How can I keep my remodel budget as low as possible?

Asked by Divya, San Francisco, CA Thu Jun 14, 2012

What kinds of repairs can I do myself and what should I hire a professional for? I want to redo my kitchen and front yard. I wouldn’t consider myself particularly handy, but I do have a lot of patience, time and a little help from my equally handy husband.

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Madmarc62’s answer
Madmarc62, Renter, Pacifica, CA
Sun Jun 24, 2012
First, set a budget. Second, have a "big picture" plan set that include long term goals/projects so as not to do the same jobs twice. These may include electrical panel upgrade, adding a room above a garage, etc. Third, make sure that you inform your Contractor of the budget and future plans along with a list of specific elements, such as appliances, fixtures and flooring, including manufacturer. This honest approach will prevent you from spending money where you don't have to. If what you want can't be realized inside your budget, your Contractor might suggest ways to scale back down to it.

Remember; you get what you pay for, so going with the lowest bid may not get you the quality finished product you were looking for. I hope this helps.

Respectfully, Marc Carrillo

General Contractor and Remodeling Specialist
Tight Lines Construction Inc
1124 Mason Dr
Pacifica, Ca 94044
1 vote
Deb Lecours, , Novato, CA
Fri Jun 15, 2012
Hi Divya,

Fortunately it looks like you are getting a lot of good advice!

It doesn't sound like you are really interested in doing a lot of the work yourself but there are ways that you can save money and use a contractor as well.

One of the most time consuming parts to a project is sourcing and purchasing the materials to be used. For instance, you mention a kitchen "re-do." It could take several hours to find the right cabinets along with all the parts and pieces. For instance, IKEA sells incredible products for kitchens but all of it has to be figured out. If as a homeowner, you are willing to invest the hours to do measurements, calculations, estimates at the showroom, arrange for delivery, etc, then you could save a lot of money as all of those hours would be billable expenses by a contractor. I would however recommend using a professional to install the cabinets. While the assembly of the cabinets might be fairly simple, lots of complications can arise in trying to level out the wall and square off the elevations.

Being a female Project Manager in construction, I often am able to work with a client in making the most economical and practical choices as remodel projects very often require huge amounts of patience :)

Feel free to contact me to discuss further.

Deb Lecours
Project Manager
Cowboy Construction-West
1 vote
Clint Shaw G…, , Walnut Creek, CA
Fri Jun 15, 2012
If you are eager to learn and have the time and patience, there are a lot of things you can do yourself to keep your budget as low as possible. I suggest making a list of the things you want to do and getting at least three bids from contractors. Then visit the city to inquire about permit requirements. That will give you a good idea of what your projects entail. Work with a contractor who is willing to guide you on the projects you can do yourself, like simple drywall, tile, painting, cabinet handles and pulls, and easy flooring. Let the contractor do the framing, plumbing, electrical and more complex drywall and projects. There are lots of online tutorials and classes at home improvement centers that can help you get started. The key is working alongside someone who enjoys working with do-it-yourselfers. Some of my creative clients do some of the work themselves. Good luck and have fun! Clint

Clint Shaw General Contractor
1 vote
Fri Jun 15, 2012
This is a difficult question to answer. Most cities will allow owners to take out their own building permits and do the work themselves or by. Using licensed sub contractors. The disadvantages of this method are as follows. You have no one to blame if things do not go as planed except the individual sub and you need to tie them to a contract that will ensure that they do what they are supposed to do. The second can be very trickery if you do not have a thorough. Knowledge of construction because you have to evaluate their proposal and have the ability to determine if they are including all of the work you are thinking they are doing. Another pitfall can be if you do not verify that the sub does not have a license or does not have workers compensation and general liability insurance which puts his employees or workers on you as to liability if they should get hurt. Or if he bills for more of the work as completed than is. Never allow this to happen or you may wake up one morning to find he and his tools have gone. I would always recommend that for homeowners that have not completed the building process many times to contract directly with a general contractor. Keep in mind though that even using a general contractor, there are still contract issues that need to be addressed. I have been a contractor for thirty years and can say that a lot of contractors will give you a contract that is full of loop holes. By this I mean leaving things as extras to a contract. You should never allow this to happen. Try to always get fixed prices. Some contractors will give you a low number when in reality they are the highest bidder because of how they word the contract. 
Good luck.


Michael J. Hyde
MJH Construction Management
1 vote
John Hinton, , San Jose, CA
Fri Jun 15, 2012
There's an old adage: All construction projects are composed of three elements: Schedule, Budget and Quality. Emphasis in any one element will come at the expense of one of the other elements.

