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Navigating design changes during renovations: the impact on scope, timeline and budget

12 June 2023
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If you're a homeowner starting a renovation project, there are a few things you should be prepared for. One of the most common challenges in renovating your home is managing changes that come up throughout the process. These changes can be triggered by various reasons, including design changes. Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand how changes can impact your project scope, timeline and budget, and what you can do to manage them effectively.

Design changes

One of the biggest sources of change in home renovations is a redesign. You may start off with a plan in your mind, but as you start to see those plans unfold, you may decide that you want to change things up a bit. However, changing your design mid-way can have implications. One of the best ways to manage this is to spend sufficient time discussing your design plans during the planning stage with your contractor. It’s important to ask questions, seek advice, and communicate all relevant constraints to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Communication with building contractors

On the one hand, it’s essential during the project that communicate with your contractor before making any design changes, so that you understand the impact they may have and get costs and time estimates for any changes. On the other hand, there is a risk that during the project change occurs without you being informed change. Without excellent communication between building contractor and homeowner, change can occur quickly and lead to misunderstandings, errors, and higher costs.

Top tip: take time to discuss communication channels and agree on a workable communication plan before the project begins. One way of ensuring communication is by scheduling regular check-ins with your contractor to keep updated on the project progress and get clarity on any updates. Regular communication can create an environment that reduces risks, ensures accountability, and fosters a trusting relationship with the contractor.

Changes in scope, timeline and budget

Changes in scope can arise for various reasons such as unavailability of materials, design features turning out to be more complex than anticipated, and many other types of unforeseen issues. As a rule of thumb, you can remember that if the design changes, then the scope of work changes and more often than not the timeline changes too. This can go both ways, with additional or cancelled tasks. Although it’s challenging to avoid changes entirely, it’s essential to update the budget and timeline for the projects’ completion. Whether these changes in scope are initiated by you as the homeowner, by the contractors, or by the unfolding circumstances of the project, it’s important to re-evaluate the budget with your contractor and adjust timelines and deliverable accordingly.

There is a direct correlation between changes in design and changes in scope and timeline. Many homeowners will make the mistake of not overseeing this and loose a little bit of control over the project costs and timeline, leading to frustrations and sometimes, issues with affordability.

Top tip: Monitor the budget versus actual spending regularly. It’s important to know precisely what you're paying for at each juncture of the renovation works and track the expenses. A spreadsheet with a budget and actual expenses tracker can be an excellent way to stay organised.

Homeowners' Responsibilities in Project Management

As a homeowner, you have certain responsibilities when working with a contractor for a renovation project. It's your job is to establish specifications that are detailed enough to avoid ambiguity or misunderstandings. You have to be clear about what you expect to be delivered and promptly notify of the changes you desire. Also, it's your responsibility to review the budget and ascertain it is in harmony with the project scope and timeline. Contract management, timely payment of bills, contingency planning, and other important tasks are all your roles. You should not expect that this will be done by the contractors, but you can request and expect that they report to you and collaborate in monitoring costs, timeline and budget.

Design changes during the process are almost unavoidable. Understanding how to manage them can make your project more enjoyable and sustainable.

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