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Remodeling Your Home? Expect the Unexpected – And Plan for the Costs

It always looks so easy on the home improvement shows. The happy homeowners meet with a celebrity designer, they decide to gut their entire home and start over, and 28 minutes later they are surprised by the “big reveal,” oohing and aahing over the custom cabinets and shiny new floors.

Planning a remodel

So it’s no wonder that home owners in real life are shocked and dismayed when they discover that their remodeling projects take a whole lot longer and have far more headaches than the ones on TV. Even when things go wrong on the TV remodels, they are usually solved by the next commercial break, because one of the designers has a contact for an obscure material, or the homeowners magically come up with the cash to handle an issue.

Or is it so magical? What you may not realize is that even on TV, homeowners are encouraged to develop a budget that includes a cushion to cover unexpected expenses or cost overruns. Most experts recommend adding 20 to 30 percent to your budget for unplanned costs. But what are those unplanned costs? Here are some of the most common remodeling “surprises.”


You tear down some sheetrock, only to discover water or pest damage behind the wall. Or you find out that the wiring in your home is hopelessly out of date, and needs to be brought up to code. The thing is, you never really know what you are going to find behind your walls until they come down, and some repairs can be pricey. Prepare for the inevitability of finding something unexpected, and the news won’t send you into a panic.

Debris Removal

Paying for a remodeling project doesn’t just include the cost of new materials and labor. You have to plan for the disposal of your old stuff. Most municipalities have strict guidelines related to what can be disposed of and where, particularly if it contains harmful substances such as asbestos or Freon gas, as in old air conditioners. Even if you don’t have anything that could be a potential environmental hazard, you still need to find a way to dispose of scrap wood, old sheetrock, doors, windows, etc. Don’t forget to budget for a waste container and pickup.

Taxes and Fees

When it comes to permits for remodeling projects, the guidelines are about as clear as mud. Different municipalities have different rules, and a project that doesn’t require a permit in one city requires a permit and an inspection in another. Generally speaking, minor remodeling projects that don’t involve rewiring, re-plumbing, or changing the physical structure of the building (i.e., removing walls or adding on) do not require permits. However, you should always check with your local permitting office and contractor to confirm — and if you need a permit, expect to pay for it. Depending on the scope of your project, permit fees can run from $20 to a few hundred dollars.

You should also plan on paying additional fees to your local inspection office once the project is complete, if you had to get a permit. This is especially important when you are doing electrical, plumbing, or sewer work. And finally, while not a direct remodeling cost per se, expect to see a bump in your tax bill if you have measurably changed the size or function of your home. The local tax assessor will pay you a visit to determine your new valuation, which depending on the project, could increase significantly.

Loss of Use Expenses

Remodeling projects take time, and during that time, you may not be able to use some or all of your home. While you can plan for some downtime, in some cases you might have unexpected periods of inconvenience where you need to spend a few nights in a hotel or get takeout. Have some cash available for those costs.

You should also have a contingency plan for your pets. Some animals do not handle remodeling well, and get stressed by workers in their home, the noise of the construction, and the general disruption that projects can cause. Be prepared for your pet to spend some time with a trusted friend or at pet care center to minimize their stress and ensure your project is completed on time.

There are a number of other expenses that can unexpectedly derail your remodeling budget, such as shipping charges and rush fees, but these are among the most common. If you’ve planned for them, though, and have a cushion on your budget, they won’t wreak havoc on your finances — and you’ll still get your TV show-worthy home.

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