What You Should Know Before You Remodel

Deciding to remodel your home or business is both an exciting and overwhelming decision. You may be excited about the upgrade, but worried about the cost, the time, and the seemingly endless decisions that come with the project. No need to worry, though- by being pragmatic in your approach, you can come out of the project with a beautiful space that you will enjoy for many years to come.

1.     Decide What You Want - This is sometimes the most difficult part of the project for the homeowner. Without trying to envision how to accomplish it, think about why you are considering renovating or adding on to your home. Do you simply need more space for a growing family? Do you feel your home is looking tired and want to make it feel more up-to-date? Maybe the kids have moved out and you want to make better use of their space.

Make a wish list that includes everything you want to change about your house and then prioritize by importance. Usually it helps think through the issues if you categorize the list by room or interior/exterior.

While you are going through this process, start looking through home improvement magazines and tearing out pages of things that appeal to you: room design, appliances, bath fixtures etc. Start file folders or an expanding file to categorize and keep these in. Home design books are often on the bargain counters at book stores. When you find one you like mark the pages that are especially appealing. Pinterest is a great tool to use to do this digitally.

2.     Hire the Right Help - At this stage it is often good to bring in a remodeling company, architect or designer. While there will be costs involved, if you don't have experience with local building codes, structural or other construction issues, you'll save lots of time and money in the long haul by having a professional start to turn both your dreams and needs into reality. One advantage of having a remodeling company at this stage is that you will also start to get some clear ideas of what things will cost. Even when using an architect or designer it helps to get a remodeling company involved early so you can begin to get feedback as to how any design options will impact your budget. Construction costs can be very volatile, so the company that actually does the work will have a better understanding of current prices.

As you start to choose who to work with, remember that this is going to be a long relationship, and that you will be living with the results of their efforts for even longer. Make sure the people you have selected are listening to you, that they understand what your tastes are and what is important to you. Particularly with remodeling, you should find professionals whose work represents a variety of styles and who are comfortable adapting to your tastes, not convincing you to conform to theirs. While hard to quantify, the chemistry between you, your contractor and/or designer is as important as any qualification. 

3.     Control Your Costs - Contrary to what you may hear, you can control your costs during a remodel. The most important part of any remodeling project is advance planning- every part of the project, no matter how minor, that is left undecided "until you get to that point" has the potential to blow your budget. Example: you might think picking out light a light fixture can wait until after you have put up drywall, but what if you find the perfect wall sconce and you wired for a ceiling fixture? What if you planned on wall sconces but now there isn't room to fit the mirror you love in between them? No matter how minor, every decision will impact other parts of the project in sometimes not-so-minor ways. 

A remodeling company, architect or designer can help you figure out all or part of this. If you have decided what you want, but have problems visualizing how your wish list can be implemented, a remodeling company, architect or designer will help turn your dreams into a design. If you already have a good idea of what the design should be, the remodeling company you choose can help get it on paper, in the form of working drawings, and determine how to deal with any structural, code or other issues you may not have thought about.

4.     Keep the Lines of Communication Open - Communication is the key. While it can be dangerous and may not be advisable to be around the work at times, it is certainly your right to inspect the project as it progresses. Ideally you should set up regular meetings with your contractor and use these times to walk through and ask questions or bring up concerns—even the best remodelers can overlook something along the way. Another set of eyes, especially from the people who will be living with the results, is always helpful to make sure things are done according to plan.

It is also best to limit important discussions to your primary contact with the remodeling company. The craft and trades people working on the site may have the best of intentions, but they often don't take the whole picture into account. What may seem like a minor thing to them may have broader implications, and what may seem like a big deal may not be a big deal at all. 

Along the way you may find that something is done exactly as specified, but you still don't like it—it just isn't what you expected once it has taken form. Don't worry. If you find yourself in this situation, bring it up with your contractor. A change order may be required, but the sooner they understand your concern, the more economical the work will be. 

