You can work on the easier, less expensive tasks now while you’re still building your savings back up, and take on more involved projects later.

When Cost Overruns Happen to Good Budgets

Unforeseen dry rot, shipping delays, previous work that’s not up to code, and plain old mistakes. It’s a fact of remodeling that “stuff” happens. As such, it’s best to take the winning bid and add 10-20% to allow for this.

If this puts you outside of your budget, you’ll either need to scale down your plans or wait until you have the funds. You don’t want to be 80% through a remodel and have to stop because you ran out of money.

Also remember that taxes, shipping, clean up, demolition, and many other things aren’t necessarily reflected in a vendor’s bid. They may expect you to already know those things or that you’ll be told by someone else.

Architects may charge differently than contractors who may charge differently than plumbers. Get the complete fee breakdowns from everyone you’ll work with before they start charging you.

Budgets Are Dynamic

That budget you created in step two should be updated on a daily or weekly basis. Record the difference between the anticipated cost and the actual one to help keep you on target and on budget.

If you find yourself going over midway through the work, your spreadsheet can offer alternatives for paring the costs.

Some Tips for Saving

The High(er) Cost of Customization

Custom work may be beautiful, but if it’s something that won’t be quite as treasured a year or two later, you might opt for something more conventional, but less expensive.

Recycle. Reuse. Save.

There are plenty of businesses that offer salvaged or refurbished building supplies and fixtures. Some contractors won’t work with used materials since these materials can impact their liability, but if you’re doing your own remodeling, you can save here.

Give It Away

If there’s anything you’re getting rid of such as fixtures, lumber, hardware, appliances, etc. that might be of use to others, many businesses will come in and take it away and possibly even pay for it. This can save you money on the cleanup, trips to the dump, and even offer a tax deduction for a charitable contribution.

Sledgehammer Therapy

If you’re handy when it comes to knocking things down, you might want to consider doing your own demolition. Make sure you’re only demolishing what you can safely work on. A backyard gazebo or dying fruit tree carries much less potential penalty than a load-bearing wall.

DIY for Dollars

For a simpler project like installing a backsplash or sanding cabinets, consider tackling it yourself. Pretty much every home improvement center offers How-To workshops on the weekend, and many community centers have free or inexpensive classes. You’ll not only save money but also gain new skills and a greater sense of ownership.

Works in Progress

Even your “dream home” may need a bit of work to make it just right. But if money’s tight, with a little bit of planning and ingenuity, you can be well on the road to making everything just right.

Want to learn more about ways to remodel your house on a budget?  Answer a few questions here, and a home lending expert will contact you.

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