Renovating your home? Watch out for the hidden costs!

From time to time I see projects tabled or postponed due to budgetary reasons. It's unfortunate at any point in the process but it's particularly heartbreaking when the clients have spent many months and many thousands of dollars on design fees, only to learn that the beautiful project depicted in the architect's drawings will cost much more than they are able or willing to invest.

Sometimes the project doesn't get off the ground because the architect has simply drawn too large a project for the client's budget. It's easy for all parties involved - homeowners, architects and, yes, even contractors- to allow their enthusiasm for the project to get carried away. When this happens the scope increases and, of course, so does the cost.

Other projects go off the rails because the clients were unaware of the all of the costs involved in a construction project. People sometimes get fixated on just the construction costs and underestimate the other expenses. 

So what are the hidden costs of construction? Many people use the terms "soft" and "hard" costs to define the two main categories of costs. Soft costs are all of the costs not associated with actual tangible construction. Hard costs are the direct construction costs.

Here's a list of the typical costs in residential construction. Your project may not include all of these, of course, but it there may be one or two things listed here that you haven't considered.


Soft Costs:



Landscape architect

Interior designer

Kitchen designer


Structural engineer

HVAC engineer 

Land surveyor

Civil Engineer

Wetlands consultant


Temporary rental housing (do you need to move out during construction?)

Moving and storage costs


Legal fees (e.g. contract review)

Accounting (e.g. if any renewable energy tax credits are involved)

Financing (if construction or home equity loans are involved)


Hard Costs:

In addition to the well-understood costs associated with demolition, framing, roofing, etc, please consider the following.


Hay bales and silt fence

Site clearing

Tree removal or other tree work

Landscape construction (driveways, walks, patios)

Landscaping (plantings, lawns, irrigation systems, lighting)

Septic systems

Drainage systems 

Utility hookups (water, sewer, gas, electric)



AV systems (home theaters, built-in music systems, etc)

Home automation

Swimming pools

Outdoor kitchens



Carpets, rugs

Window treatments


We'll talk more about some of these items in more detail in an upcoming blog post.  In the meantime, if you are planning a renovation, addition, or new house, please take a few minutes to create a spreadsheet showing all of the potential costs. You'll thank me later.

Let me know if there are things that I've missed that should be on this list!