Bay Area Remodel - realistic budget

RooAndCheeseAugust 22, 2014

Hello! This is my first post on GardenWeb after months of quietly lurking, so please be kind.

We are remodeling our ~1300sf San Francisco condo, and after finalizing the designs and having several contractors bid, I am shocked by the numbers I am seeing. For our Kitchen, Living Room and a 5x8 Bathroom, the estimates are coming in between $125-175K, not including appliances or flooring. Does this sound right, or did I just get referred to some of the most expensive contractors? We are creating an opening in a load bearing wall and there will be some amount of custom carpentry involved in the living room, so I know those add to the cost, but everything else is pretty straightforward.

Can others in the Bay Area weigh-in with what is a reasonable remodeling budget? And if anyone has any recommendations for contractors that are reliable and not so expensive, please let me know!

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Are ya located on Nob Hill or Visitacion Valley? haha

Bay Area rates are way high. I am in the east bay, I once got a plumbing bid to merely swing a WC drain from one side of a wall to another (bathroom relocate) - got a bid for $4,000. I did it myself, cost ~$120 in parts and about 3 hours.

From that day forward, I haven't had a sub for any work I have done - dates back 13 years now. Except for drywalling, I hate that work.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 5:41PM
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Bernal Heights. I'm open to doing some of the work myself, but since this is our first remodel we want to make sure we have professionals doing all the big stuff so we don't screw it up!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 6:40PM
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Roo -

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but, SF isn't considered one of the most expensive cities to live in the whole US for nothing. When it comes to contractors, you want to play, you have to pay. What "big stuff' are you afraid to do yourself?

If you feel reasonably confident and aren't afraid to do this kind of work, read, read and read some more. GC/construction work isn't brain surgery - in most/all cases, the only differences between a GC and you is that they are out to get (over)paid and have done the work before - they have experience. There is nothing you propose to do that hasn't been done before, and therefore, there are plenty of places to look on the net on how to do everything you want to do. Youtube has videos on how to build a house from the ground up!!! (not recommended) :)

I am currently re-building a 35 year old 32'x16' deck. I have only done smaller decks, but, it matters not. Take one piece at a time and realize, there is no screwup that cannot be fixed - just use common sense and be careful.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 6:57PM
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Fori is not pleased

East bay is pennies compared to SF proper. :D

It sounds like they're all coming in pretty close. Considering there's a kitchen in there, that doesn't seem bad at all (and I'm in the "cheap" east bay).

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:00PM
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Fori -

I live in the east bay, in lafayette, and, the costs between the city and where I am are about the same. And, I own properity in the city, so, I know the relative cost disparity, or, lack thereof.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:17PM
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Would the East Bay be cheaper because the contractors charge less for labor, or because the city fees (permits, dump fees, etc.) are cheaper? Most the contractors I've looked at work in both East Bay and the City, so I have assumed it's about the same.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:23PM
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What's shocking to me is that you've gotten several estimates from contractors too stupid to qualify you.

In our initial phone call, you would tell me what you had in mind, I would ball-park it, ask if you were comfortable in that range, and shut up until you spoke.

If you had unrealistic ideas of how much things cost, I'd never get out of my Laz-E-Boy for you, let alone spend hours doing an estimate.

The marketplace is very cruel to contractors who allow unqualified/unrealistic customers to waste their time.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:40AM
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robo (z6a)

Treb - I would have loved to have contractors vague ballpark me on jobs.(for which I had plans and finishes in mind). Never ever happened. In fact, many ignored my call because they assumed I didn't have the dough/wasn't being realistic when in fact my budget was more than adequate.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:55AM
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" In fact, many ignored my call because they assumed I didn't have the dough/wasn't being realistic when in fact my budget was more than adequate."


Again, failure to qualify only coming from the other end.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:15AM
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I am quite happy when a business will give me a preliminary idea of costs or what's involved beforehand instead of wasting my time, possibly taking time off from work and preparing for a meeting. Unfortunately, they don't always want to do that. Apparently that's what they've found works out best for them.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:30AM
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I didn't see where the OP said that he/she couldn't afford to do the remodel at those prices, I think it was just that the numbers seemed unexpectedly high?? The high bid is 40% more than the low, so not clear to me how much clustering is going on, but if there's only one bid that really deviates from the group, I would guess the OP has gotten a sense of the real cost. Would a condo project be more expensive simply because any structural changes have the potential to impact your neighbors? Perhaps you get charged extra for the PITA factor of an HOA. Just guessing. Seems all the good contractors in the area have more work than they know what to do with right now.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 8:53AM
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Thank you all for your responses! I will clarify a few things, and ask for a few more thoughts.

