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The Biggest Mistake Many Homeowners Make

Modern traditional blue and white kitchen by Houston interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.

Instant gratification is such a huge part of our everyday lives these days. We can order groceries and have them show up at our door 2 hours later. We can find anything and everything on Amazon and have it the next day, if not earlier. We can order toilet paper or toothpaste at Target and drive up to pick them up within an hour. I'm definitely grateful for the technology and resources that save me time and energy while juggling life wrangling kids, drop-offs, daily errands, with client appointments and working full time.

But when it comes to design projects, that instant gratification we see everywhere else can really skew our expectations for that process. There is something to be said for taking the time to research on your own or work with professionals to set realistic investment amounts, allotting or saving money specifically for a remodel or new build based on your needs and goals, all before hiring {the right} team of professionals to complete your project.

All too often, potential clients will reach out to us saying, "I want to do redo my kitchen or bathroom and I have this amount in my head" and they're ready to start tomorrow. In our experience, only 5% of these clients have realistic expectations (having done projects before) or have contractors lined up and are actually ready to go. 95% aren't fully informed about the true material costs for what they want, if they even know what they want to begin with. Worse yet, they want to find or try to proceed with the lowest quote from local contractors that promise that they can deliver within their budget and start immediately. As someone who has gone through multiple remodels recently, and someone who has seen this scenario unfold time and time again, in my experience, I've found that the lowest bid is rarely ever the right contractor to go with.


This isn't the fast and easy Amazon solution, so be prepared for a good bit of planning.

Start with national databases to give you an estimate for your square footage and your region. If you need a place to start, this blog post about our twins' bathroom remodel gives you a budget breakdown for a secondary bathroom renovation, and a link to a national home improvement database we share with clients.

Make a list of non-negotiable needs and specific wants you have in mind for your project. Are you dead set on custom cabinetry? How much tile or type of stone do you see for that backsplash or shower walls? What type of appliances are you wanting for your kitchen? Do you want marble, quartz, or concrete countertops?

Reach out to interior designers whose work you love or get referrals from your circle of trusted family or friends. You may not know answers to any of the questions above, so paying for an in-depth consultation where you can get a clearer vision for what you want and how realistic your budget is for those specific wants is worth it and will pay for itself in the long run by helping you avoid costly mistakes.

Modern transitional primary bathroom styled by Houston interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.

We are wrapping up a kitchen and living room project right now for a client who followed the playbook above to a tee - they came to me over a year ago with a vision and a budget in mind. During our initial consultation, I explained that their vision and their desired budget didn't align. It's always a tough conversation to have with a client, and I'm sure it was a hard pill to swallow on their end. I heard back a bit later, and they decided that they wanted their original vision of a complete gut job down to the studs with specific finishes that we were able to quantify an investment range for them to aim for. They saved up money to start the project after a year at which point, we began their design plan with renderings and finish selections.

Now, that was only possible because they had a clear vision of what they wanted, and we could provide realistic budget ranges for each design decision on their list. You need to do your own research or hire someone who is truly on your side, instead of relying solely on a contractor's estimate for the project. Pro tip: beware of low contractor allowances!

Think about it - contractors may have a good estimate of labor costs based on the project if plans are drawn and finish selections are made or they have similar projects to compare it to, but if they don't have the proper finishes list, or specific design decisions that may involve extra labor to create, how can they possibly give you a realistic estimate?

In most cases, you won't have those details without working with a designer, and that designer can be another set of eyes once those contractor estimates come in. I know the lowball estimates are really tempting to run with, but again be aware that you'll end up paying what you needed to anyway, because you're not going to leave a kitchen or bathroom 75% done once you hit the budget maximum you originally had in your head.

There's no worse feeling than paying money you weren't expecting to pay to finish a project. As we've seen this year, finishes and lumbar can all fluctuate in price, so don't expect there to be zero changes from an estimate, especially if unexpected delays arise or you're slow to make decisions. But realistic ranges definitely start you on the right foot.

Modern transitional primary bathroom retreat by Houston interior design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.


You end up sacrificing quality for each element of a space if your budget isn't realistic for your vision. If you're ready to make an investment and change your home and really get that return on investment if you ever do sell, don't cut corners, and listen to your designer. They really should be in your corner all the way through the process and will be looking out for your desired aesthetic as well as your lifestyle and whether those design decisions align with your daily life.

If you know me, you know I try to be as honest and up front as possible about everything, and this is no different. Make a plan and work the plan. Know your finishes and specific design decisions before you reach out for contractor estimates, and you'll be setting yourself up for good expectations! Feel free to leave a comment below or send a message over if you have questions about an upcoming project. Thanks, as always, for stopping by... xoxo


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