Sneak Peek: Madison Park Before & After

Remember this house that I posted about a while back on Facebook?  The one that tons of realtors had shown to prospective buyers without selling it?  Just look at that stack of realtors' cards that was on top of the flyer on the kitchen counter... (and that wasn't even all of them!)

We finished remodeling all three floors a couple of months ago. In order to make better use of the square footage, we made significant changes to the floor plan on both the first and second floors while completely renovating the kitchen, laundry, and all the bathrooms.

My client just sent me these before and after photos she took of the kitchen from the same angle, and I wanted to share this little piece of the transformation with you! 

How a small splurge may become a big expense (and how to maintain control)


You probably don't realize it, but the same tricks used in grocery stores to entice you to spend more are used in showrooms for construction materials and products.  In a grocery store, the sugary cereal is placed at childrens' eye level to grab their attention (and begin the begging process).  The guilty-pleasure cereals that camouflage as healthier options are at adult eye level.  And, the really healthy stuff?  On the top or very bottom shelf, collecting dust.  

When you walk in a showroom, the most popular luxury goods will be front and center, and you will surely find yourself in "love" with some expensive (and probably trendy) goodies.  


With any construction material, the cost of labor must be included to determine the actual price difference.  Labor rates can sometimes eclipse the unit cost savings.   


When selecting the backsplash for the kitchen at our Laurelhurst project, we immediately loved the classic look of the 1x3 statuary white marble herringbone pattern mosaic tile.  But, at about $21 per square foot, the material cost was significantly more than a $4 per square foot matte white subway tile we also liked.

So, we came up with two options:

  • Option 1- All herringbone mosaic

  • Option 2 - Inexpensive white subway tile with matching trim pieces and a narrow accent band of a marble tile

We asked our general contractor to give us a total installed price for both options.  Surprisingly, the additional labor to install the less expensive tile made Option 2 MORE expensive than Option 1.  The labor to install each piece individually, plus additional time to determine the best layout in the field (to minimize small pieces), more than closed the price gap of the materials per square foot.  This would  not have been true if Option 1 also required piece-by-piece installation and fussy layout calculations in the field, but since the herringbone mosaic came mounted on a mesh in 12"x12" interlocking pieces, the labor factor was significantly less.


Some materials have an even larger price difference between the material cost and the total installed cost.  One reason is that some items must be purchased in certain increments, regardless of the amount needed -- such as certain tiles that are sold by the box and stones that are sold in whole slabs.

When fragile or difficult to fabricate materials are being handled and shaped, there will also be a liability factor in the subcontractor's pricing.  After all, if they break the slab, they will have to purchase and fabricate a replacement.  


Upgrading to manufactured quartz from plastic laminate may seem like a small splurge if you rely upon square foot costs to make your judgment (see the yellow highlighted cells in the spreadsheet, below).  However, once labor, fabrication, and mark-ups are added, the multiplier is much higher (green cells vs. yellow cells, below).  



You may also have to purchase more slabs because of the shapes of un-spliced pieces required that can be cut from a single slab.   In contrast, plastic laminate can be continuously applied to a substrate in much longer pieces, so a purchase increment is less likely to trigger a significant overall price swing.


Appointments are recommended (and required at many showrooms) so that you get individualized attention and answers to your questions, but you will have a true insider's advantage when your architect/designer is either by your side or has called to brief the salesperson regarding the design objectives and budget expectations before your appointment.  

If you find yourself captivated by a more expensive option, collect the information needed to price it, but spend time to find a less expensive option that would also work, keeping labor, purchase increments, and subcontractor liability in mind.

Carol's Favorite Things: Splurge-Worthy Appliances

  1. Liebherr 36" Refrigerator/Freezer Stainless steel model shown.  Also available as "fully integrated," which means that custom cabinet door panels will blend in seamlessly with your other cabinetry.  ($5,000)
  2. Miele Dishwasher So quiet, and the lay-flat cutlery tray keeps utensils separated so they get clean the first time. ($2,500)
  3. Miele Speed Oven Steam, microwave, and convection in one.  ($2,200)
  4. LaCanche Range Eye-catching and a joy to use. ($5,995+)

Note:  Prices listed are estimated retail prices.  Actual purchase price varies.


