Before the construction can begin, your contractor will prepare a contract. Some remodelers guarantee only the materials costs and bill for their time on an hourly basis, working on a “time and materials” contract. Others prefer to add a fixed percentage to the cost of materials and labor and this is a “cost-plus” contract. The total cost for the project is not fixed with these agreements, but the remodeler should be able to estimate your total cost fairly closely. On larger projects, many contractors work with a “contract sum” agreement. This establishes the total cost of the project and payments are made according to the “schedule of payments” attached to the contract.
All contracts should include:
• A detailed description of the work.
• A list of the specific materials to be used.
• A schedule of progress payments showing how much you pay at the outset and when further payments are due.
• An explanation of the change order which deals with changes or extras not included in the original agreement.
• A procedure for handling disputes between the contractor and the owner.
• It may include a description of what is not included, such as “the homeowner is responsible for carpet installation” or “the homeowner is responsible for removing personal items and furnishings from the work areas”.
• A federally mandated recision clause, enabling you to cancel the agreement within three days of signing it.
The next step is often a pre-construction conference with you, the remodeler, the lead carpenter or foreman, the designer (if any), and perhaps the major subcontractors. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the project schedule and ground rules. This is the time to decide what parts of the house are to be work or material storage areas, and what areas are off limits. Review your remodeler’s policies on crew behavior and let him know what you expect. While most have clear guidelines concerning things like smoking (not allowed inside), radio use (low volume), phone use (local calls only), bathroom use (port-a-potty) and daily cleanup, these may be modified to reflect your needs.
This is also the time to address concerns about safety and security. Construction sites are dangerous, especially to children and pets. Be sure that you are satisfied with measures to separate the work areas from the rest of the house and secure the house during non-work times. Make sure that you remove all personal items and furnishings from the work area. No matter how careful and neat the workmen are, there will be dust, debris and the potential for damaging anything left in the work area. In fact, the constant vibration from the project can cause items outside the work area to shift and fall. Check that valuable items on shelves in the rest of the house are secured or moved.
How do you recognize a good remodeler? Responsible, professional remodelers share these good qualities:
• They return phone calls promptly.
• They arrive for appointments on time – or call in plenty of time to explain and reschedule.
• They are polite, considerate and careful around your home and furnishings.
• They have vehicles and equipment that reflect positively on their professionalism and work ethics.
• They carry contractor’s liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance if they have employees.
• They can provide references and examples of previous work.
• They will be able to give you before the job starts, a schedule of when it will start and approximately when it will end.
• They will provide written specifications and a contract that spell out the scope of work.
• They will not proceed with any work outside the contract without a written change order that includes a description of the changes, the cost, and the impact of the changes on the schedule.
• Their contract should include a procedure to resolve disputes between the owner and the contractor.
So, where do you find someone like that? Your friends and neighbors are your best resource. Try to find homeowners whose projects were similar to yours. Most homeowners are more than happy to recommend a remodeler that did a good job for them. And they are also happy to warn you about contractors that they would not hire again, and why! Ask specific questions: Did the remodeler show up on time and complete the job at the agreed-upon price? Was there a problem that needed correcting and did it get done in a timely manner? Was the workmanship satisfactory? Did the contractor honor the warranty? For how long and how quickly did they respond?
For more recommendations, call the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of New Hampshire (603-228-0351) or the one in your area. Ask for a list of members in your area. Association membership, while not a guarantee, is an indicator that the remodeler is a serious professional. Lumberyards, real estate agents, interior decorators and bankers are other sources to contact for recommendations.
Choose several remodelers and make appointments to discuss your project. The conventional, but flawed, wisdom is to get at least threes bids or estimates. We think that this method for choosing a contractor almost always backfires. In fact, a big difference between bids usually means that one of the bidders has misunderstood something important or made a major mathematical error. Choosing a contractor with a very low bid is just asking for trouble down the road and may lead to an unsuccessful, premature conclusion of your project. I’ll write more about this in another post.
