Money Down the Toilet?

If you’ve ever considered a bathroom remodel, you may have wondered why it costs so much. Is it worth it? Or is it just money down the toilet?

That depends.

Today, I’m going to go over the budget of my recent bathroom remodel. Part I will be a budget review and Part II will be comparing this budget to similar projects that kitchen and bath showrooms I’ve worked with have done. There are huge differences in the quality and functionality of the design, but no major differences in the quality of the products used. Hopefully, they’ll help you understand where all the money goes and help you become a more savvy consumer.

I hope you do learn something because I’m basically committing heresy here. The design community will probably want to burn me at the stake for this!

I won’t bore you with a line item budget, but I will break down the fees based on category:

Labor- $6968.58
Design fees- $750.00
Plumbing, fixtures, lighting, materials- $1115.33
Tile and Cabinetry- $2586.75
Designer’s cost plus- $285.16

Grand Total: $11,959.62

Each category has several items that will be included for the project. The labor category includes all of the contractors: carpenter, plumber, tile installer, and electrician. Each of the providers will include some of their “products” in the cost of their labor. For example, the carpenter may include drywall, nails, lumber, etc. Tile installers usually include the cost of grout in their labor. The carpenter happened to be the most expensive of the group, a little over half the total labor cost, but tile installation can also be very expensive. In this case, the tile was about 1/3 of the total labor cost. That being said, you want to make sure that you hire competent contractors, particularly the tile installer. This particular installer guaranteed his work. Meaning that if there were any leaks or issues with the tile, he would come back and do the repairs at no additional cost. That is a rare commodity in the construction world. And to emphasize just how labor intensive a shower remodel is (at least one that is done well) I am including photos of the shower at various stages in the process.

Shower floor with waterproof membrane

Design fees includes payment for the work required to design the space, interact with the clients, any required travel, hire and coordinate contractors on the client’s behalf, and make purchases for the client. It’s the “labor” portion for the designer. This is the portion of the project that kitchen and bath showrooms and Big Box stores tell the customer that they do for “free”. Repeat after me, “There are no free design services.” Your “free” or “complimentary” design service is not free, though. Trust me, the designers are paid for their services, at kitchen and bath showrooms, they receive a commission for their work. And it’s usually quite large.

cementitious backer board over the waterproof membrane

Plumbing, lighting, etc. speaks for itself. For this job it includes the grab bars, the shelf, all of the plumbing fixtures, the shower caddy, the toilet paper holder, and the mirror.

waterproof paint-on film

The tile and cabinetry here are the wholesale price for these items. I purchased four different types of tile, including pencil liner tiles and glass mosaics, which can be expensive. The cabinets used for this project were very high quality cabinets, so they were a little more expensive.

waterproofing complete, now the pretty stuff can be added!

“Designer’s cost plus” is a mark-up above and beyond the wholesale price or “to the trade” price the designer has paid. This is a very common practice in the design world. It is a way for designers to pay themselves a commission of sales, so to speak. What varies between designers is how much mark-up they charge. Some designers mark-up as little as 10-25% and others mark up 100% and above. I personally don’t mark-up very much and I am very transparent about how much I do mark things up. Quite frequently, these are hidden costs that the client doesn’t really he is paying. Designers are not up front about these costs and that can be a source of frustration for clients. I don’t play by those rules. I charge 10% over the cost of tile, flooring, and counters; and 15% over the cost of cabinets.

almost there!

In this project, I made about the same amount of money as the tile installer or about 10% of the overall cost of the project. From an design and project management standpoint, I put in about 24 hours worth of work. Just over half of a work week, but administered over the duration of the project. The design took 2 full days worth of work (about 16 hours), the rest of the project was spent in project management and product procurement.

finally! a beautiful, new shower!

Next week I’m going to compare this project to similar projects in size and scope. You’ll get a chance to compare apples to apples.

Accessorizing or Problem Solving

Olympia Dukakis had some of the best lines in Steel Magnolias. One of my favorites was when she said, “the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize”. It’s hilarious, but I’d argue that it’s probably not just our ability to accessorize that sets apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

I’ve I missed a couple of blog posts because of some technical issues with my website and I want to get back to my bathroom series as soon as possible, but first I want to take a few minutes to talk about designers and working with us because I have learned so much from my clients this week.

I spent a fair amount of time this week in my own home painting over this sandy, beige wall color recommended to me several years ago by a designer I used before I became a designer myself. When she showed me the color I knew I didn’t like it, but she presented it as my only choice. Not in any overt way. She didn’t say “this is THE color for your den and dining room”. It was just the ONLY color on the board for those two rooms. Although I wasn’t over the moon for the color, I didn’t question her.

I should have.

Slightly disliking that color has festered over the years and now I loathe that color. To say it brought me great pleasure when I managed to cover it all up with a fresh coat is an understatement.

The mental solitude of painting and ruminating over that experience really got my wheels turning about my own client interactions and what I would want them to know…
1. A good designer gives you choices. It’s not his/her way or the highway. They don’t push you into making decisions, they allow you to participate. Trust your gut. If you don’t like something you should speak up!

2. They educate. At the end of the day, you’ll understand why they selected the $45/gallon paint over the $30/gallon paint. “Why,” as a friend once said, “would I ever spend $3000 on a bed. Isn’t the $1000 bed just as good?” Maybe. There can be major differences. A good designer knows these differences and can articulate them. The quality and value of products depend on many factors, which should be thoroughly investigated. Rest assured, if I recommend you buy a $3000 bed (assuming it’s in your budget), I’ve done my homework and it is worth it!

3. They’re not question averse when it comes to cost. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask why something costs as much as it does! Don’t assume the piece is costly because it is of high quality. The designer may be charging a huge mark-up, sometimes up to 100%. This is not my practice, but it happens.

4. They help you build YOUR style. They don’t impose their style on you. If you look at a designers portfolio and everything looks exactly the same and that “exactly the sameness” looks like everything in particular style, RUN.

5. They listen. They’re flexible. And if they screw up they own it and they make it right. We’re all human. We make mistakes, but taking responsibility for them and problem solving is what really separates us from the animals.