Q. Whole-House Remodeling Costs

I’m in the planning stage of an architecturally designed whole-house remodel. It’s a big job for us — about $400K — but I’m seeing a few caution flags. The architect has never done a project this large before, and the drawings he’s provided are a little rough. I’m concerned about coming up with a solid cost estimate, and although I’ll be approaching it as a cost-plus job with a ceiling, I wonder about the potential for being dragged back and forth between the architect and the client. How do I manage expectations while staying on good terms with everyone?

A.Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister, a design-build remodeling company in Newton, Mass., responds: First, don’t ease off on your marketing and sales efforts, because that $400K job could disappear in a flash. Given the architect’s limited experience, the finished design could easily exceed the client’s budget once everything is factored in. In my experience, it takes three to six months from the time the client first calls to the time we sign the construction contract — and even longer for larger jobs. So don’t let your pipeline go empty because you think you have the rest of the year booked up.

Second, I think the best defense is a good offense. Write your own initial specs for the job and base your estimate on those specs. At every design meeting, document where things have changed from what you initially assumed, because these changes will always represent cost increases.

Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon ship — if you get too much invested in this project, you’ll start to convince yourself you can do things within the budget that you really can’t.