What if Dreams Dwarf the Budget?


You know why this kitchen in Dani Taylor’s Northridge, Calif., house is so good-looking? That’s because she had so many years to think about it while other projects took priority.


Kitchen before

First, Dani and her husband added on a family room for their blended family. Then, when the family grew bigger, a new master suite seemed more important. All the while Dani was planning and thinking about her new kitchen, tearing pages out of magazines that showed the look she wanted, until finally the time came when the kitchen redo rose up to the top of the list.

Dani is amazingly disciplined. Most of want everything done now. But with limited funds, it might be necessary to scale down remodeling plans to one project at a time. And that might be better, in fact, than waiting forever for all the money to be in place. But how do you figure out what to do first?

Not too long ago, I discussed this with a delightful young woman named Amie Riggs, vice president of a construction company, who helped me brainstorm ideas on how to figure out what to do first:

• Keep the focus on the biggest “pain,” which is a term Amie uses when counseling potential clients on their projects. The pain might be a shabby kitchen, or it might be a too-crowded house. The issue that causes the biggest pain should get first priority.

• Find out as soon as possible how much money can be spent on a remodel. It’s better to make the trip to the bank for details on a home equity loan or home equity line of credit before calling in a contractor. If you know you can spend $20,000, for instance, you don’t have spin around with $100,000 fantasies.

• And find out how much remodels cost so that the sticker shock is not so bad. Ask others how much their remodels cost. Yes, you have to be nosy. I do it all the time. Say: “Wow, your kitchen is gorgeous! How much does something like this cost?” You should be able to seek out prices in the magazine you’ve been salivating over, but glossy shelter magazines seem loathe to tell you how much those amazing rooms cost. (By the way, Dani’s kitchen cost about $20,000.) To find out how much suff like granite and cabinets and hardwood flooring and stainless appliances cost, go to stores just to look, touch, and get information. All this will help prevent overblown dreams that must be crushed later on.

• If you know and trust a contractor or designer, talk this over. These guys and gals spend every day dealing with limited budgets and can help work through the issues and the pains. You’re looking for someone who is both encouraging and pragmatic.

• And finally, you can actually get a master plan created for upgrades that can occur over a number of years. This plan could cost several hundred to several thousand dollars, but will save money later on when old work doesn’t have to be torn out to accommodate the new work.

For instance, Amie mentioned a client who wanted both an extensive kitchen remodel and the addition of an adjacent powder room. With funds for only the kitchen, the client decided to do the powder room project in the future. Referring to the master plan, the construction company was able to put in the place the electrical and plumbing runs that will one day serve the powder room, as well as the wall framing that will one day accommodate the doorway.

Likewise, if a company knows during a ground-floor remodel that a second story is planned for a future phase, the electrical and plumbing can be set in place inside the ground-floor walls, so that that the walls don’t have to torn apart later on to insert the necessary pipes, ducts and conduit.

And working from a master plan will result in a series of projects that look and feel cohesive, even when done over a period of years.