How to make your remodel more expensive (or cheaper)

Are you hoping to make your remodel more expensive? I bet you aren’t. 

But so.many.people make the same remodel planning mistakes that are pretty much guaranteed to make your remodel more expensive than it needs to be! Plus they won’t add any value to the remodeling process, the life you’ll lead in the house when it’s done, or how much you like the look of your finished project.

Now, I can’t tell exactly what your remodel plans will cost or how to plan the idealized, cheapest best project.

Many of the choices you can make that will add or reduce your costs depend on more than one factor in your life. 

I get lots of questions about the most expensive or the cheapest way to remodel a certain area or overall “best” choices…and they are always impossible to answer. This no magic bullet. Instead, there are a series of choices you can make based on your lifestyle, your bank account, your region, your ability and interest in DIY and the phasing of your remodel.

What I can do is help you to see the most common potential pitfalls and teach you the system (ahem…the Master Plan Method) that will help you make the best choices for you and your remodel. 

So, what should you be on the watch for as you plan your remodel?

The Ostrich

Imagine an ostrich burying its head in the sand, oblivious to the surroundings. Starting your project without a solid plan is the remodeler equivalent of this behavior. 

Sure, it might seem efficient to jump right in, but this approach can lead to scope creep, unforeseen complications, and unexpected expenses that quickly add up.

To avoid this costly mistake, take the time to plan out your remodel thoroughly. Set clear goals, prioritize your needs, and envision the final result you desire. You’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions and allocate your budget where it truly matters.

All at Once vs. Phases

Should you tackle your remodel all at once or break it down into phases? Conventional wisdom often tells aspiring remodelers to do everything at once to take advantage of economies of scale. 

Doing everything in a single go might seem tempting. And it might be the right choice for your project. It could come with some savings. It might also be the best course of action if you have to tackle a big asbestos abatement or if you need a whole new HVAC system before you can move in. There are projects where tackling the whole remodel in one fell swoop makes the most sense…but it does NOT make the most sense for every project. And it could lock you into your very own remodeling hellscape. 

Alternately, spreading the project over phases is likely to help you control costs, save up for each stage, and even DIY certain aspects. You may find that because of life circumstances (generally referred to as “jobs” and “kids” and “aging parents”) you’re better able to manage the project bit by bit instead of all at once. Or it may be that financial constraints only allow for so much work to happen at a time. As long as you have a solid plan, completing projects in phases does not have to increase cost and in the end it might help you save A LOT.   

Consider your financial situation, lifestyle, and willingness to live amidst ongoing construction chaos. Often, a phased approach can provide greater flexibility and ends up being the more budget-friendly option.


When it comes to remodeling, flexibility is key. Fixating on a single vision without considering alternatives can drive up costs unnecessarily. 

I mean, sure, almost anything is possible in residential remodeling – for a price. But do you really need to spend an extra $10,000 to flip your bedroom and bathroom? Could you make more minor adjustments to the floor plan or planned addition that would function just as well at a fraction of the cost? By remaining open to different options, you might discover cost-effective solutions that achieve the same desired outcome. 

Consider multiple design solutions for each space and weigh their pros and cons. This approach empowers you to make decisions that align with your budget and goals.

The Contractor Conundrum

Selecting the right contractor may be the single most important decision you make. The right relationship with the right team who have the right skills will almost certainly make for a much smoother remodel with the best outcome. 

My best advice here? Take your time! Research, gather recommendations, and interview potential contractors. Don’t rush into a decision based solely on cost; prioritize expertise, communication, and a track record of successful projects. 

Investing in the right contractor can save you headaches, stress, and ultimately, money. Opting for the highest bid might increase your expenses slightly, but choosing an inexperienced or ill-suited contractor could lead to prolonged timelines, shoddy workmanship, and higher overall costs.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • The four choices you can make to guarantee a MORE expensive remodel.
  • How to avoid adding expense to you project.
  • Why some standard money saving advice might actually add cost to your remodel. 

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Are you hoping to make your remodel more expensive? I bet you aren’t. But there are some very common homeowner remodel planning behaviors that are almost guaranteed to make your remodel more expensive than it needs to be without adding any value to the life you’ll lead in the house when it’s done, or how much you like the look of it.

So today, I want to talk to you about for very specific ways you can unintentionally make your remodel more expensive before you even start. Or put another way how to avoid those mistakes before you make them and keep your costs lower.

Hey there. Welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1310.

Now what I can’t tell you is exactly what your remodel plans will cost you or how to plan the idealized, cheapest best project. Some of the things I’m going to talk about today depend on more than one factor in your life. So questions like what’s the most expensive or the cheapest way to remodel? In essence, what is the overall best choice? These questions come up all the time, and they’re always impossible to answer.

