Dear PoP – Realistic Renovation Estimate?


“Dear PoP,

We just received an estimate for a closet renovation that has me bug-eyed, but husband is thinking it’s doable. We would love some marriage-ref-type help on this.

We have the classic Federal rowhouse, with the odd extra door connecting the larger two upstairs bedrooms. We want to convert the doorspace into a closet for the front room, and expand the old closet in the back room to double its size. This may involve some structural work.

The contractor estimates two weeks of work at $13,000.

The green room (rear room) is the one that will get the double-wide closet, the yellow room (front room) will get a single closet made in the space that is the “hall” connecting the two rooms.


Also, talking with hubby found out that the renovation cost also includes repainting both rooms and maintaining some of the historic finishes in the space – e.g. repurposing the floor boards, using the existing doors for the newly-arranged closets – and adding some built in bookshelves along one wall. Still, $13,000 seems shocking to me! Would love to get some feedback from the masses.

Is this reasonable?

All thoughts are greatly appreciated!”

Well if there is structural work involved then I’m thinking that’s really gonna kick up the price. But let’s throw this out to those who’ve had similar projects done. Does $13,000 sound reasonable or insane for this type of project?

26 Comment

  • best way to tell if the rate is reasonable is to get a 2nd or 3rd bid.

    call these guys. They redid our entire kitchen and i highly recommend them.

  • if you’re unsure and think $13k sounds high, get other estimates. we always try to get at least three, just to do our due diligence. it’ll give you a better idea of whether the original quote is entirely out of line with what other contractors would charge.

    never having gone through this sort of renovation myself, i’m not entirely sure – but $13k doesn’t sound *unreasonable* to me based on other work i’ve had done around the house.

  • Our house has the same layout. We did almost exactly the same thing, but we just closed in the hallway between the bedrooms to make a second closet in the master bedroom. (Simpler than what you want to do) Now there are 2 closets in the master and 1 in the guest BR, all about the same size.

    Basically this involved covering the “hall” opening with drywall in the guest BR and framing the space and drywalling inside the closet. Then we got shelves hung (the wire shelving you can buy at Home Depot).

    It took only about 2 days for everything. Our “contractor” was my brother in law and we paid him his normal rate as a carpenter, I think $600 ($300/day). We spent about $200 for the shelving. We had a painter that charged us $300 per room to paint. We did everything for about $1500.

    This was a little simpler than what you would like to do…but the price was right…

  • Built-ins are always expensive. The rest is <$1000 in material. Standard margin on a contract is 50-75% * the cost of material. If you can live without the built-ins and go with something like elfa, you can probably drop the cost dramatically.

    There's no apparent structural work that I can see, but you should publish drawings of where the walls are now, and where you want them to be after. Then the glitterati can all chime in.

    I definitely think there's a way to do this for less, but it depends on what you asked for. A standard bathroom renovation is only $5-8k. So maybe you can ask the contractor what things you could do to reduce the price.

    • $5-8K is a fantasy for remodeling a bathroom in a 100 year old house, just for the record. It can take three or four days just to gut an old bathroom completely. There are thousands and thousands of pounds of concrete that must be removed piece by piece, not to mention the ancient plumbing that will need to be dealt with.

      If you were tearing out drywall and plastic and replacing it with the same, and didn’t have to touch the plumbing or electric, sure, you could do it for that cheap. But any decent materials and labor will probably run $15K easily.

      • Material cost…and it depends on the type of tile you use. That would put the outsourcing cost closer to $8-10k, but again, this is a closet not an entire bathroom.

        If you can’t do your own work…any of your own work, then of course you’re going to get hosed on the cost. Both because you can’t estimate the material or the effort and because you’re paying someone to do everything. There are a lot of material estimators on line and some of them are quite good.

        It cost me $100 in Uhaul rental fees to demo my entire basement. The DC dump is free. Day laborers only cost $10/hr.

        The electrical is always an optional expense and can be done by the homeowner much of the time (swap a switch and a fixture here and there). The plumbing is a major rub and nice tile is expensive, but there’s nothing to say you can’t go with white tile and a white tub and call it a day.

        Of course, you can buy $70 sqft tile, a steam generator, kohler shower jets, a $4k Toto toilet, $1000 vanity and put heated floors in, but if you want to ball park a reasonable bathroom in this area, there you go.

      • You are right. When refinishing my bathroom in August 09, under the old wall tiles was concrete mastic (or something like that) that was used to put the tiles on the wall. Contractor had to remove that concrete. Demolition took 2 days to break that up it was on all 4 walls and inside the skylight. The floor had something similar that had to be removed also. Luckily, I had him remove some tiles when he was giving me a quote so that we can see behind the tiles, so the price for that work was already in quote. But if you dont know that unexpected work can drive up your costs significantly.

  • It sounded insane until you got to the end, with the historic details, floor work and custom built-in bookcases (!). It still might be kinda high, but that’s quite a bit of work. If it were just the closet work I’d say it was insane.

    • ah

      Yeah, that could be adding a lot to the cost.

