A real person helping real people with real estate
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By: Jamie Wiebe
You knew this renovation would be expensive. But you were smart. You accounted for everything in your budget.
Or, you thought you did.
Two weeks into your kitchen makeover, your wallet is weeping. Your Goldendoodle Sadie freaked out over the noise and needed doggie daycare. Your lawn is a disaster zone. And who knew one family could spend so much money eating out?
Surprises happen. Shelling out cash on unexpected renovation costs isn’t completely avoidable — but there are plenty of hidden renovation costs you can prepare for. Here are some of the surprising things that can set your wallet on fire during your next big project.
Even if you’re just clearing out the renovation space by moving boxes downstairs, you still might find yourself in need of a few strong hands.
“For the longest time, we thought we could clear out the space ourselves,” says Summer Sterling, who renovated her home’s entire top floor, including gutting the kitchen, updating two bathrooms, and vaulting a ceiling. She and her husband lived in the basement during the remodel. “Then we realized we have this gigantic furniture.”
The Sterlings moved as much as they could beforehand, but the movers still cost about $500.
Some pets have nerves of steel. Others cower at any unexpected noise or strangers. And construction zones are full of noisy strangers: dropping wrenches, hammering, or stomping through your home in metal-toed boots.
Monitor your dog to see how he handles the stress. If the answer is “not well,” prepare for a brief boarding — although you might find a mid-day dog walker or a short stay with Nana is soothing enough (and far less expensive).
Sterling and her husband adopted a new dog shortly before the remodel. “It was tough on our little guy,” she says. “He likes to sleep all the time.”
Their two pups doubled their time in doggie daycare — stressful for the dogs and the budget. But planning your work during your sitter’s down season can save you some cash.
Cooking without a kitchen challenges the best chefs — there’s a reason it’s a stalwart Top Chef challenge. Even if your kitchen remains intact during the reno, putting together a meal in a home filled with dust is no fun at all.
Sterling and her husband ate out or ordered take-out “at least three or four times a week,” she says.
Instead of single-handedly funding your favorite restaurant’s expansion, she recommends storing pre-prepped, microwaveable meals in a chest freezer. Or setting up a makeshift kitchen.
Construction junk has to go somewhere. If you’re DIYing the remodel, dumpster fees might come as a surprise.
Expect to spend about $400 on your trash-mobile, but contractors can provide localized, ballpark dumpster estimates.
Once it’s in your driveway, save some extra cash by using the dumpster to ditch unwanted stuff accumulating around your house. Tired of those nasty old blinds? Say adieu, without paying extra disposal fees. Just leave room for the construction junk.
You’re determined to live at home during the reno, but if a contractor accidentally smashes through your bedroom wall or the noise gets toounbearable, you might find yourself packing up for a short stay in a nearby hotel.
You don’t need to book your staycation beforehand, but budgeting enough cash for a few days’ away will make the decision to abandon ship a bit less stressful. Or hole up with some friends — just make sure to bring wine and cover dinner as payment.
Checking your calendar, you realize demo day coincides with school inservice. You can’t have the adorable little rascals stomping through the dust — so off to the sitters they go. Great. Another $100 down the drain.
Keep a close eye on the calendar and pre-arrange playdates for their days off to keep your wallet in check. Or bring over Aunt Margie to keep the kids corralled (and entertained) in a spare bedroom.
Delays, schedule changes, and unexpected surprises don’t just add time to the renovation — they mean paying more to the workers.
“Our labor costs wound up being much higher,” says Janet Heller, whose sink broke during a bathroom renovation — requiring multiple trips and two times the work from contractors and laborers.
Know each contractor’s hourly cost so when disaster strikes, you can budget appropriately.
Your new kitchen features sparkling, brand-new marble and stunning oak cabinetry — but you can’t ignore the fine layer of sawdust covering everything.
“Construction dust is everywhere,” Sterling says. Allocate a few days for a top-to-bottom clean. Scrubbing everything yourself can save you some much-needed cash.
But if the mess is too daunting, consider hiring a service as a post-renovation treat. Even if they’re just handling the hard-to-reach spots, a little help will be more than welcome. Now all you have to do is go home, kick back, and heat up your very last frozen dinner.
Telecommuters have their own renovation challenges. How can you take a phone call with clients when a drill is whirring overhead?
“I work from home, but am unable to function with so much construction noise above me,” Sterling says. “There’s no privacy whatsoever.” But privacy doesn’t come cheap: A “flexible desk” at a co-working space can cost $195 per month — and more if you need a closed door.
Sterling leased a temporary office twice per week during the renovation and lowered costs by working out of coffee shops or a library as often as possible.
Doors opening. Fans whirring. So many power tools. Is there anything in construction that doesn’t suck up energy?
“We’re living in a much smaller space, but the efficiency is terrible,” says Sterling, who spent about 15% to 20% more on electricity during the renovation. “The bloody contractors leave the windows open all the time.”
Don’t feel bad if you’re a bit of a nag. Unless the breeze is necessary (drying paint and new hardwood floors require ventilation), pop upstairs every evening to close the windows.
Did they really need to put their equipment on your beautiful Kentucky bluegrass? For some reason, renovating the interior can mean your lawn takes a beating that only a professional landscaper can repair.
Ask contractors beforehand if they plan on using your yard for staging, and place down tarps to protect the foliage. Or find alternative spots, like the attached garage or gravel driveway.
Before the first sledgehammer swings, sit down with your contractor (or city building department) for a detailed discussion of exactly what permits you need.
“Usually a contractor will include plans and permits,” Rinek says.
But make sure you know early on if they don’t, otherwise you’re in for a surprise. Sterling says she paid more than $1,800 in permit fees — causing major sticker shock, if you’re not expecting the bill.