You start demo on a wall to create the open concept space you've been dreaming of, only for the contractor to find a plumbing pipe running right through the middle of the opening, which now needs to be relocated. How much is this going to add to the budget? How delayed is my project now?
This is just one example that reality TV shows create time after time. So how common is this in everyday home renovations and what can you do to prevent costly surprises during your project?
Will it happen to me?
As a contractor with many years of experience in projects ranging from wall removals to whole home remodels with multi-room additions, the fact is that surprises can and do arise. Even with a thorough pre-construction inspection and walk-through, some items just cannot be seen and accounted for. The scope of work plays a large part in how likely you are to experience a costly surprise. With a seasoned and well respected remodel company, surprises in a straight forward kitchen remodel are pretty slim. As you move into a bathroom remodel, your chances increase that there is some water damage to your subfloor and framing. The larger your project becomes and more items you are touching, the higher the chance that you will open the wrong box and find something you do not want to. Do not fret, there are ways to help prevent these costly surprises.
How can I avoid costly surprises?
The first step in avoiding costly surprises is to interview multiple contractors. While the most economical option seems intriguing, it is good to step back and understand what is included in the cost from each contractor. There are, what we call, "got ya" contractors whose whole purpose is to win a project with the lowest bid, and then add on items as they go to get to the true cost of the project. Check for warning signs during the interview process. One of the biggest items to look for in a contract is a "fixed fee" or "stipulated sum basis" quote. These quotes are designed to control the cost of the project for the client and puts a large part of the risk of fluctuating costs on the contractor. While these contracts do not mean that everything under the sun is included, they are contracts that help to protect the client.
The next step, and this can be done concurrently with the interview, is to see how thorough the contractor is in reviewing your space prior to beginning construction. While there can be hidden items inside walls that you are about to remove, there are ways to deduce what could lie behind the drywall. Do you have a bathroom directly above or below the wall you are about to remove? What about the electrical panel? If you have unfinished space above or below a wall you are about to remove, you can see if the wall is load bearing and what pipes/electrical/hvac likely run through the wall. These are all things that can be reviewed ahead of time to alleviate the surprises on the back end.
As your project and scope of work gets larger, consider adding a contingency fund to the project. For one room renovation projects, consider a 5% contingency fund for surprise items. For multi-room renovations and projects that approach and exceed $100,000 in cost, consider moving that number closer to 10%. Hopefully you do not need to dig in to a contingency fund, but it takes some sting out of the costly surprises and makes them a bit easier to swallow. And if all goes as planned and you don't use all of your contingency on unforeseen expenses, you can add it back to your savings or add those extra items that will take your renovation to the next level.