HOW TO
Image Courtesy of Scripps Network

Stretch Your Home Renovation Budget

Hiring a contractor? Get more for your money with these cost-saving tips from Jonathan Scott.

Jonathan knows a thing or two about great contractors and great clients, thanks to the near 50 renovations he tackles with Drew each year for their shows. He’s always working within a budget to ensure a client is happy when buying, selling, remodeling or rejuvenating their home. Who better to give you the low-down on working efficiently with a contractor?

Should I pay for an estimate?
Generally, no, you should not pay for estimates, but you should definitely make sure they are written. The only exception is if it’s specialty work that involves special equipment to survey; you’ll have to pay estimates in that case.

I always recommend having three companies bid on major work. You should get a good feeling from them about how organized they are based on how detailed their quote is… If it’s hand written on a napkin with no break down and one total number, you know this is probably not a good contractor.

The lowest bid is usually not the best bid. An estimate should include the scope of work, details on the warranty, description of materials and products being used, and timeframe for when it would be completed.

Homeowners can help with aspects of demolition, painting, even trim work, but leave the skilled work to the professionals.

Should I use my contractor again or rebid out?
Over time it’s not uncommon for a contractor, even if they’re good, to start inflating their prices. Seeking a second opinion to ensure you’re getting the best quality at the best price never hurts.

Labor can sometimes be the most expensive part of the job. What are tasks that I can do myself without using contractor time?
Homeowners can definitely help with aspects of demolition, painting, even trim work, but leave the skilled work to the professionals. Value your time and the quality of the finished product. If you try to take on a bunch of drywall mudding, but at the end of the day the joints are bad and the finish is poor, you haven’t put any value into the house — in fact you’re taking value away.

Be aware that most contractors do not want homeowners jumping in and doing various tasks because it can often slow project down or completely derail it. You’d be amazed at how many homeowners on Property Brothers told me they would complete a task to save money, and then in the end they didn’t complete the task and it ended up slowing me down..or costing more than it would have for me to handle it on my own.

Jonathan Scott sanding a floor in a house
Image Courtesy of Scripps Network

What tasks should I always leave to the professionals?
Plumbing, electrical, and structural work are the most important tasks to ensure they are tackled by a professional. This is not just an aesthetic thing, it’s a safety thing. Also keep in mind that you are required by law to get permits for most work. Professionals will know what requires permits but the homeowner ultimately is responsible if you didn’t get the ones you needed.

What are the most expensive home renovation projects?
We usually recommend that our clients find a home that has the footprint they want so they don’t have to do a big addition. As soon as you do an addition, you need both building and development permits, and quite often neighborhood approval. This can turn a three-month project into a two-year project. Approvals can take a long time, so it’s highly recommended you find a home where the bones are generally going to work for you and you can change the aesthetic.

Are renovations worth the investment when putting my house on the market?
You are better off doing a light makeover to the whole house than spending a large quantity of money in one area and leaving the shag carpet in the master bath. Step back and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What stands out as an eyesore? What stands out as a valuable feature? We are seeing a real demand for specialty rooms in homes these days. Great multi-functioning spaces will stand out on a listing, so when renovating think of putting in a TV room, sunroom, or office. It doesn’t cost much, but it looks great to buyers!

Should I buy stock or custom sizes?
Every house has a different problem that needs to be solved… Most houses have many. There’s no sense in spending a ton of money on custom if you can get the same look from a product that comes in a more affordable stock size. Prime examples are kitchen cabinets; most of the kitchen the Property Brothers are done with prefab or semi-custom cabinets, then I finish it off with crown and trim to make it look fully custom. Generally that saves us enough money to get upgraded appliances and stone counters.

How should I handle issues that affect my budget?
Always have a contingency on every project of no less than 10%. Every major project will come across some problem. Sometimes it’s a small thing, sometimes it’s a big thing. If you were in an area with known problems or the house inspection shows you that there are higher possibilities of issues, raise the contingency accordingly. I’ve had projects where our contingency was at 35% of the budget.

Lastly, be willing to roll with the punches. If there’s something that comes up that’s a big expense, look to save in other places. Don’t be stuck with the original design simply because that’s what you first came up with.

What’s the best way to foster a great relationship with my contractor?
Let your contractor do their job… Don’t micromanage. If you did your due diligence in the beginning, you saw some of their other projects, and you’re confident in their abilities, you know they will do a good job. Stay involved so you know the process, and make sure that you provide your contractor with any inspirations and example photos of things you like. We usually recommend working with a designer because they speak the same language as the contractor, but if you plan on doing the design yourself, just make sure you keep an open dialogue with your contractor. Your contractor should not make you feel dumb for asking questions, in the same turn you should not make your contractor afraid to reach out and ask you things.

Final thoughts?
Renovating your dream home is a big undertaking and it can be very stressful. Try to step back and take the emotion out of it. This is a business decision. This is likely the largest investment you’ll ever make, so you don’t want to be making decisions based on emotion. Set a budget in advance and stick to it. Always look for ways to save money without cutting corners and put in quality materials that will stand up to your families use. And never forget to have fun!

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