This just happened at our monthly ready to remodel Office Hours call this past month, a student was hoping I had an easy to pull out spreadsheet comparing the lifetime costs and real dollar amounts for all update material choices in a mid-century home.

Spoiler alert, I don’t. So it was one of the few questions last month that I felt like I had to answer by saying I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that specific ask. I don’t have a singular document that will tell you the lifetime value of every material you might choose for a house, what it costs and what it’s worth to you personally, there are too many X factors for me even to consider putting together a document like that if I had time to do it.

I hate to give my ready to remodel students no for an answer. So what I ended up telling her was that I couldn’t pull out of my back pocket that spreadsheet that would tell you the value of longevity and cost and labor and materials by region in the US of every various weaving method. But I would be delighted to give her one off answers about how a variety of materials might be appropriate for her house might perform over time and white they might cost more or less than labor and materials given her region.

Think of it as the vending machine of random architecture and construction information approach rather than an organized database. She puts in a buffalo nickel, I spit out various types of roof insulation, what might be better or worse, what their environmental impacts are, what their performances and how long they can reasonably be expected to last. That’s what we ended up doing. In the end, it worked out pretty well.

So I’m going to use the same approach when I talk to you about how to make your remodel more expensive or less. There’s not a magic bullet. Instead, there are a series of decisions options you could choose among as an individual based on your lifestyle, your bank account your region and your ability and interest in DIY and in ordering parts of your remodel.

All of those factors will add up to the best choice for you and why you might make it before we get into that. I must ask are you signed up for the free masterclass on Saturday that’s this Saturday, I’m delivering my updated free masterclass planning an MCN remodel to fit your life and budget live.

Look, if you find this episode helpful. You’re gonna love this masterclass. I really hope you walk away from today’s listen, believing that even taking a little time to plan your home update makes all the difference between a bland flip, and a beautiful home.

Having a master plan saves stress. It saves money because nothing is more expensive than changing your mind mid remodel. Having a clear master plan in place is what keeps project costs low. And leading an update can be challenging, but I know you can do it.

For the past six years I’ve been working with mid-century homeowners to plan updates they love using my master plan method. And on August 19, I’m going to be sharing the exact steps you will use to plan a great update for your home in this free masterclass. I haven’t given this class live in a year.

And I’m super excited to share my updated ideas and examples and to answer your questions in the q&a. So go save your seat right now. August 19. Get squared away with the link in the show notes at midmod-midwest.com/ 1310 or directly at midmod-midwest.com/masterclass. The countdown is on.

Here’s what I want you to remember, when you’re thinking about how to make your remodel more expensive or less. You can’t have it all fast, cheap or good. Pick two. I’ve talked about this before, of that Venn diagram if you’re lucky you can pick to so like a game of Jeopardy.

We’re gonna phrase all of my advice today in the form of an answer to the question. I guess it’s the opposite of jeopardy. How can I make this remodel more expensive? Here are four key ways you can do that.

You can make a remodel more expensive by jumping in too soon without a clear plan. This results in scope creep and unexpected unforeseen complications. There basically is no counterpoint to this starting a remodel out a plan is the wrong way to do it. It will make to remodel more expensive.

The second one is that you can make your remodel more expensive. If you plan to do everything at once, instead of breaking into phases. This results in it all ending up being more than you intended, but you can’t stop because you’re in the middle of it now, as a counterpoint, it will probably end up costing more overall, to do it in phases.

Due to the economies of scale, you won’t be able to take in when you call a contractor back three times or a specific plumber back twice. But it also can depend on factors like loans versus ready cash. If you have the money on hand now, and you have the ability to move out of your house, it’s more efficient to do everything at once. But in the long term, it might be more effective to save up the money and spend it phase by phase then to borrow against it and end up paying a lot of interest in loans on the work you’ve done. So that depends.

One surefire way to make your remodel more expensive is to be inflexible about what needs to happen and how it needs to happen. With a residential remodel, nearly anything is possible for a price, you can double the size of your house, you can put on a new second floor, you can make all the structure go away and replace it with hidden steel tucked up above ceilings, but it will be expensive.

And if you fixate on just one way to make your dreams come true, you may never even have anyone tell you that it could have been done more cheaply. Or you might turn down and reject more flexible options. To avoid this be practical about changing and prioritizing your plans as you go.

And the last guaranteed way to make your remodel more expensive, or hopefully not, is to choose the wrong contractor. You can choose the high bid and have a slightly more expensive project than you might have hoped. Or you can choose the wrong bid, or just go with one contractor without exploring your options. And you may end up regretting it for the length of your remodel, which might end up being way longer than you ever projected. And that’ll cost you more. All right.