You know the ones I'm talking about.  I watch them, too.  In 30 minutes to an hour you see a kitchen go from YIKES to WOW.  Sometimes, it is a bathroom -- or even a whole house.  I watch them primarily for research because I know my potential clients are probably watching them, too.  I often end up having to explain why the budgets (and often timelines) on those shows aren't realistic.  I know you wish they were.  I wish so, too!  But they aren't.  And, here's the honest truth about remodeling in the real world vs. remodeling on reality TV:


The labor provided by the crew on staff for the production company is often free of charge and the value of their labor is not included in the project cost disclosed on the show.

In Seattle, labor rates average $55/hour, plus the contractor's fee (typically 12-18%) plus sales tax on top of that (9.5%).  Let's say that you had two guys full time for two months, plus one guy half-time for two months.  That would be $26,981 if we assumed the lower end of the builder's fee range.  Two months is a short timeline and would only be suitable for a small project such as a bathroom, deck, or very straightforward kitchen without a lot of things moving around (like walls, plumbing, electrical, etc.).


Ever notice that all the workers on those shows are wearing T-shirts and jackets with their company names on them, big enough for you to read easily?  And, they often get shots of their trucks with their logos, too.  Doesn't it make sense to assume that either they are providing labor free of charge, or at a significantly reduced rate, in order to gain some publicity?   

Add up the list of people that you see:  electricians, plumbers, heating/cooling systems specialists, tile setters, flooring installers, roofers, painters, drywallers, etc.  It will be a long list, different for every show.  Each one you see represents someone that would ordinarily be paid a labor rate that they are probably not charging for the sake of the show.  


Most of these shows are filled with commercials for home improvement stores, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, etc.  Their goal is to make the projects look simple and affordable so that you will buy materials from them for your own project.  

If you listen closely, you will sometimes hear the host of the show say "we can get you a good deal" …  This tells me that either materials are being bought at wholesale and sold to the homeowner with no mark-up, or that one of the sponsors is providing materials for promotional consideration.  


Rates and fee structures vary, depending on your local market and whether or not you are working with a qualified, licensed professional architect or a self-proclaimed designer.  Typically, design services are provided by the show when the design evolution and presentation are presented as part of the show's format.  


Consider permit fees, utilities hook-ups, inspection fees, and more.  What about the damage to your lawn that has to be repaired after they leave?    If they moved a window, will you have to re-paint that side of the house? (Funny how they usually don't show you an exterior shot of an interior remodel where they've moved windows, isn't it?)


They may make it seem like the work was done in 4 weeks, but there is a good chance it took longer.  I have a colleague who lived next door to a home where a back yard makeover show was filmed.  When he watched the show that aired, it was pure entertainment.  What had been made to seem like it only took 3 weeks actually took 12 weeks!


It is impossible to know, and it varies widely depending on the show.  My personal assumption is that the cost of goods and services that were not provided by the show's production company is the only expense that is passed along to the homeowner.  How much could this skew the construction cost?  A lot.  By 50% -- or more -- is my guess.  And if you go beyond construction cost to consider all the associated project expenses, that skew becomes even bigger.  


I love the foggy days here.  This is the view from our front porch.  It is so very Twin Peaks, isn't it? 


This is a busy time of year, as projects that started not long ago are hurrying to get "dried-in" - meaning plywood sheathing on, the roofing installed, building paper up on the exterior walls, and windows installed.  All of this happens while the plumbers, electricians, and heating systems subcontractors are busy running all of their lines (the "rough-in phase" of their work.)  

This is what that phase looks like for an interior space being remodeled:


And this is what it looks like for an addition:


Note the lovely green tarp that is temporarily protecting the area from rain (not foolproof, but the best affordable option there is).