I recently went to an initial consult with a potential client at their new home. This client had reached out regarding a kitchen remodel on what was to be a for-now home for her and her teenage son. She was looking to create an efficient kitchen out of a small and strangely laid-out space.

As we looked at the space, she also showed me the other areas that she was looking to have remodeled, including 2 bathrooms. She was also going to be replacing the flooring throughout, and making necessary upgrades to electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.

As we continued to talk through, and there continued to be more and more to discuss, I could feel her distress rising, though as we tend to do, it remained nearly contained.

We did go about talking costs, timelines, necessary permits, etc. When I asked her what her budget was, the flood gates of her frustration opened. She had a set budget. Everything she wanted, in the manner and timeline she was looking for, was going to be far above her budget. She had already had 3 contractors walk the site, and each had given her not only new ideas of things she may want to consider, but they had also given her very different ideas of budgets, all above her own top-budget.

When I asked her what they recommended she do with her current available budget, she let me know she hadn’t told them. And they hadn’t asked.

Its easy to feel a GC (or any vendor) has tricked you into believing in a dream, and then yanked it back due to budget. It makes it feel as though someone is trying to “get one over on you” because the disappointment is so great. But a large part of this stems from clients not feeling comfortable telling a GC their budget up front, because they don’t want to be taken advantage of with an overbid based on their budget. Here are my recommendations.

Be sure you know your own budget, ad are realistic about it. I always as clients what they are comfortable with spending, and what they can spend if necessary. Usually two different numbers. Know your ideal and your top budget.

Look up 3-5 contractors in your area to collect estimates, in effort to be sure you have a good range.

When you have a GC over, definitely ask them to take a look at the home, and make recommendations on what they recommend for the structure. If you need insulation, new windows, new siding, a panel upgrade, new wiring, etc, those are priority.

After they have taken a look at the structure, let them now what you are hoping to do on top of (or instead of) their recommendations. Then let them now your budget! That day, up front. Let them know your budget range. Ask them what they think are the most important first investments within your budget, and if they are interested in taking on the project for the budget you have.

Then compare notes across the GC’s. See where the recommendations cross each other, see where their estimates come in and with what scope included. Be sure the estimates all call out the same scope of work so that you have apples-to-apples. Then trust your gut. If someone has come in way over the others, they might be trying to pull one over, but they might also just be far more experienced and charge a premium, or they may add extra labor hours because they have a more detail-oriented crew and they don’t compromise for budget.

As with so many things in life, go with your gut. Be sure to ask for references, check their license, go to other job sites of theirs if that’s an option. After that, go with whom you feel comfortable communicating with, knowing that this person will be your guide over what can be a long and stress-inducing adventure.

If that GC is one that is over your budget, have a very candid conversation with them (because you feel comfortable communicating) about what they can do within your budget, and be sure that if you have non-negotiables on scope, you let them know in that conversation. For instance, yes, insulation and wiring may be important, but you can skip installing a new HVAC system or replacing windows for now because you must give yourself a larger range and hood this year, or replacing the floors is paramount to your sanity with the kids and dogs, etc. (These are not my exact recs. I am only throwing these out as an example. Please do trust in the expert who has seen your space as to what takes priority.)

Starting with the budget in open conversation will save time and heartache, and many frustrations on both ends of the conversation.

If you would like more help talking through the hiring phases of a GC or team for your project, or you have a project related question, please feel free to reach out to our team at Henry Mae to set up a brief phone or video conversation. You can reach us at hello@henrymae.com. Thanks so much!