So remember, we’re basically talking about what not to do. Let’s dig in a little more on each of those four ways. I’m going to talk about the biggest one first, jumping into your remodel without a clear plan.

I like to call this the ostrich method of planning remodel. It’s the most expensive method for you personally, it may not mean your house is more expensive than your neighbor’s house or Bill Gates is. But it does mean you will spend the most then of any possibility that you could. So what do I mean by that, I mean, burying your head in the sand. If you don’t look ahead at the overall costs of your remodel, it will end up costing you more than it could even if you say no to every unexpected, stressful new choice that comes up you possibly can.

There are just going to be unexpected, unforeseen expenses that you won’t have planned for, but you won’t be able to prioritize properly. So you’ll be spending your energy and your money on things that you didn’t actually want to care about. But you’re in the middle of now. Instead, investing just a little bit of your time to plan properly at the beginning will allow you to set your goals overall and avoid this kind of overreach, you might think that you can just plan to spend less, you’re going to plan to make cheaper choices.

And that sort of works. But in the end, some decisions that you make up front or you fail to make have other decisions baked into them. And some decisions you make at the front allow you to make more granular adjustments as you go through your process. So I’ll come back to this a little more. It’s related to my third point.

But if you want to dig more deeply into this concept of how planning will protect you from cost overruns, then go back and listen to episode 604. Design your remodel before you set your budget. Yes, I did say don’t ask yourself what your remodel will cost until you have started the design process, it will result in a cheaper remodel overall, I promise.

All right. Next up in how to make your remodel more expensive, is to plan to do everything at once, instead of breaking it up into phases, this is always going to result in it being a little bit more out of control. And you having to take on more pieces of the project than you might have wanted to.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always more expensive to do the project, piece by piece spread out over a couple of years than at once. Because you will have to call the same contractors or different contractors back again and again. Inflation may go up so the cost of each dollar you spend into remodel may go up. There’s a lot of reasons why it’s better to sort of get it one and done if you can.

However, that doesn’t always mean it’s the best choice for you to remodel in a budget sensitive way. You want to think about Do you have money you can spend out right versus money you’re borrowing it might make more sense to only spend money you’ve actually pre saved to do your house in phases than to take out a loan, especially when we factor in varying interest rates that pay save and pay as you go project by project basis also allows you to do things on a smaller scale.

When you think about construction materials, they’re going to become more expensive over time, labor will become more expensive over time, and you’re going to pay for that coming back again and again. But on the other hand, if you break your project up into multiple phases, you might be able to do some of the work yourself, which is a great way to control costs.

If you are skilled and interested, you might also choose to live in the house and occupy it in an ongoing state of construction chaos for a long period of time, which just isn’t possible when you’re doing a full gut remodel. On the other hand, you want to balance the cost of living in the house versus paying for the cost of living somewhere else, while you and your family, wait for your full gut remodel to be accomplished. So these are some of the balancing questions to ask.

At the end of the day, there’s also the question of efficiency. Even if you’re telling yourself, you can save money by DIY and you have to ask yourself, are you the best person to do the work on your house? Sometimes you are you have the skill and the interest to do it. But you still have to ask, do you have the capacity to earn a lot more in your day job, than your value as a low wage construction worker?

Then there’s necessity perhaps you just need to be focusing more of your time and attention on raising your kids. Let’s not get into the economic investment in kids. But you might have to do that, or you might want to. So again, when we talk about breaking up the project, doing it all at once, or spending it out, it does become a conversation about possibilities and probabilities and what matters most to you in your life.

This actually came up sideways. In a conversation I had with my sister recently, she’s really trying to get to see Taylor Swift in concert, she’s already missed the opportunity to see her locally, which would have been in Chicago. Now she’s wondering if she should fly down to New Orleans for a later run of shows. I suggested with the prices on Ticketmaster being what they are, maybe she should fly and see a less expensive European show. Overall, the total dollar number might be more or less or the same, but the experience might be different.

So when you’re thinking about what makes a project more expensive, also think about the experience you’d like to be having, which has value even if not necessarily $1 value. Okay. Taylor Swift sidebar over.

Let’s talk about point three, you can make your remodel a lot more expensive, by being inflexible about what you want to have happen and how it happens. As I said, within residential remodeling, nearly everything is possible for a price. And if you fixate on one way, you’re not going to get the opportunity to brainstorm getting pretty much the same result for less. Now, this is kind of where we come back to the dangers of remodeling without a plan. The philosophy of do more overall or do less is not as helpful to controlling costs as breaking out each part of your overall remodeling. Why?

Why are you remodeling the first place because the house is dated because it needs maintenance changes because you don’t have enough social space because you don’t have enough private space when you look at each of those component-wise. And then you break them down into areas which might be like rooms. And then you break those rooms down into a series of micro decisions that can be incredibly powerful to control costs. This works in a couple of ways.

