…a house is not a home until you love where you live…

How to Renovate a Home on a Budget

I am the medicine man…

One of the things we love the most is getting a phone call from someone looking to do work to their home. The typical call usually begins with the disclaimer, “We don’t have a very big budget but we already know what we want to do – in fact, our neighbors just did it – and we just need your help to get it done right.”

The disclaimer is often followed up with, “if we find extra money in the budget, there is also this other thing that we’ve been discussing…” and then the conversation moves on to discuss the current real estate market, new homes being built in and comparable home prices in their neighborhood.

This conversation serves as a basic intake for our firm to do the work my team and I love and have trained (hard) to do so we can deliver value to our clients. Unfortunately, this is also my cue to perform the necessary role: medicine man, speaker of facts and purveyor of the hard, uncomfortable truth. In the office, I’m sadly referred to as the, “Crusher of Dreams and the Honest End to Home Fantasy.”

The Difference Between an Ideal Budget and a Realistic Budget

To be honest, we love to envision alongside all of our friends what is possible, but we also feel obligated to bring the conversation back to what is doable. A job inside your home – the most valuable possession of most families – takes time to develop. It usually costs more money than people think it will, it will involve more government agencies that you expect, and you will learn a lot more about the construction process (including the ‘personalities’ that fill the industry) than you would imagine.

Managing the real expectations of a home renovation is, perhaps, our greatest responsibility in the project. And that is why we go beyond most firms and stay committed to working alongside our clients the entire way until construction is complete: we have accountability standards on budget, we build in efficiency to every design and we advocate for clients when contractors misbehave. And we discuss ALL OF IT upfront (the neighbor with that cool new space is not telling you all of it, I promise) to make sure that the designs we create with you will be buildable within your budget. You don’t want to know how many horror stories we’ve heard about people getting plans made and then, when it’s time to get bids from a contractor, all of the estimates come back double or triple their budget.

The worst of it, for me, is the palpable disappointment I feel as we sit at a hopeful kitchen table (or on the other end of the phone) as the truth of the situation gets very real, very quickly. I take solace in the notion that, by dispensing this medicine for free, we can move on in a healthy productive way.

With all of this said, the toughest part for me is with our ‘bitter pill’ is rejected. Not the fact that we don’t get to work with that family when a new person tells them what they want to hear, but getting the horror story when all is said and done – when they lament the realities of what just occurred that was preventable.

Our own client testimonials, along with overheard emotional rants of parents at the birthday party or couples out to dinner, solidify our steadfast belief that the hard truth is the only way to begin the relationship. The financial stakes are too high for comforting banter and the risks that come with bringing ‘the cheapest guy’ into your home is frightening.

As we deliver value, the comfort will be obvious; just know that the healing comes from taking the medicine first.