1. We started out with 7 contractors, but 4 dropped out because they were no longer available. Of the 3 who bid, 2 were near the low end of the range and 1 was at the high end.

2. We got several rough estimates (including from the 2 contractors with lower bids) before going into design, and they were all significantly less than the bids (by about 1/2). That is part of why we were so shocked.

3. We also shared with those 2 contractors what our budget is, which is more in line with the original estimates. The 3rd contractor who bid never asked our budget, and put together his estimate in only a few days - however, it was rather detailed and he claimed it was well padded for our benefit. I'm not sure what that says.

4. I don't believe there is any additional cost for it being a condo. It's a 3 unit building without HOA restrictions, and the other tenants are very supportive of the renovation. I do think because demand is so high right now, pricing could have gone up even just in the few months since we purchased.

5. While we don't have $150K lying around, we could figure out how to make it work if that really is a reasonable price. We bought the place planning to renovate (we got the rough estimates before purchasing so we thought we knew what we were getting into), and after living with a dilapidated kitchen for a few months I would say we can't afford NOT to do the work! But if we're going to be eating ramen out of our gourmet kitchen for the next few years, I don't want to be wondering if it's because I didn't do my due diligence.

Because there is a pretty significant gap between our expected/budgeted and the bidded costs, we do want to figure out a way to reduce it somewhat. I am planning to speak with our designer on Monday and see if there are any adjustments we can make that wouldn't destroy the overall look and feel but take out some of the cost. For example, cutting back on the built-ins? Or should we consider reaching out to additional contractors? I like the ones who bid, and I don't want to waste anyone's time, but if there are other reliable contractors who can do the work for significantly less I think it's worth exploring.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 2:59PM
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Of course you should be able to scope the work to a realistic budget for yourself. This is a perfectly natural part of any design project. And you shouldn't have to apologize for it. If someone isn't willing to work the project at the outset, they will perform just the same throughout the project.

I would not tell them you can spend more. They will. Stick to what is right for you. Scope the project accordingly.

Maybe you would have better luck with an architect than laborers? They are not design professionals. Working with customers and understanding what that entails, defining projects and budgets, is a big part of their job.

Know that these things usually go over budget. I think the guideline is to expect as much a 33% even.

Finding the right fit is very important! You will be working closely with these people on your home for some time, as you live in upheaval and outlay lots of money. These are stressful conditions.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:58PM
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I might think about getting 1-2 more bids. I would also look at putting off things that you can add on later when it feels more financially comfortable.

The built-ins would seem to be something you could add later. I would look at similar items, but things that wont increase significantly in cost if not done with the rest of the house.

I bought a house a couple years ago that I gutted to the studs (not me -contractors). To save money, I did a lot of the contracting myself, but did have a contractor help initially with getting permits. I started with updating wiring, new drywall, new windows, new kitchen, restoration of some block walls, new hvac, new interior and ext. doors.

Over the next one - two yrs., I added new roof, new stucco. I am now looking at landscaping, which starts in a week or so. I think in the following 1-2 yrs., I will be able to finish baths (which I pretty much made usuable only, but one guest bath is completed), and make more changes.

Good luck. Please post updates. It'd be fun to see how it goes/what you do.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 7:58PM
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I live in the city (downtown) in a condo with an HOA. The building is concrete (industrial loft conversion). We remodeled starting last September (mostly finished in January). Overall, it cost us about $160,000 (budget/expectation was $150,000, so not bad). The condo is about 2000 SF.

