How to Rein in Remodeling Costs

Home improvement projects can quickly overflow your budget. We share tips to keep costs under control without sacrificing results.

It happens all the time on home renovation TV shows — unexpected expenses arise or wish lists grow, and suddenly the budget explodes. Next thing you know, the homeowners dip into their contingency fund to cover the costs.

With so many unknowns behind the walls and under the floors, and so many options for items like lights, faucets and doorknobs, remodeling costs can quickly grow. Here are some ways to minimize those risks, so you end up with a new kitchen or family room you've been dreaming of — for the price you planned on.

Get a project bid vs. paying for time and materials.

Getting a project bid up front takes the guesswork out of your final bill. Unless the scope of your project changes, the amount you agreed on is the exact amount you'll pay. In addition to getting at least three bids for the work, be sure to ask references about how well your potential contractor stuck to their original bid.

Prioritize your must-haves and love-to-haves.

If you have a bottomless pot of gold, go ahead and get anything your heart desires. Otherwise, you'll need to separate the things you need from the things you want. Start with the needs and see if there's room in your budget for a few splurges from the wants list.

Do your research first.

Buying things on a whim, particularly high-priced items like plumbing fixtures and appliances, is generally not a money-saving strategy. But you don’t want to cut corners on these items, either: A reliable appliance or faucet will save you money and headaches down the road. So shop around and read reviews.

Tackle some of the labor yourself.

Some tasks don't require the expertise of a skilled contractor, such as demolition work, painting and perhaps even installing flooring (depending on your personal skill level). Ask your contractor what the cost difference would be if you pitched in and did some of the work yourself.

Look for bargains and used items.

Appliance warehouses often offer cosmetically damaged "scratch and dent" models at a fraction of the price. In some cases, these dings will be hidden against a wall or cabinet, anyway. On that note, finding gently used items on Craigslist and in second-hand shops can free up money in your budget for other purchases.

Put it in the budget.

Even with budget-conscious strategies like these, experts advise adding 20 percent to your remodeling budget (for both cost and time) to account for unforeseen situations. A home equity line of credit can take the stress out of financing home improvements — whether you use it for the whole project or just have it available as a cushion. Learn more about Rabobank's home equity options, and then talk to your local Rabobank representative.


  1. “Keep Your Renovation on Time and Under Budget,” Kate Ashford, BBC, May 5, 2014,, accessed July 7, 2014
  2. “Controlling Your Remodeling Budget,” National Kitchen & Bath Association,, accessed July 7, 2014
  3. “Renovating? There's an App for That,” Mira Showers Australia,, accessed July 7, 2014

The information contained in this article is intended for general educational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal, tax, or financial advice. Please consult with your own legal, tax or financial advisor for guidance with your own particular circumstances.