Brought To You By The Letter B (Part 1)

A few blogs back, I mentioned the BRA when writing about project costs, which I said I would discuss at length in subsequent entries. So, let’s begin with the letter B.

BUDGET: (noun) an itemized estimate of expected expenses; (verb) to plan the expenditure of monies and subsist within the set guidelines.

Both a noun and a verb for good reason, the construction budget is a strange little creature – much like the echidna; much like an Oompa Loompa; much like my last boyfriend. While I can spend countless hours budgeting a project, it is a continual team effort between the client and me to actually stick to a budget. That being said, a budget is simply an outline, just as a plan set (also known as blueprints) is – well – just a plan. Things change, projects develop, budgets shift – and more often than not, they increase across the board. But without a realistic budget, we cannot realistically create the canvas. This is where so many people get into trouble.

One of the most common issues I see in construction when it comes to project costs is that the plan sets being created do not reflect what clients are willing to spend. On most occasions, when someone other than myself is designing a project, I am handed a set of plans that – though beautiful and thoughtful – far exceed what clients are willing to spend.

(Notice I keep writing the word “willing”… more on that later.)

Then there is the dreadful problem of reality TV. NEWS ALERT: THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT REALITY TV – especially when it comes to construction. On what planet can people remodel or build 3 bathrooms and a kitchen for $30,000.00? (Answer: None.) That couldn’t have been done in 1975, much less in 2014. So let’s get real for a minute. Since your project doesn’t come with advertisers or sponsorships, and the network producers aren’t covering the cost of labor, you’re going to spend some money. An average bathroom project starts around $35K and caps out at roughly $95K, depending on the client’s taste, though the majority seem to hover between $45-55K. A full kitchen project begins around $85K and, while there is no end to what people are willing to spend on their kitchen, on average, the majority of kitchens that I build price out at roughly $200,000.00. Unfortunately, the days of the $40,000.00 kitchen remodel are long gone – especially in Los Angeles. You can no longer buy a full appliance package in stainless steel for $5,000.00 – in any city. Add a zero. Take a breath. Let’s move on. (No – do not look at the Sears catalog. You won’t find it in there either. Just add the zero and move on as instructed.)

Add to the nonsense of (un)reality TV: the DIY trend. Ok. Seriously. If you want to DIY your home, then go for it. You’ll save on the cost of labor (though you will pay more for materials because you have no relationships with vendors), and you will also have to quit your job to try and do the project. And then it probably won’t look like the picture you saw in a magazine and you’ll end up calling a contractor to come fix things. So – word of advice – outside of a quick decoupage on Grandma’s dresser or pulling the Singer out of the attic to whip up some curtains, skip the DIYing. More than likely, you are not the lovechild of Martha Stewart and Mike Holmes. The construction process will age you, exhaust you, you’ll lose your eyesight and your hair, your friends will stop inviting you to their parties in fear that you will – once again – try to corral them all into a “paint this wall” party. Your family might disown you, or you may be gravely injured by a power tool (possibly thrown at you by your family after they’ve eaten takeout and peed in a port-a-pot for nine months). Trust me, construction is only fun for about three swings of the sledgehammer, and then it’s excruciatingly difficult work.

To quote one of my favorite clients speaking to his DIYish husband:

"You don't know what you're doing. Unless you are a builder, a designer and project manager by trade, you are officially in over your head. What you can do is your homework.  Know what you like; know what you want to spend; hire someone you trust and like. If you can't do this, you will spend double our budget, which is both annoying and cliché.”

The final meltdown on budgets comes in the form of architectural and design magazines. We all love a good Dwell, Interior Design or Architectural Digest while lounging about over a lazy Sunday brunch. They all have amazing photos of amazing projects, and what’s better than bacon and a slow tour through award-winning homes? (Answer: more bacon and owning one of those homes.) Great for ideas and inspiration, publications like these are the bibles of my industry. What’s not so great? Telling people how much that Balthaup kitchen they are drooling over actually costs. Please pass the bacon… and a tissue.

But there is good news. There is very good news. And I will share that news with you, including some tips on how to prepare your project budget, in Part 2 of Brought To You By The Letter B

In the meantime, please enjoy this video – brought to you by Sesame Street …