We did:

All new kitchen
Redid 2 bathrooms - kept the floors and toilets, but everything else is new - in one, a new tub, tile surround, vanity, sink, faucet, counters, fan, mirror, sconces, and in the other, tore out the tub and replaced it with a tiled shower stall with linear drain, new vanity, sinks, faucets, counter, fan, wall mirror, sconces.
Refinished floors (solid oak) with some new (new closet)
Painted in its entirety
6 new full-size solid core doors and 4 smaller ones for a newly-created storage area under the master closet, which is on a mezzanine
New walls to create a master bedroom and walk-in closet from what had been an open family room, and outfitted master closet with IKEA pax system
To meet code, we had to do sprinkler work and new outlets everywhere (under 52" requires tamper proof outlets).
All cabinet and door hardware

Of that, $50k went toward the kitchen, which is 13' on the wall and a 10' island. We used Bellmont 1900 cabinets, Ceasarstone on all counters, Fireclay backsplash, and a relatively expensive fridge (paneled Thermador) and cooktop (Bosch induction).

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 7:15PM
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Thank you all for the great advice! I connected with our designer and we decided to get a few more bids while working with the 2 contractors we have to better understand their estimates and find areas of flexibility. If anyone has recommendations for Bay Area contractors that are reliable and reasonably priced, please send them my way!

SJHockeyFan, sounds like we have similar remodels. Our kitchen is pretty big for SF, with a 17'x11' L shape and an 8' "dining island" where we are creating a window in the wall between the kitchen/living. We are doing mainly Bosch appliances as well, and I can't wait for that induction cooktop! Knowing you were able to do a bigger space for $160K gives me hope since we have a similar budget for the total condo (including more work than scoped here). Once this phase is done and we have saved up some more money, we will still need to remodel the master bath, do some work in the bedrooms, replace all of the windows and some other smaller projects.

My rough breakdown was $20K for flooring/installation, $15K appliances, $45K kitchen, $20K each bath (x2), $10K living room, $15K miscellaneous/small jobs. Now if only I can find a contractor who can do great work on that budget...

    Bookmark   September 3, 2014 at 6:33PM
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If you want the work finished in 8-10 weeks then you need a contractor. If you're okay with living without a kitchen for a while (paper plates, take-out, m/w) then you can save a lot of money by being an owner contractor. It's not difficult at all to pull permits or schedule inspections. You need to carry workmen's compensation, and I would certainly ask your home owners insurance about an additional rider. Then you locate the best trades people that you can find...have a back up for each, and be patient because you don't have first call on their services.
You can do the demolition yourselves and hire the demo material hauled away. You can expect to have a working kitchen in 3 months, a finished one in 6 months.
A contractor is only as good as his team of trades people. The very best trades people are independent, not part of a contractors "crew" because their reputation ensures a steady stream of business. You can get the best tile person in town if you're doing a project in the winter when the contractors are taking vacations. You can get terrific painters in the spring when business is still slow (April).
Be very, very careful if you decide to use a contractor. Specify in your contract that his subs can't use subs. Ask him who grouts the tile...many teams give that job to the lowest ranked member of the team, but proper grout makes or breaks the look and wear of tile. Do walk through at least three of their recent jobs and call every reference. Do not accept a mediation clause in your contract.
Been there, done all that.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 12:37PM
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Hi again,
I neglected to mention that you can hire a contractor for a limited scope. You can contract them for all of your rough-in work (move walls, electrical, plumbing) and then use trades to finish. Hire your own mudder, painter, and tile person.You'll still need an electrician for final work, and probably a plumber for sink and appliance install. Any place that you purchase cabinets from will most likely be using a dedicated service (it's all they do) to install. You could hire the same service without the mark up. Cabinet installation is just as important as cabinet quality.
You really do want to break the project down into first, then baths later, etc. if you're doing the contracting.
If you're not patient and detail oriented then you should go with a contractor for the entire job. The last 10% of any remodel can take as long as the first 90%. The devil (and delight) is in the details.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 12:57PM
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BTW, when you do get around to tiling, I have a recommendation for an outstanding tiler.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 2:23PM
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I realize I hadn't yet followed up! We chose our contractor a few weeks ago. We did end up doing another round of bids while we asked the contractors who had bid before to work with us to get within budget. The previous contractors weren't able to do much, but the new contractors we spoke to were much more reasonable. We ended up choosing the least expensive contractor, which I know some people say not to do. However, I did check references and visit some of his finished and active work sites so I feel pretty confident. We start construction next week, and are getting very excited!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2014 at 4:20AM
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