If you are willing to make a siginificant investment in time, you and your husband can attend "how to" lectures at Home Depot or the like and learn most of the skills.

Some things, like electrical, plumbing and carpentry may be easier to contract for rather than experiment with. Per the adage above, allow a lot of time for these activities. Because you've chosen to minimize the budget, time and quality are directly related. The more time spent on an activity, the higher quality.

Make sure you have a master plan and design before you start and watch out for any permiting requirements by the city. It might pay you to have some "old pro" help with your planning, particularily the kitchen remodel. It is really important, for example, know about the appliances and fixtures before you start the plumbing and electrical.
1 vote
Diane Gardner…, , Mount Vernon, NY
Sat Jun 16, 2012
Go for the front yard, do a little at a time or get some day labors for the heavy stuff. Read gardening and design books from your local library.
Kitchen tiles can be easy if you rent or buy a tile cutter. Read up on kitchen cabinets, watch videos on your computer and go for it if you think you can do it. Leave the electrical and complicated plumbing to the professionals.
0 votes
Stephen Donn…, Home Owner, San Francisco County, CA
Sat Jun 16, 2012
As I read through the comments made by others I really think Deb Lecours and Michael Young had great advice. To expand on their thoughts. As Deb points out, be your own purchasing agent. Spend a few weeks or better yet months visiting kitchen design centers with a simple floor plan of your kitchen. Consider this time part of your education about all of things inside a kitchen you never knew. Choose everything from cabinets and counter tops, kitchen sink, faucet, all the appliances, light fixtures, flooring, and on and on. Have lower cost alternates if the final budget grows too high. Figure all of the items you price are plus or minus half your budget. Know the lead time to delivery on all items. Organize it onto a spread sheet for the contractors you interview. Remember the contractor is interviewing you. The more organized and decisive you present yourself and your project, the easier it is for me to cut down on my projected costs.
I disagree will Michael on only one small point. When he says, "It's almost a full-time job just managing the contractors and laborers". Actually it is more than full time job for me. But then contractors like myself also manage clients, architects, and suppliers. I think when consumers act as their own general contractors the quote they get from specialty contractors (plumbing, electrical, tile, ect) is higher than I would receive for the same job. Their concern is that they will need to spend extra time educating you as to their requirements.
Stephen Donnelly
Owner: House to Home Remodeling
In closing organization prior to and during your project is the best way to bring it in on budget. Increasing general contractors are willing to work with their clients who wish to assume responsibility and take over functions to save money. Make that part of your bid requirements. Present your project as thought through and organized and it will show up in the quotes you receive.
0 votes
Terry Bell, Agent, Santa Rosa, CA
Fri Jun 15, 2012
Since you are asking realtors, I would ask you, what is your vision for selling your home in the future? If you are remodeling with the intention of increasing value and not just for your own enjoyment, that is an important consideration. If you are doing the projects to increase value, I would recommend having professionals give you estimates, have receipts to show and any permits necessary. If you plan on being there a long time and it's just for your own pleasure, then go ahead and have fun at IKEA or check out the do-it-yourself info on Lowe's or Home Depots websites.
0 votes
Michael Young, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 15, 2012
Hi Divya,

For most remodeling, the fun and novelty of doing it yourself wears off when the difficult work sets in. It's almost a full-time job just managing the contractors and laborers. We all want to save money, but I would recommend hiring licensed pros to do the work. If something goes wrong, they are liable and nowadays you can get a good contractor at a good price. Shop different contractors and specialists and get several quotes. Always negotiate on the quote as well.

Good luck!
0 votes
Gabriel Rojas, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 14, 2012

This is a great question and I agree with Lance that it is a complicated one to answer.

I think a good way to start answering would be to know which remodeling jobs require a licensed skill versus one that just take a little research, knowhow, and elbow grease. Obviously, you would want to enlist the services of a licensed professional in terms of your plumbing, electric, and HVAC systems but it sounds like you have the time it may take to do some final touches like painting and working on the front yard. You may still want to consult with experts on your yard to when it comes to landscaping and the like because of the levels of your land and making sure water runs away from your home and not toward it.

Call some experts, pick their brains, and get some solid advice on all of your projects. If you need referrals I'm happy to help.

Best of luck!

0 votes
Lance King, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 14, 2012

The answer to this question is complicated, because I don't know what your skills are or how much time you have to put into this.

I have personally remodeled a lot of properties, most recently a complete gut job on our new home in Pac Hts. I have all the contractors you could need for those jobs and some excellent resources for materials as well.

Happy to give some referrals. Contact info below.

Best Regards,

Lance King/Owner-Managing Broker
DRE# 01384425
0 votes
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