      If I understand you right, what he needs to do is:

      1) Remove one door, install a stud, and drywall that door area.
      2) Frame out a larger closet area for a room, which includes some modest demolition of parts of an existing wall.
      3) Tooth in some floorboards where he’s move the wall(s)
      4) Paint/touch up
      5) Bookshelves (maybe).

      Obviously things vary, such as structural issues, electrical relocation, but this seems more like a $5000-7000 job at best.

      • exsepensive yes. i would get some more bids, but if you are into thinking about resale? some folks arent so concerned…folks love love love fnacy closets. not sure you could recoup it all..

  • I did the same thing as PetworthRes, and I agree with Ragged Dog, there shouldn’t be any structural issues. I did it myself, except for the new flooring in the threshold of the new door.

    $13k sounds outrageous. I would disregard it, and get 3-4 new ones… you sound like you’re new at this, educate yourself a bit on material costs… you can get everything but the molding and flooring for around $500. Unless this guy is cutting down the tree and milling the wood… I don’t know how this will take two weeks.

    • I was commenting only on the closet part, the built-ins are a whole separate issue and will add tremendous cost, but how much value are you really getting for them in a bedroom? A nice piece of furniture would be much more economical…

  • @Ragged Dog-

    5-8k is the number I always heard thrown around until I actually went to get my ~30 sqft bathroom renovated. I was blown away at the consistency of the estimates between 11 and 14k (more than 7 estimates in the same price range). I wound up using a very good contractor for about 8K in the end (materials included), but spent a LONG time searching.

    Moral of the story is – unless you plan on doing the work yourself, you may be shocked at how much good skilled labor costs.

  • I agree, this is likely double the reasonable price for such work. You don’t mention who the quote is from and that matters too. I once called all the contractors mentioned in a Washingtonian article on the best remodelers. I was amazed by their portfolios and professionalism and absolutely dismayed by their prices. Some of these guys are real artists and when you see their work in person, you understand why they charge what they do. Is it worth it for me? Is it beautiful? Sure. Is it worth it to me? Not at all. Kind of like a Picasso.

    There are a lot of great contractors out there for “the rest of us,” who do competent and attractive work.

  • You need to get multiple bids. I got bids on a driveway (excavating, 3 ft high retaining wall, 40 ft of pavers for a single lane driveway) and the first one came in at $36k. Five others came in at $10-$12k. On every project that I have bidded out there has always been someone that bid 2-3x the median bid.

  • There is a HUGE amount of uncertainty in what you are asking for here.

    Converting a dead space to a closet is no big deal. The price could vary depending on whether you need to replace all the casing, re-use the original doors, and want to use materials that match the original, the finishing inside the closet, and so on. There should be no structural issues if this is a 2-story house.

    But building built-in bookshelves along a wall? That could be anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 just by itself!! What are they made of? Stain grade wood? What kind of carpentry?

    To figure out whether the price is reasonable, as others said, get more estimates.

    Restoring or rebuilding to match a 100 year old house is very tricky to do right. Anyone who says they can do it for cheap probably will do a bad job, or will just use Home Depot finishing stuff that won’t match the house and will look like crap.

    You get what you pay for. My gut tells me, considering all the little “add-ons” it’s not that unreasonable.

  • I don’t want to get off topic, but has anyone seen something that looks like a bigger steaming pile of dung than the Marriage Ref?

  • $13,000 for that project seems like a lot. I pretty much did the same in my house (closed 3 connecting doors) and made a larger closet. I think you should be able to get that done by a good carpenter for about $5K or less.

  • My parents live in DC and I have lived here for the past few years and now own a house. I have to say that the construction price in DC varies wildly by zip code. I will also echo that there are bids all over the map when you contract out and that the price varies by season as well. Because DC is a wealthy town, there is also a huge variation in material quality.

    If you paid $15k for a bathroom and got nice tile and lot of nice stuff and an electrical/plumbing upgrade, you probably got your money’s worth. If you paid that and got a standard tub and some unexciting tile and a HD vanity, you probably overpaid.

  • That’s way too much dough. We remodeled our entire row house, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and back yard for about 15k. 13k for just a closet is theft.

  • Sounds a little on the high side to me, but not crazy high given what you are asking for. Make 100% sure you agree and have in writing everything that you want done and what kind of material you want. Every time we start a project we get “oh, what about this, did you want me to use quality material? No that will be another $1000.” Don’t pay more than half up front and absolutely do not write another check until the project is 100% done to your 100% satisfaction.

  • If you’re getting high end closet fixtures i.e. solid wood shelves, fully extendable drawers, i.e. not Ikea or Elfa – that seems like a very reasonable bid. I also think preserving the original moulding is expensive because it’s delicate work.

    But I agree, get at least 2 more estimates, but also make sure you use a big company that isn’t going to go out of business when its other customers fail to pay them.

  • outrageous! don’t do it. waste of money unless you have lots to burn. Call AllenBuilt or The Ley Group. They do high end work but won’t rape you.

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