My least favorite phone call.

The call that I enjoyed least as a remodel professional I made about a year ago. They were the ideal clients. Wonderful folks with a beautiful home. They reached out for a bid on an incredible design that they had poured more than a year into with a great architect. Unfortunately, by the time we pulled some basic budgets together, it was clear that we were going to exceed their significant budget by almost four times. Somehow, in all of the discussion about WHAT they were going to do, they never touched on what it would realistically cost, or the more likely scenario, their talented architect (I’m not being sarcastic, he really did beautiful work) probably used some square footage numbers to develop a rough construction budget. 

Unfortunately, during the design they did not contact anyone that had informed numbers on the many incredible elements of the design they pulled together. 

Six digit cabinetry package? Check. Two hundred and fifty thousand bucks worth of timber frame? You bet. All told, we were knocking on the door of a 3 million dollar project when the budget was supposed to still be in the six digit range.  It hurt my stomach a little to deliver that news. 

Sure, that’s an extreme example. But I have seen the same end result with smaller numbers. Maybe the design only exceeds the budget by 50k. That’s a lot when what you want to invest is 90k.

Most of the potential clients that I discuss addition projects with choose against adding space onto their home. While that is not a great opening line for a sales presentation, it’s a reality that I like to make known when we are talking about an investment as significant as an addition project.

So, why do a few decide to move forward with an addition while most take another route? 

It’s not that they do not see the same downsides as their counterparts, they just have compelling reasons to override those downsides. Let’s go over a couple of pro’s and con’s.

Why you shouldn’t build on. 


This is always going to be the big one. Additions are not good short term investments. Remodeling Magazine’s 2019 Cost vs Value report puts the average return on investment for an addition at 66%. So if you add a beautiful great room and kitchen onto the back of your home for $220,000, you can plan on your home value increasing somewhere around $145,000. 

While this gap will continue to close over time as your home value increases, breakeven can be a long way off. 


This one can sneak up on you. The reality of building an addition could include moving completely out of your home (especially if an important room like a kitchen is part of the project) 

If staying is your plan, be prepared for between 80-100 different sets of feet to walk through your door over the 5 month course of the project. A quality remodeler will have processes around security, dust protection and housekeeping in place, but your style will be cramped, have no doubt. 

Why it might not matter, and you should build on anyway.

-Location Location Location

By far, location is the most common reason I see for additions starting to pencil out. Maybe you have a large lot and you cannot find a decent backyard in a new home even if you double your budget. Maybe you want to stay in your neighborhood to be close to family, school, work, or a park. Suddenly, the extra investment into your quality of life makes a lot more sense. 

-Property value

For property owners in mature neighborhoods, particularly older developments close to city centers, the numbers can actually start to pencil out. When the home you purchased 20 or 30 years ago is now worth three times as much, reinvesting that equity into the home and updating it can make sense. Much of this depends on the value of other homes in the neighborhood. 

Only you can find the answer to this equation.

Because a large component of this decision depends on your lifestyle and emotional reasons, no one from the outside can really tell you what the answer is. Finding a trusted professional to give you realistic budgets to work with is extremely important. A Remodeler or Design Build Firm should be a part of the equation at this point. 

Let’s Do This!

When you decide to move forward with an addition project, there are several things you will want to focus on. Getting the cart in front of the horse can cost time and money aplenty. 

Where to start?

Let’s break this down a bit. There are a lot of professionals involved in the process of building an addition. From getting through the design, engineering and permitting process, to selecting the systems, materials and contractors that will be assembling all of the parts and pieces. Finding a firm that can manage the entire process from concept to completion is a great way to ensure that your headspace, time and money is used efficiently. 

Why not start with an Architect?

It is the process you have heard about your entire life. “Get a design, then put it out to bid”

It feels like the right first step (After all, you need a design before anyone can tell you how much it will cost to build, right?). There are two instances in which this is the right order. 

1. you are a residential construction professional that is familiar with remodel costs. 

2. budget is a secondary concern. If a six digit swing in construction costs is not a big deal, this is the way to make sure you get exactly the design feel you are after. 

Otherwise, Having the company that will be building your addition involved from the beginning to offer budget direction, along with efficient design input is extremely important. That way when you make the design change from the six foot sliding glass door to the twelve foot lift and slide doors, they can help you adjust your budget up by $30,000 now instead of later. 

It’s all about the plan

Having a professional complete due diligence research at the county or city is where you want to start. After a basic discussion regarding the scope of work and what the investment will likely be, you need to know what the constraints of your property are. Are there easements and property setbacks that will affect your project? Will you need to have geo technical engineering included in the scope of work? Are there existing conditions on the property that will be of concern? 

Be prepared to make a small initial investment to get these answers. Once you have the constraints laid out, you will be able to design within them in mind. 

Now you can design

Once you know what you can and cannot do on your property, it’s time to start getting dreams down on paper, or more likely, in a 3D modeling software. Selecting a good Design Build Firm will come with the benefit of 3D models of your project to help you visualize the end result from the get go. Make sure they have an interior designer that they work with or on staff to offer direction with layout, material and surface selection along with color coordination.

Approaching the project this way will help you make design selections that stay within the budget you have established for yourself, and will allow you to follow a defined process to make sure no components in the design get missed. During this design phase, your builder will be creating an extremely detailed scope of work. Not only will you have a set of blueprints and engineering drawings, but all of the materials right down to the door knobs and light switch plates will be picked out. 

Build a space you love to live in!

Now that the design is complete and you’ve hit your target budget with the contract price, you are ready to hit the ground running. Here is where one of the great benefits of working with a Design Build Firm comes to play. If you have completed a design and pre construction planning contract with a company, you have already gotten your feet wet. You have a feel for working with them, and they know you and your project. Now you can just put some ink on a contract and build your project! (More on this part of process later)