How much to renovate?
September 14, 2011 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Considering first time house. How much for renovations? Looking for analogous estimates.

My wife and I are considering buying a small bungalow in Chicago. In general the house seems structurally well maintained. (Tuckpointing, roof, etc)

We are trying to estimate how much some simple renovations would be. Is there a good rule of thumb to estimate? Cost per window? Renovating a small bathroom? 12x11 kitchen remodel? Finished basement? Renovating a finished attic?

For instance if someone is flipping a house, how do they estimate these things and build a budget?

We'd want to know what we could do right away, save for, etc.
posted by patrad to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Renovation costs have a *huge* range, depending on the specifics of what you want done.

If there is a specific house you are looking at, I recommend having a contractor (or three) look at the house with you, walk through it, and give you a real estimate before you buy. You should be able to get such an estimate for free.

One data point is that we paid $1000 per window (3' x 4.5'), including labor. These were not the fanciest windows ever, but they are double-glazed and have wood frames rather than vinyl.

Keep in mind that flippers sometimes do shoddy work on the cheap. You might not want that for a house that you are buying for yourself.

Good luck!
posted by pizzazz at 9:21 PM on September 14, 2011

Define "remodel" and "renovate." You can do a minor update of a bathroom--new toilet, medicine cabinet, vanity & sink, shower assembly--for under $1K. Replacing the tub & tile can easily add another $5-$10K onto that. Ten years ago, it cost me about $6K for minor updates to a kitchen (new sink & disposal, laminate counters, refinished cabinets, new vinyl flooring, lights, replastered ceiling, paint); if you plan on ripping things out & replacing appliances, that will get you up to $10-12K in no time, and quite possibly much higher. It will all depend on the contractor, where you buy the materials, etc.

I wouldn't take a flipper's budget as a model. As pizzazz says, a flipper will utilize the cheapest material possible, and may also be doing much of the installation work themselves.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:23 PM on September 14, 2011

Ask a contractor for an estimate. Or go to Home Depot with a calculator and start adding things up. I would guess my kitchen cost $20k easily (I don't know, previous owner did it).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:05 PM on September 14, 2011

It depends whether you plan to DIY or contract out, although obviously some things are not so DIYable. We found these sorts of figures when we were looking at houses by searching home improvement forums for recent discussions on the sorts of renovations we were considering.

For what it's worth, here's some things I can remember from my searches:
Installing double glazing: about $3000-7000 PER WINDOW
Putting in a bay window: between $2000 and $10,000
Extending the house on a single story: about a quarter the value of the whole house
Extending upwards: about a third to a half of the value of the whole house
Bathroom - gut and redo: between $10,000 and $20,000 for a not hugely posh but not DIY job.
Putting in power or data cable outlets: about $300 each
Flooring: to do 50 square metres in high quality laminate was $3500 DIY. To do it in hardwood would have been about twice that.
Painting: We needed about $800 worth of paint to paint the whole interior of a 140 square metre house.

Disclaimer: I am in Australia and in a quite expensive city for this sort of work. These figures are in Australian dollars, which is roughly equal to the US dollar. But I imagine it varies hugely by region. I might also have misremembered some of those figures.
posted by lollusc at 2:18 AM on September 15, 2011

I'm in the midst of doing what you are doing. Mainly, I gave myself a budget based on difference between the sale price and the projected sale price in the future with renovations. The second number is based on conservative samples of comparison houses in the area and local appreciation values. Then I prioritized by inspection failure, curb appeal, bang for buck projects (master bath for example), and lastly ego projects. You can save a huge amount by DIY, or working with contractors who will let you take their direction.

As for actual costs, it's too dependent on your area and tastes to give you a useful figure. Some guideli es: Get multiple estimates, and never pick the cheapest unless there are glowing reviews. Don't obsess about premium appliances and fixtures unless you truly think a future buyer will know the difference and care. Buy the best paint you can get.

Oh, and if you DIY, you're going to fuck some things up. Leave budget room for that.
posted by hanoixan at 5:28 AM on September 15, 2011

I just got estimate for replacing 6 double hung windows. The will be locally (in Milwaukee) manufactured windows and the total cost including windows/labor/install/clean up was $2600 for vinyl.

We had some nicer windows put in last year (Marvin wood windows) and it was ~$6000 for two large double hung and one small double casement.

We managed to do a bathroom "update" with new sink/toilet, paint for $600.

We did a kitchen "update" with new sink, counters, paint for ~$1000.
posted by sulaine at 5:53 AM on September 15, 2011

I'm in the middle of this process right now--just bought a house in Boston that was structurally sound, but needed a lot of updating.

What I did was bring a contractor in before we even made the offer and got some ideas of cost. Afterward, we got two more quotes for the work. Everyone says it'll be more than you think and they're right. They opened up the kitchen walls and a beam was rotted from water damage years ago (there are no more leaks). That had to be replaced and added an additional $1k to the cost.

For windows, we got prices between $450 and $650 per window for double-hung, vinyl windows installed. It definitely can be a whole lot more.

Our kitchen has been taken down to the studs. We did a lot of the demo to save some $$ there. In terms of the kitchen, it really depends on the quality of things you buy -- Ikea cabinets are SO much cheaper than anywhere else. Some folks say they're great, others say they're not. The quotes we got ranged from $2k-$6500 for only lower cabinets (we're doing open shelving above) for a pretty small kitchen.

One of the things that was pricey was moving the gas line for the stove, if you have to do that. One plumber quoted several thousand for that alone.

Refinishing floors is roughly $1.25 a sq ft, from what I hear. Got a quote for reglazing the bathtub at $325.

