You probably already know it’s important to stay on track when renovating your home – getting multiple bids and references for reputable contractors and researching everything in advance helps you make smart design and construction choices. However, many homeowners get swept up, up and away the moment a wall comes down or the flooring is pulled up. You see, that’s when a sneaky little thing called scope creep rears its ugly head, threatening to toss your budget and your schedule straight out the window.
It goes something like this: “Hmm, while we’re at it, shouldn’t we also convert the attic into a gaming room and wire the whole house for a potential home theatre system?” Or, “Hey, I know we planned to match the new hardwood floor to our existing one, but while we’re at it, let’s rip everything out and lay new flooring.”
Before you add things to your contractor’s list, consider this: Changing your mind mid-way through a project has consequences, and last-minute decisions are often the wrong ones. These moves can add lengthy delays that annoy your neighbours, too. We spoke with two REALTORS® who are also general contractors about how you can stick with your plans (and your budget) without sacrificing the beautiful home you want.
Understand the big picture
Good contractors will take the time to walk you through your project’s timeline and workflow, says Matthew Watson, a REALTOR® and contractor with Real Estate and Rejuvenate in Calgary. That includes understanding how every new request during the project triggers changes in the schedule and the budget.
“When you have a contractor you trust, they’ll lay out all the options in detail, and leave it up to you,” explains Watson.
Figure out your must-haves vs. your wish-we-could-haves
Before anyone swings a sledgehammer, your contractor can help you prioritize the project components, says Ali Shakeri, a chartered real estate broker with Ramier Realty and president of Eco-Nature Construction in Montreal.
“I’ve seen ‘while we’re at it’ getting homeowners into a lot of trouble; small projects get turned into huge ones,” says Shakeri, who recommends thinking about how long you plan to stay in your home and tabulating your needs based on that principle.
“I always separate their list into ‘must-haves’ or ‘nice-to-haves’, with an estimate next to each item.”
Once you can see how far your budget will go, it’s easier to make smart decisions.
Know the difference between a tweak and an overhaul
It’s one thing to swap out a bathroom faucet or add in a skylight if you’re already re-doing your roof. It’s quite another to request a two-story bay window, as Watson’s client recently did.
“If you have $70,000, I could absolutely throw in that bay window,” he told them.
“First, we’d have to bring in a structural engineer, then we’d have to redo your plans. By the time we open up the structural walls, re-support and tie that into your roof, we’re redoing your roof and exterior walls, plus insulation. Then, your flooring won’t match.”
Ask for do-or-die deadlines
Let’s say you can’t decide on paint colours. That’s OK, as long as you’re aware the painters have been booked for a specific time slot, says Watson.
“Most major projects subcontract some work, so your contractor should have the foresight to explain when your painters are coming in and that you can only change your mind until such-and-such a date,” he says.
Missing that window can push tradespeople off your project, because they’ll move on to something else, delaying your schedule.
Keep your contingency for unexpected problems, not last-minute add-ons
Some homeowners figure since their renovation budget includes money set aside for problems that crop up during the construction phase, those funds can instead be used for extras. For example, one homeowner asked Watson for a screened-in porch. After all, the existing remodel was going smoothly, so why not add this seemingly simple thing?
“His existing balcony was 10-feet off the ground, and his railing wasn’t to code. By law, as soon as I touch that railing, I have to bring everything up to the current building code, otherwise it’s not safe, and I’m liable,” explains Watson.
We get it: It’s sometimes challenging to avoid the temptation of adding on more projects during your remodel when so much is going on around you. That’s why working with your REALTOR® and a certified contractor right from the beginning can help your renovations run smoothly, with less stress and fewer unexpected expenses. Trust their experience and advice, and you’ll end up with a lovely home and not added surprises.