FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the antithesis of the DIY guy. I was completely banned from home repairs many years ago after I set out to replace an electrical outlet—but switched off the wrong circuit breaker before doing so.
We’ve undertaken two major renovations in the past 12 years. The first was an addition to our vacation home. The second is ongoing—a new kitchen at the same house.
We spent months on the plans. In the case of the addition, we reviewed the architect’s drawings and, with the current kitchen project, the 3D computer-aided design models. We set a budget and got estimates for each step of these two projects, or so we thought.
In the case of the addition, we ended up about 50% over budget. To date with the kitchen, it’s close to the same, with more work still to come. Did we get ripped off by the builders? Not at all. We were undone by the “while we’re at it” syndrome. That and our own failure to ask more questions and pay closer attention to details. Notice I use “our.” I’m married to a lovely lady addicted to HGTV. Every new show she watches presents new ideas—even after the plans are approved and the budget set.
In the case of the addition, wainscoting, crown molding and a last-minute idea for French doors boosted the final tab. Oh, yes, do you want a full basement or crawl space? I’m not crawling anywhere.
Now for the current project. The pantry didn’t turn out the way my wife “thought” it would, despite approving the design. Add $3,000 to redo it. As naive as I am, it never occurred to me a new kitchen also meant all new appliances. Who knew a microwave can go into a drawer?
When setting our budget, we forgot to add in the plumber and electrician, because we were so focused on the big-ticket expense—the cabinets. What could it cost to hook up the new sink, dishwasher and fridge when nothing was being moved? More than $2,000, that’s what. Of course, cabinets need pulls and handles. They have to be just right, including those seahorse pulls. Those cost what? My wife hasn’t yet made the big reveal.
And then there’s the door from the kitchen to the laundry room. That old door just doesn’t look right. It’s a metal door because the laundry room used to be part of the garage, which is now a grandkid’s bedroom. Did I forget to mention that project? That one wasn’t too bad. We only decided after the fact to put in a sliding door between the new room and the laundry. Too bad we decided after it was done, which meant the contractor had to open up a wall.
As far as the new door goes, I bet you’re thinking, “Just buy one.” Is it ever that simple? It appears the door my wife envisions doesn’t exist. Can you say, “Have one made to order”? My wife can. So far, we haven’t found anyone to give us a price. They seem reluctant to do so. That doesn’t sound good, but at this point I’m conditioned to surprises. Last summer, we were looking for a new screen door and we found some lovely ones. That is until we learned they cost $3,000. That’s not going to happen. I can just imagine one of the grandkids poking a toy through the screen. Where’s the nearest Home Depot?
After reading this, I bet you think I’m upset about going over budget. Nope, it was expected. When we started the kitchen project, my wife and I agreed on a number. We naively were thinking about $35,000. As soon as we talked with the cabinet people, I knew that number was toast. When we picked the granite countertops, I knew the numbers were heading even further north.
The real shocker was the $700 fixture for the sink. All it does is turn the water on and off, hot or cold. Even at that price, I still have to touch it.
Once you have a new kitchen, other rooms look a bit shabby. According to my wife and HGTV, that is. Soooo, we’re on to painting the house inside and out, including the wood-stained trim from the 1980s to make it white, like the trim on the addition. See how this works? But I suspect that, if your wife is an HGTV addict, you already know that.
I find the secret to coping with special project spending is having the right mindset. I’m frugal by nature, which is why it took 30 years to get the kitchen project started. But once committed and once I know where the money is coming from, I’m all in. As with buying my dream car several years ago, the money is isolated in a bank account. Once it’s there, I don’t stress over spending it. My little secret: I put more into the account than the budget indicated.
Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. This is his 100th article for HumbleDollar. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.
Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our newsletter? Sign up now.
My wife is cheaper than me. Maybe unusual from the examples I see. She is addicted to HDTV though. I convinced her 10 years ago to begin a remodeling program for our home. The home was 15 years old at time. We identified kitchen and bathrooms as the focus. We would tackle painting and flooring as the last items.to complete as they should be fresh for a resale. Our goal was minimal structural changes, The kitchen was first and we had great cabinets we kept and added granite countertops and new appliances. Only a minor change to move the oven. Our 4 (yes 4!) full bathrooms were next.We have two master baths so we did those first. One involved taking out a closet and expanding the bathroom. We also created a large shower. The other master had a whirlpool tub that was always a problem so we removed it and used the space for a regular tub and a nice shower. One piece sink and countertops for a nice look and low maintenance. These bathrooms were big messy projects with a lot of dust and contractor drama. We took 2 years off to recover. We then did a jack and jill bathroom with the same material we used in our other project. Simple project as no structural changes. We did a simple upgrade on a half bathroom using a plumber and HD purchases. We did the majority of the painting two years ago. We bought our retirement condo in August and kicked off the kitchen, basement finishing, flooring and painting in January. The old home went on the market in March. We did final painting and flooring just before that in February. Whew! Don’t want to see contractors for a while as we move in May.