So I guess ultimately, ask a general contractor to come see the house with you and give you a rough quote. And then add a few thousand more onto it! That helped us understand what we could and couldn't afford. We've been very frugal and we're still over budget...
posted by jdl at 8:42 AM on September 15, 2011

So you wanna know how much you remodel is going to cost eh? Here's a remodel hack so you don't end up with a hacked remodel:
(FWIW I am an architect and former general contractor)

Key concepts:
A. Building stuff is pretty easy. The hard part is getting the money right.
B. The world of architecture and contracting is totally based on relationships and connections.

Here's how I would jump into a remodel.

1. Find a residential architect in your area whose work appeals to you. There are plenty of blogs out there for any major city. Call him/her and explain your situation. Ask them to recommend a contractor they have worked with. That you knew enough to seek the architect out will be flattering to them (no matter how often it happens to them). Your honest, but vague description of the work will provide the architect with a sense that there may be future work on your project. The architect takes advantage of the fact that it is super easy to make a good recommendation. He/she is the instant good guy and they can recommend a good contractor that they feel will make them look good. Contractors respond promptly when recommended by architects. This is were their best work comes from. The contractor shows up to your house "mentally" in service of the architect at this point. This is to your advantage.

2. Ideally, you would invite both the architect and contractor to your house at the same time for a paid one hour consultation. Ask the architect what they might consider doing in your space to meet the needs you have outlined in a prioritized 5 item list. Example: 1- Create a better functioning kitchen. 2- Bring more natural light into the center of the house 3- Maximize efficiency of unused spaces like attic and basement, etc. As the architect brainstorms, ask the contractor for his input, re structural feasibility and budget implications. He should tell you things like "You can make that window taller in the same opening it is in now, but making it wider requires expensive structural work you may want to avoid", etc.

3. At this point the architect and builder are speaking their own language, but you will get the gist of it. It's ok to play dumb (even if you aren't), and ask plenty of questions. Don't get bogged down in details. Respect their time and keep things moving. You only have exactly one hour. Make sure they realize you are respectful of their time and advice. During this phase, the architect and builder are working to display their competency for each other. Remember Key Concept B from's all about relationships. You are leveraging their relationship with each other to your informational advantage.

4. A talented and experienced architect often has about 80% of their most solid ideas in the first hour. You don't care about refining these yet, and you should get much more of their experience than you are actually paying for at this point. A good contractor will focus his attention on potential "trouble spots" right away and this is what you want to hear. It might not be good news. But that's ok. It might be vague and full of "But we might find X once we get into it", but that's ok. You are looking to determine for yourself the potential scope of what your project will entail in addition to what you would like it to entail. Don't be scared at this point. Truth is your pal.

5. Once you have walked through (in no more than your 1 hour), ask them this question this way:
"I've see the work you guys have done and I like it. If your work I saw in the magazine/blog is an 8 on a scale of 1-10 for the kind of work that comes out of your office, I'm probably interested in a 5-8 level for my project (adjust actual numbers to your taste). Give me your gut cost estimate for that range for my project. Gut price for my project in a 5, gut price for my project in an 8. A good architect and builder will be able to get surprisingly close with their gut. They will hem and haw about never knowing exactly what they will run into and all that, but that's ok. It's the truth. Their gut number will be reflective of what they actually think might be the case for your house.

6. Remember, it's all about relationships. The contractor isn't going to want to shoot high because he wants the architect to consider him reasonable and will want to ensure that he is included in future projects. The builder isn't going to go too low, because this makes him look unprofessional and potentially incompetent. The numbers they give you will be based upon their experience which will, of course, vary. But that's ok. You are looking at this point for an honest and realistic range. You are looking to know, truthfully, what you might be up against. Take notes about the numbers they give you. Do not ask yet for something formal, you aren't there yet, and it will skew the numbers they are likely to give. They will pad them unnecessarily...nobody likes to be wrong.

7. Be respectful of their time...did I mention that? Be appreciative. We like making people happy. Most of us genuinely like helping people out. You can benefit from this, but don't try to take advantage of it.

8. Exchange contact info, and ask if they have any materials you can pass on to others that you would like to recommend to them. It's all about relationships. Be a good part of the relationship.

9. Use the general tone of their conversation and any price specifics as a guide to frame your thinking around the budgeting for your project. Pursue and adjust as necessary.

10. You have just paid for one hour of time from two professionals that are working extra hard for you because they are really working for each other. You get way more than your hours worth. You get vague, but what will in most cases prove to be decent ideas about the costs associated with your projects. Follow up with a notes of thanks.

Obviously, you may or may not in the end want to work with professionals. I would suggest that you do. The biggest things that could go wrong with your project revolve around unknowns. Professionals know more than you do. The very first time you have to do something twice (or in some needlessly inefficient way due to lack of experience), you will just have burned up the money you spent on involving pros from the beginning. A good pro will ALWAYS inform you and support you in doing things yourself if there are things that can efficiently reduce the cost of the project without gumming up the works.

An hour of time like this in the beginning will provide much greater returns and perspective than countless hours searching forums, etc. There are SO many crap builders (and architects) out there, but don't let them give all of us a bad name. The good ones will work for and with you from the very beginning. It's all about the relationships. Your job isn't going to make anybody rich. But your job PLUS the couple of future recommendations you make (even if you don't end up going forward with them for your own project) will provide steady work and more connections in the long run. And in this economic environment, that's what we are all looking for.

Good luck!
(feel free to MeMail me if you have specific questions I might be able to help with.)
posted by nickjadlowe at 10:20 AM on September 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

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