A designer explains why financial transparency leads to a more successful remodeling project

Homeowners can be reluctant to tell a designer their actual budget for a remodeling project because they fear the designer will be compelled to spend it all and more. A contract for my design services will include a detailed scope of the project, an estimate of total design fees based on hourly rates, and a deposit, but there is no concrete figure for the project’s overall budget written into the contract.

I discover a client’s overall budget for a project by having a friendly conversation with them, and experience has taught me that the more transparent that conversation is, the better the project will go for everyone involved.

Here are five reasons why homeowners should be transparent about their available funds and how doing so will lead to a more successful remodeling project.

1. Designers Know Where to Splurge and Save

A designer’s job is to understand which features of a project are most important to their clients and to make compromises elsewhere when necessary.

In this kitchen that my studio designed in collaboration with Darcy Tsung Design, we made some judicious choices to come in on budget. We used quartz counters instead of natural stone and plain subway tile to offset the cost of the pricier feature tile behind the range.

These choices allowed us to prioritize the cost of custom cabinetry for better storage options and aesthetics — the homeowner’s top priority for the space.

Often little changes to a design can lower the cost without entirely losing the original intent. When it comes to custom cabinetry, your designer can work with their cabinetmaker on little things like forgoing soft-close doors or drawers or possibly moving to a less labor-intensive finish. Those details can make a big difference in the price tag.

2. Clients Will Save Money in Design Fees

This fabulous patio fireplace has a poured concrete hearth — that’s a design detail that will certainly affect the cost of construction. Falling in love with an idea only to find out later that its execution will cost a good deal more than you wanted to spend means the designer will have to go back to the drawing board. And that’s money you could have spent on materials and finishes instead of redesign time.

Here’s the deal: When you don’t share what you really want to spend upfront, designers can take you down a design path that can have a significant impact on the cost of materials and construction.

3. Designers Can Leverage Their Trade Relationships

One advantage of working with an interior designers is their ability to tap into their trade relationships with vendors.

Let’s say you bought a large vacation home and you want to decorate the whole place at once. If your designer knows what your true budget is, they can consolidate the bulk of your furniture and accessory orders with just one or two frequently used vendors. By doing so, they might be able to negotiate deeper discounts, which can have a dramatic impact on costs.

4. You Can Still Plan for Contingencies

Almost every remodeling or new-build project will encounter some unexpected hiccup that calls for a work-around and potentially more money. So when you’re working through the scope and budget with your designer, give them a real number, but it’s perfectly fine to subtract 10% to 15% as a contingency fund.

That contingency fund you set aside will likely come in handy when your contractor tells you, “Oops! You’re gonna need a new electrical panel to bring you up to code! Your current one is from 1930.” Or, “Oops, we found a crack in the foundation that needs shoring up before we continue.” These are among the unanticipated issues that can crop up, particularly if you’re building an addition or adding to your home’s electrical load.

5. It Builds Trust Between You and Your Designer

If you don’t trust your designer with your budget, how can they best serve you? A designer’s mission should be to give you the best, most beautiful outcome for the available dollars.

You’re paying them to bring you options and solutions to create a home that best suits your needs and style. So if you need to pay a bit more for a piece that will make the whole room sing, you can be confident your designer will make up the budget difference in other ways.

Any reputable designer is working as an agent on your behalf. So be upfront with your designer. Give them a budget you’re really willing to spend that will get the job done. It will make for a better project, a smoother experience and it will likely save you money in the long run.

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