Finally, the work will almost certainly not happen as fast as you would like. Most renovation companies and contractors realize it is in everyone’s best interest to complete work as soon as practical, and you have a right to ask for an explanation if things seem to be moving too slowly. But keep in mind here too that you will be living with and enjoying the results of this effort for a long time to come, so plan on more time than you think, and don't let things get rushed at the expense of quality.

11 Questions to Ask When Comparing Bids for Your Remodel

Once your plans and design choices for your remodel or renovation are complete, its time to get the real cost, which means bringing in any third parties you may decide to engage. When you reach out to various contractors for bids on the work, however, you'll likely get competing bids that you'll need to compare. Remember that this process is of little value to you unless you are comparing similar proposals, so be sure to give clear detail about the work you want to have done when initiating the bidding process. With all that in mind, here are a few things to consider when comparing bids: 

  • Is the company giving you a fixed price or cost plus bid? With cost plus you assume the risk of costs being different than expected, but you don't pay the contractor a percentage to assume that contingency. If the carpentry or lumber costs more than anticipated, you will pay the difference plus the overhead and profit of the contractor. With fixed price the contractor assumes these risks. The proposed work may appear to cost more, but in many cases you could end up paying more for the cost plus once the project is complete.
  • For fixed price proposals, what is not included? For example, Castle Crafters includes extra work we have to do as a result of discovering plumbing or wiring that has to be moved to complete the design, but we don't normally cover repairs we have to make resulting from termite or water damage that was not apparent until demolition began.
  • Does the proposal include all the materials and work you expect? For example, does each proposal include all of the door hardware you specified? Do they include the cost of (instead of an allowance for) specific tile you chose as well as removal of the old tile?
  • Does each contractor have appropriate licensing and insurance? Does the company have any required state or local licenses? Do they carry liability insurance? (Remember that you often must add a rider to your home owner's policy to be fully covered during construction.)
  • Have you spoken to references? Are they happy with the process and the results?
  • Does the proposal includes costs and work associated with the less-glamorous aspects of the process? What kind of insulation is being proposed? How about the shower pan (rubber liner vs longer lasting fiberglass)? Make sure you are making choices that will ensure the work will still look good years after the project is complete.
  • Is all of the work necessary to meet codes included? For example, in some cases if you do electrical work as part of your project you may have to add interconnected smoke detectors in rooms that are not affected by the remodeling, or make changes to the main electrical panel. While it is not unreasonable for a contractor to exclude these things if they are not part of the specification you provide, they should indicate what is or is not included as part of the proposal. And both proposals should include or exclude the same items if you are to be able to make fair comparisons.
  • Are there special items the renovation company has made note of? For example, our cabinetry is of all wood construction (vs. composition board or MDF) unless the customer specifies otherwise. We also shop finish all of our cabinets vs. painting or finishing on the job site. If there are items like this indicated by the remodeler make sure you understand the benefits, decide how important they are to you and can determine if alternate proposals have the same standards.
  • Is any professional engineering work required, such as structural, septic or survey work? If so, make sure any proposals you are considering have made provisions for it.
  • Who is responsible for paying permit fees and actually applying for and acquiring the necessary permits? The actual permit fees are often not part of the actual proposal, but your remodeling contractor (or the architect) is usually in a better position to apply and go through the steps to get the permit. Unless you expect to do this yourself, or an architect has already included it, any proposals should include this service. 
  • What about job site maintenance? Does the proposal indicate the remodeling company will provide a temporary toilet for workers? Have provisions been made to protect areas of your home that are not part of the work being done? If tree work is necessary is it included?

Overall, carefully compare each proposal to your plans and specifications. If there is language that is not clear, make notes so that you can clarify any questions when you meet. Finally, if there are aspects of your project you consider optional, make sure you tell the remodeling company in advance that these prices should be separate. You should feel completely confident in your decision, so make sure to take your time to review and ask questions before choosing a partner for your project.