Remember, if you want to make your project more expensive for no extra design value, I know you don’t then plan your layout with a complete disregard for structure and existing plumbing locations. Here’s an example, when you’re thinking about putting in a bathroom, if you’re making an addition, for example, to put a bathroom in as part of an owner suite, you could choose to put the bathroom in the farthest new part of the new construction right out by the backyard, maybe there’s a pretty view from it, or maybe that winds you nothing. But then you have to run plumbing lines all the way out to the farthest extent of your addition.

Instead, you could put a new owners bathroom in the footprint of a former largest bedroom and put a new bedroom out into the backyard over a slab construction or a crawlspace. That new bedroom will be more simple as a shell to construct because it doesn’t have any plumbing in it and needs only minimal access to heat and electricity. That’s less new features going out into new construction, it might be easier to move a wall rather than move plumbing inside of rearranging spaces inside of the space.

You can control the budget and your remodel, if you think about what are the points, what are the goals? What do you want to achieve out of each space change and then think about the least effective and the most effective way to go about that. If your goal is to keep costs down a masterplan approach is essential. And this is really where I get to my design rule of three.

When I’m working for a client, particularly a budget sensitive client, I lean hard into my three part design strategy, giving each separate area of the house multiple design solutions that all do more or less what the client asked me to do, allows them to then tune the budget of their project by choosing to put more money into the areas that are most important to them and cut costs by doing less in parts of the house that need less work or simply matter to them less.

Sometimes my client makes that choice themselves by working through the multiple options and deciding what matters most and what doesn’t. And sometimes they’ll take multiple options to several contractors and ask them for the actual dollar price difference between two alternate layout options. While it’s not too efficient to lean on the strategy entirely, you can’t ask a contractor to bid two different houses on a general basis, it’s totally normal to ask a contractor debate on a base price for the project, and to include a couple of add alternate elements and quote them out separately.

Remember how I was just talking about contractors? You can make your house almost infinitely more expensive by choosing the wrong contractor. You can also make your life miserable by choosing the wrong contractor. Choose the high bid and you get a project that’s slightly more expensive. But if you choose sometimes the lowball bid, you will end up regretting it and not paying the lowest price.

Choosing the right contractor is an investment. It’s not possible to overstate how important this is. Because you can so easily make your project more lengthy, more expensive with bonus side elements of more stressful beyond belief. By choosing a fuzzy, unclear bid from a contractor you have an iffy feeling about I don’t want to go into this too much today.

And I’m not going to tell a specific story to tattle on a client. But I have seen many clients in the past, choose what felt like the most expedient choice, or choose the only available client contractor who was ready to start then because they thought they didn’t have time to wait and end up having their process drag out for more than a year longer than they expected it to because that contractor they locked themselves into a relationship with just didn’t turn out to be able to do the job.

I don’t want this to happen to you. So with a firm master plan comes the ability to better suss out good contractors and avoid that crucial mistake.

Okay, so let’s just rephrase this, you can make your risk model is more expensive. So easily, you can do that by jumping into your plans without a clear end game in mind, you can plan to make your remodel more expensive by trying to do it all at once when you shouldn’t, or breaking into phases when you shouldn’t, you can make your remodel more expensive by being inflexible about how to make it all happen and what details you must have and cannot bend on or even just how to accomplish those things.

And you can certainly make your project more expensive by choosing the wrong contractor. I don’t want you to do any of those things. But I hope that now you’re a little more prepared to avoid each of those mistakes. Here’s what I want you to know, you can plan a remodel that is perfect for your mid-century house that keeps the mid-century charm intact or puts it back if the previous owner already erased it from the house.

And you can leave that remodel yourself when you follow the Master Plan framework. And I’m going to be teaching you exactly how to do that at the free workshop that I’m giving on Saturday. So I really hope I’m going to see you there.

And if you don’t happen to be free at 11am Central time on Saturday, August 19. Sign up anyway, because I’ll be making a recording of this live event and I will make the replay recording available to you. I’ll send you an email link as soon as it’s over, downloaded and uploaded again. So this is a great chance to reinforce everything you’ve learned from this podcast on a weekly basis to set yourself up for success and to hang out for an hour with a whole bunch of other mid-century homeowners who are all in exactly the same spot.

I’m going to spend some time during the workshop asking people questions. What kind of house are you living in a flipper a time capsule? Where are you in your remodeling process just starting out stuck in the middle almost done and not pulling it together? You’re gonna find that other homeowners aren’t exactly your situation at every quality of your remodel. So I really want that experience for you.

I hope I’ll see you there on Saturday. I hope your remodel isn’t too much more expensive and you wish it would be bye for now.