Sticker Shock

We met with our contractor this past Friday and there was good news and bad news, but mostly bad news. We admittedly ran our design on the high side and expected to be a little over budget, but it turned out to be 114% over! That’s 214% total – more than double!!

I’ve worked on many projects that have been about 20-30% above budget at this stage of design, and the rework has always been manageable and resulted in a much better project by the end. But we’ve been bouncing back and forth between optimism and doubt since seeing the estimate. Can we salvage this design?

The greatest culprit of our overrun wasn’t any particular product or level of finish, but the overall gross square footage. Our contractor (factoring in the garage, which sticks out from the footprint of the structure above it, the entire unfinished basement and even the “open to below” space of the second floor) cited the resulting amount of exterior walls as our greatest expense. Granted, this estimate was compiled by talking to one subcontractor from each trade rather than getting competing quotes. The design is also very loose, so the subs assumed higher, more conservative numbers to cover unknowns.

Cost breakdowns
$95 / s.f., counting gross square feet
$198 / s.f., counting finished square feet only

The contractor’s suggestions were to push the garage back into the same plane as the 1st floor wall, reduce the basement size using crawl space, reduce double story space and cut down on hallways.

We had thought (before the estimate) that faced with a high number we would:

  • cut out the interior stone
  • change the exterior stone to brick
  • loose the third garage bay (not my workshop!)
  • cut the library
  • seek less expensive materials
  • provide our own labor where feasible

With these, we assumed the cards would fall into place. Unfortunately, bigger cuts are likely needed. We may even have to lose an entire floor!

The interesting and positive feedback was that both the framing and alternate SIPS subcontractors were really pleased with the simplicity of the structure (leaving us to wonder if that factored into cost). Our contractor was also convinced that this would be a 6 month construction project, about half what we were assuming. We need to capitalize on this as we move forward.

We’re in shock, but the good news is that we have a benchmark to work from. We will spend some time crunching the numbers and revisiting the current design, but if it doesn’t look promising we’ll completely redesign, keeping in mind everything we’ve done and learned so far.

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One thought on “Sticker Shock

  1. As someone who has worked with many architects over the years as a consultant, I have seen the budgets of projects routinely go 80-120% over budget. Therefore, you are in good company. Try working with ZHA.

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