How to save money on renovations - MoneySense

How to save money on renovations

Why pay a professional when you can design it yourself? Two reasons: big discounts from suppliers, and fewer costly mistakes.

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That dingy kitchen. That tiny bathroom. That ’70s-era shag carpeting and faux-wood panelling in the rec-room. Yes, the time has come for a full-on, no-holds-barred redesign. The question is: do you undertake the work yourself, or do you hire a interior designer to handle the project for you?

Those opting for the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach usually cite money as the determining factor: why pay for someone to design and manage your reno when you can do it yourself? After all, an interior designer will skim up to 10% off the top—or $10,000 on a $100,000 project. Surely that money would be better spent on something tangible, like a granite countertop, or a jacuzzi bath, rather than the fanciful sketches and otiose musings of a designer. Add to this the reality show notion that anyone, however unhandy, can manage a complex home renovation, and DIY seems to be the way to go. In reality, however, DIY redesigns can represent a false economy costing homeowners more in money, time and aggravation than designer-managed projects. Here’s why.

Reality check
Homeowners often radically underestimate the cost of their dream renovations, says Karen Large, an Ottawa designer with 30 years of experience. “Where do they get these budgets?” she asks rhetorically. “They have a wish list, but they haven’t researched and priced the project. The result is that they’ve budgeted $50,000 for a $100,000 renovation.” The predictable result: half-finished rooms and an empty bank account. Professional designers can, at the very least, adjust expectations so homeowners don’t start projects they can’t finish, and, at the most, deliver realistic designs in keeping with a client’s financial capabilities.

Budget creep
Even when homeowners start out with a reasonable budget, costs can rapidly spiral out of control. That’s because non-professionals often undertake renovations piecemeal, purchasing bathroom fixtures, floor tiles, countertops and appliances discretely, without keeping a close eye on the overall budget.

“Customers generally gravitate toward the most expensive materials on offer,” says David Kloss of Toronto’s LoganSienna Design. “But can you really afford that granite countertop without blowing your budget? A good interior designer can get you a look-alike that’s much cheaper, and design your kitchen in such a way that the countertop can be easily switched out for real granite at a later date.”

Kloss, in fact, costs out all appliances, fixtures, furnishings and building materials in minute detail before undertaking a renovation to ensure projects stay on budget and homeowners understand what they’re getting for their money. If unanticipated costs arise during the renovation, or if a homeowner wants to upgrade an appliance or floor covering, it becomes an easy matter of consulting the list to identify corresponding savings—downgrading windows, say, or switching from solid wood cabinets to particleboard with veneer.

Industry discounts
Professional designers, especially those in business a long time, can access industry discounts unavailable to the average homeowner. Those discounts—ranging up to 40% on high-end appliances, rugs and furnishings—can result in savings of thousands of dollars. For instance, Francesco DiSarra, of Capoferro Design Build Group, used his connections and bulk-purchasing clout to snag a gorgeous heritage porcelain sink that would normally retail for $3,000 for just $300—saving his client $2,700 in the process. And Kloss saved a client $900, but kept the custom-look, by buying counter-height chairs from Ikea and having them sanded and painted to match the kitchen.

Now, all this sounds great, but you should talk to your designer to ensure that any such savings are passed along to you. “The homeowner’s interests have to be paramount, and discounts can work against that,” says Barbara Steele of Ottawa-based design firm Place ID. “If a designer is offered a 20% discount at one supplier, and a 40% discount at another, guess whose product the designer is going to be pushing on the customer? Discounts are great if the saving is being passed on to the customer. If not, it’s effectively a kickback.”

Project management
Bad tradesmen do exist, and an experienced interior designer will know how to avoid them. More often, though, problems between homeowners and the various trades involved in a renovation—the firms installing the heating, plumbing, electrical, cabinets, flooring, walls, windows, and everything else—stem from indecision and poor communication. “The trades usually try to do their best,” says Large. “They don’t want to be on a job site longer than they have to; they don’t want to keep having to re-do things because customers have changed their minds part way through or haven’t communicated properly.”

Because interior designers speak the same language as the trades and are working from a detailed design plan, they can avoid these design mistakes, and last-minute changes—and those are the things that really drive up the cost of a project.

Resale value
Think that funky new sunken living room is going to increase the resale value of your home? How about that kitschy art deco bathroom? Rather than increasing the value of your home, you might actually be eroding it by undertaking renovations that don’t mesh with current sensibilities. “Fashion trends are exactly that,” says Kloss. “They come and go, and if you design a room around the equivalent of bell bottoms, it won’t work 10 years down the road.”

The current trend in mid-century modern—think of your parents’ 1950s-era bungalow—is fine for low-end condos, says Kloss, but doesn’t transition well to heritage homes. Designers can give advice on classic looks that will stand the test of time, and increase the value of your home when it’s time to sell.

Adds Jerilyn Wright of Calgary-based Jerilyn Wright and Associates: “Your home is your most valuable asset, why would you do anything without profession help? Think about it: bad design costs as much as good design.”