Early and Often: Our Approach to Talking About Budgeting

December 2022
by Rachel White

A renovation project is typically one of the largest investments that a homeowner will ever make, other than purchasing the home they renovate. So, it’s essential that we discuss budget before we start planning the project.  

The trouble is, it’s hard to have a meaningful budget discussion at a first meeting. For one thing, many people are uncomfortable discussing money. In my experience, homeowners rarely bring up costs during an initial meeting, even though I suspect that for most of them, it’s top of mind. Usually, I’m the one who brings it up. And even though I’ve been doing this work for many years, I still sometimes find it awkward to broach the topic, especially when the project otherwise feels like a great fit.  

Byggmeister is fortunate that most of the folks who get in touch with us already know a good deal about us. Often they were referred by someone, are familiar with our design-build model, and share our commitment to environmental stewardship. My impulse in such situations is to skip the budget conversation and move right into design. Of course, I know that if we aren’t on the same page about budget, it’s better for everyone that we figure that out as soon as possible. The founder of Byggmeister, Paul Eldrenkamp, used to tell me, “If we’re going to get fired, the sooner the better.” I say this to myself every time I meet with a new potential client.  

Leaving aside my all-too-human impulse to avoid difficult conversations and engage in wishful thinking, there’s a more fundamental reason why it’s really hard to have a meaningful budget discussion early on. At a first meeting I can’t tell homeowners exactly what their project will cost any more than they can tell me exactly what they are prepared to spend. The best both of us can do is make broad guesstimates, which could turn out to be wrong.  

Fortunately, the initial budget conversation is only the first of many budget check-ins; and with each subsequent check-in, the budget becomes narrower and more accurate until we both know exactly what the project will cost.  

When homeowners decide to work with us, they’re taking an extraordinary leap of faith. To be worthy of that leap we must talk about budget up front. And we must provide timely and actionable budget updates throughout the design process so that homeowners can make fully informed decisions. Of course, doing these things doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome. But to have the best possible chance of designing a project that meets our client’s needs and works for their budget, we need to check-in about budget early and often.  

If you want to learn more about our budget process, check out our Frequently Asked Budget Questions