Don’t Start a Home Improvement Project Without a Budget Buffer!
If there is one thing I have learned recently, it’s that home improvement projects never go according to plan. At first, it seemed like the remodeling shows on HGTV might have only been showing things going wrong for dramatic effect; now it is clear to me that even the seemingly simplest of projects can take an unexpected turn for the worst when you least expect it.
Take my current bathroom remodel as a case in point. As it turns out, what seemed like a straightforward swap of sinks and bathtub wasn’t so easy. None of the plumbing lined up correctly, so even though we ended up saving money by purchasing fixtures when they were on sale we needed to spend extra money on unexpected plumbing supplies.
Luckily my husband is resourceful and a quick learner, so a few trips to the internet made it possible for our new fixtures to be installed. However, between needing to cut into drywall, flooring, and existing pipes, it became clear that every home improvement project needs a budget buffer.
Home Improvement Budget Buffer
There isn’t necessarily a magic number for any home improvement project, but I feel safest with a 30-50% buffer. Setting aside 1/3 to 1/2 of your total projected cost should take care of most setbacks.
For example, our projected cost for the bathroom remodel was $1,500. At this point, we have incurred almost $300 in extra expenses. Since only the bathtub has been installed, and we still need to lay flooring, it’s very possible that number could creep up to $500.
$300 is a lot of money to be surprised by. However, by planning ahead, your home improvement projects can be much less painful financially.
What If Your Hire Out Your Home Improvement Projects?
You should still plan a home improvement budget buffer, even if your project is being carried out by professionals. While the DIY homeowner might be more likely to accidentally cut a water line or damage a wall than a professional would be, there are some things that even the professionals cannot avoid or predict.
For instance, you may not know that your toilet is leaking onto the subfloor. It may not be evident from the top layer of flooring that there is an underlying problem.
Replacing the part of the subfloor under the toilet may not be a substantial expense, but what if the bathtub or a sink also leaked? These sorts of expenses can add up quickly, especially if you are paying a laborer an hourly rate.
Make a Buffer Even For Basic Home Improvement Projects.
It may seem that something as straightforward as painting your living room wouldn’t need a buffer in the budget; after all, how hard is it to determine how much paint you need?
As it turns out, even painting can turn up some unexpected costs. Walls may need to be patched, and occasionally it can take more coats of paint to cover up the previous paint color.
We learned this the hard way when we tried to paint our bedroom. Despite two layers of primer before applying the paint color we wanted, the ugly stenciled floral pattern continued to show through each layer of paint. The previous homeowners had used some sort of paint that almost repelled any attempts to cover the design! We ended up purchasing more paint than we thought we would need, because we needed to apply five layers of paint to the flowers before they stopped showing up.
Calculating Your Home Improvement Buffer.
With every project you undertake, it is essential to get a ballpark figure of your expenses. If you are hiring someone to do the work for you, do not sign any papers right away. First, schedule a free estimate for the project. Many companies offer incentives to pressure you into signing a contract immediately, but this pressure prevents you from comparison shopping or checking your finances before the project is agreed on.
The only time I would immediately agree to hiring someone for a project is if you have a clear budget for the project and the contractor’s price fell within range. For example, when we hired someone to fix our front porch, we estimated $1,000 – $1,500 for the entire job, including materials and labor. Because the cost of the job fell under $1,500, I accepted it without discussing the price with my husband or double checking our funds. We knew what to expect, and what we were comfortable spending.
If you are planning on doing your home improvement project yourself, comparison shop for a while before you begin working on the project. Our bathroom remodel is almost a year in the making because we added up the cost of materials, then began saving for the project. As we saved, we watched for sales. We were able to get our vanities before the project began for a great price because we knew what a good price looked like. We did not jump in blindly.
Once you have a pretty good idea of what your project will cost you, calculate your buffer. To set aside an additional 30% for a $1,500 project, for example, the math would look like this: 1500 x .3 = 450. If you feel more comfortable with a higher buffer, multiply be 40 or even 50 percent: 1500 x .5 = 750, or a total of $2,250 for the whole project.
Consider your home improvement buffer as an emergency fund of sorts. While your hope is to leave the buffer untouched, having it there can be a massive relief when the going gets tough.
Has a home improvement project ever surprised you with unexpected costs? Were you prepared?