We remodeled the kitchen in our former home in 2018. It cost a lot of money, it turned out great, and it DID make the rest of the house look shabby.
Here’s the funny part—well, sort of. Not two months after we finished the kitchen remodel, we decided to buy a brand-new condo, sell our house, and move. I got to enjoy my new kitchen for all of nine months. In the months after we decided to move, I’d stand in there, look around, and just sigh. I’m sure the kitchen did help us sell the house, though.
The kitchen in the new place is also very nice, and we did get to pick the counters and cabinets before it was built. But the one in the old house was really, really nice.
“House Porn” – I spit my coffee out in laughter on that line! Well played, sir…
Dick, reading your great post made my eyebrow twitch! It reminded me of Dr. Tom Stanley’s admonitions in the Millionaire Next Door” (1996) that high net worth individuals tend to favor buying high quality “pre-built” homes and will avoid at all costs building / rebuilding their own. In all honesty, the thought of me standing in a home improvement store for hours with my wife picking out kitchen handles and other fixtures would be a fate worse than death! Dr. Stanley also wrote at great length on the “halo effect” tied to multiple ancillary costs involved with to owning a second or third home and/or keeping up with the Jones.
You’ve clearly worked hard for many years before retiring, and quality time with your wife and kids/grandkids are all a BIG part of your enjoyment in retirement. A well-appointed vacation home is a part of your expression of love for all of them.
Me? Keep those DIY hand tools locked away…I’ll instead rent someone else’s second home for weeks at a time in the winter months down south, and then leave the remainder growing in my portfolio for our kids / grandkids long-term benefit long after my wife and I are gone. Just playing to my strength…and R.E. ain’t one of them! Thanks for this timely reminder to “know thyself” and stay in my lane as I inch perilously closer to my own retirement date!
The Mr and I are both allergic to Home Depot. We’ve talked for years about a vacation/second home and always come to the conclusion that it makes more sense to save money to rent properties when we want to get away. Even if we decided we can afford a second home, we’re not getting any younger, and it would just be one more thing to worry about. The plan to rent homes is also highly flexible—if our life situation, finances, or plans change, we just don’t have to go on that trip. With a vacation home, once you have it, you have it.
I get chills up my spine when I enter a Home Depot which is only out of desperation.
You got a manual faucet instead of a voice activated faucet? link
Thanks for reminding me why we don’t undertake major renovation projects. We have done minor things around the house to update, and I finally gave in on the countertops ( I used to regularly set my coffee cup down on the counter and prove that it was, in fact, working just fine as is!). Good luck with the rest of the project and I pray that sanity remains intact- more power to you.
Great balls ‘ o fire house renovations! Excellent article. Only one addition here over twenty years ago a deck. No more anything on home improvements, improvement shows, or contractors. Same goes for second “vacation” home. We need a vacation home, dial up the Hilton – done. J.B. weld, a bucket or three of fresh paint every thirty years and everything is good as new. Remember, old is gold. It takes years to properly train the better half on the value of leaving well enough alone on “improvements” . Just look at how well we all have improved over the years…
Really fun article, Dick. We are just finishing up our new kitchen at our beach house in southern NJ. The new kitchen made the living room furniture look small and shabby. So that is being replaced. But I love the new kitchen, and am looking forward to the new furniture. Like you, once you make the decision to do it, I’m all in.
I’ve been doing complex project engineering for over 40 years. Ive never seen one come close to the original budget, or schedule. I’ve learned to expect the changes (we called it “requirements creep” at work) and mentally double the projected budget and schedule.
Update; the quote for the custom made door was between $6,000 and $8,000. No wonder there was hesitation giving us the number. I’m thinking we go with an open concept between the kitchen and laundry room sans door. But as you may have concluded, what I’m thinking is secondary to those troublemakers on HGTV. 🤑