Why Marriage Makes It Hard to Control Remodeling Costs

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As I’ve previously mentioned, the Penzo household is in the middle of a long-awaited home renovation project with a reliable contractor.

Originally, it was supposed to be a fairly modest kitchen renovation that involved replacing our porcelain tile countertops with granite and adding a new tumbled stone backsplash. It also included some new appliances.

Then, one quiet evening not too long ago, while we were watching the 6,000th episode of House Hunters, the wife decided to see if she could push the budget boundaries just a tad.

The proposition

“The contractor says we’ll have enough granite left over to do the powder room countertop too. What do you think?”

Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe I was much more interested in whether the happy couple on the television was going to choose the corner lot fixer-upper or the cul-de-sac cutie. Whatever it was, I really wasn’t thinking clearly. Before I could stop myself – and without the slightest bit of hesitation – I said, “Go ahead.”

After all, how much more could it really cost?

Besides, in that split second between the time that the wife asked whether it was OK and the time that I gave my answer, I already did the money math in my head.

We already paid for the granite slabs ($2,107.03), and whatever material we didn’t end up using was probably going to go to waste, being that I didn’t feel like storing the excess in my garage. As for the additional labor cost, it couldn’t be, well, much more than a very small fraction of the price I was paying for the kitchen labor ($2,675.00). So why not?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that simple.

I really should have known better. You see, in my line of work – I’m an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry – we’re constantly on guard for something called “requirements creep.” Because if it isn’t controlled, it can quickly send costs so far over the original budget that it can seriously derail a project.

Let me show you what I mean.

How remodeling costs can quickly escalate

When I innocently told the wife to “go ahead,” I figured I had signed up for nothing more than a new granite countertop in my powder room for little more than the price of a little additional labor ($300.00).

But that new powder room countertop begot a new sink ($127.03).

And the sink begot the new oil-rubbed bronze faucet hardware ($157.00).

Then the oil-rubbed bronze faucet hardware begot the new towel rack ($32.48).

Of course, the towel rack begot the new light fixture ($119.98).

Then the light fixture begot the new fancy-pancy toilet paper holder ($20.98).

The fancy-pancy toilet paper holder begot the new toilet handle ($20.41).

And the toilet handle begot the new hand towel holder ($32.48), the new napkin tray ($14.18), the new Kleenex box cover ($29.99 via special order), and the new trash can ($31.99), all in oil-rubbed bronze.

Hi-ho the derry-o, and the Cheese stands alone – not to mention $586.52 poorer than he originally thought he’d be. Plus tax.

Other examples of requirements creep

Requirements creep tends to most often manifest itself in home-remodeling projects, but it can also show up in other circumstances. I’m sure you can think of lots of examples, but here are just a few…

1. When buying a car. Requirements creep occurs after buyers decide to “go the extra mile” and buy options like satellite radio, heated seats, keyless entry, and leather-trimmed interiors.

2. When buying a new home. It’s common for people to start out looking for a modest three-bed two-bath home, only to eventually convince themselves that they need a much bigger home.

3. When ordering at a restaurant. How many times do we talk ourselves into “super-sizing” our lunch or dinner, not because we’re really famished, but just because it’s “only” an extra 59 cents?

4. When buying a new television. I bet most of us know at least one person who threw caution to the wind, “going all out” and buying one of those monster man-cave televisions that’s five sizes too big for the living room it sits in.

I have more examples but, sadly, I’m out of time – the wife needs my services. Apparently, it’s time for me to install our brand-new fancy-pancy toilet paper holder.

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  • Anonymous

    Hmmm… I’m not so sure that marriage make it hard to stop price creep. You mention remodeling in the title but I don’t believe that one second for a car. I would venture to think that the price creep in a car is going to be curtailed by your wife. Same goes for a TV.

  • http://twitter.com/mharrsch mharrsch

    That must be why so many home products companies sponsor House Hunters!  My husband and I used to watch House Hunters too until I was inspired to build new cabinets for the utility room that led to buying enough quartz countertop to not only do the utility room but the kitchen too which then led to new custom kitchen cabinets that led to removing the old pine paneling and hiring a dry wall contractor to install new dry wall that led to new dry wall in the dining room and living room too and you can’t have new dry wall without new flooring.  Of course we found some dry rot when we took up the floors so ended up installing new subfloor as well as main floor and since we had the walls open to install the new dry wall we decided to have an electrician completely rewire the living room, dining room and kitchen (our house was originally built in 1952).  We found a deal on the quartz countertop that included a free sink for both the kitchen and the utility room but decided to replumb so we could move the dishwasher and free up the corner cabinet for a new lazy susan so I hired a plumbing contractor for that.  So, what started out with a purchase of $1800 worth of assemble-it-yourself cabinets turned into a $30,000+ remodel (with us providing quite a bit of the labor and me acting as the general contractor.)

    The good news is that I shopped around then had a local building supply that price matches and gives veterans a 10% discount provide most of the materials and the subcontractor for the countertop and flooring installation, saving us several thousand in the process.  After we were finished, I requested a rerating by our insurance company because we had installed products that were much more fire resistant than the originals we replaced and installed new wiring to current code and new plumbing to current code.  After an onsite inspection our home was rerated to an adjusted construction date of 2010 and our homeowners insurance premium was reduced almost $250 per year even though we had to increase the coverage significantly because of the  value of the improvements.