Many established contractors, including a large percentage of design/build firms, don’t bid on jobs at all. Why not? Preparing a detailed bid takes many, many hours of unpaid work, not only for the contractor, but for all of the subcontractors as well. The companies that you would like to construct your project, the ones with the great references and high standards, are almost never the low bidders. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for! These contractors generally provide ballpark estimates, then negotiate an agreement after the design has been completed.
In the final analysis, choose a remodeler that you feel comfortable with and can trust. You will have a long term relationship with this firm, so make sure that they will pay attention to your concerns and respond to your personal style.
One of the first questions that your designer or remodeler should ask is, “What is your budget?” While you might be hesitant to share that information, quote a range anyway . . . and try to be forthcoming! If you have picked a reputable, professional designer or remodeler, you have not given anything away. It is a quick way for him to assess early on whether he can give you what you want within your budget.
For budgeting purposes, keep in mind that the most expensive remodeling projects are those that involve expanding the footprint of the house. Less expensive are those that reconfigure existing space and even less expensive are projects in which all the walls, plumbing and heating fixtures stay where they are. The best way to figure out if your budget range is realistic is to run it past good remodelers. They will be quick to tell you if you’re in the wrong ballpark. And if you are, don’t despair. A design professional or remodeler can suggest less expensive alternatives or divide the project into smaller phases. Almost all successful remodeling projects are the result of a series of compromises between the initial dream and the final budget.
Do you need an architect or design professional? That depends on your location, and the size of your project and budget. Some towns may require plans that are prepared by an architect. Check with your local planning and zoning office for the particular building and zoning requirements for your area. Most small scale remodeling projects – such as kitchen and bath remodels – can easily be put together by an experienced remodeler and a cabinet supplier. Larger jobs might benefit from a complete set of construction plans and the input of a design professional.
Using a design/build firm – either a remodeler who provides design services or an architect who provides contracting services – is one way to simplify a complex project. You hire one firm that handles everything. The design/build approach to building brings together professional design and construction expertise. One company handles both design and construction, which means you enjoy greater continuity of service. This joining of design and construction functions can also save you time and money, and helps make you – the customer – more of a partner in the remodeling of your home.
If you decide to hire an architect or building designer, start by looking for candidates with extensive residential remodeling experience. Ask remodelers about designers they like to work with. Make your decision based on a review of their work that might be similar to your project. Ask for references and check whether their projects stayed within budget and ran smoothly.
Some people think that acting as their own general contractor is a good way to cut remodeling costs. But few homeowners realize the complexity of the contractor’s job. Your contractor must understand not only today’s building construction, but the techniques that were used decades ago; plan the job, step by step; obtain or prepare drawings and apply for building permits; hire good, reliable subcontractors (who may have worked with him on many projects); schedule (juggle) all of the elements: material delivery, labor and subs, inspections by building officials, inspect all work; and allow for the inevitable unanticipated delays!
When you hire a professional contractor, you don’t just pay for the labor and material, you also receive the contractor’s ability to save you time and aggravation. The contractor’s fee takes into account all of the expenses directly related to your project such as rubbish removal, liability insurance, and also expenses not directly related such as office and vehicle overhead, tool expense, employee training and warranty work. That last item is the most overlooked, but one of the most important for you.
You like your neighborhood. You have a great commute. Your kids are in good schools and their friends live close by. You cringe, however, when you examine your house. It’s dated and cramped. You start to imagine what your house would be, if only . . .
“If only” is what remodeling is all about! Remodeling can:
• Add space: An addition with a new bedroom, bathroom or family room can ease family “traffic jams”. Potential additional space might be found in the attic or basement.
• Upgrade a kitchen or bath. New cabinets and fixtures can make those areas a pleasure to use and can add value when you sell.
• Get the best use out of the space you have. The way you live in your house has changed over the years and remodeling can make your existing space more efficient.
• Save you money. Today’s building products and systems are far more energy efficient. Even projects that add space may not add to heating and cooling bills.
Often remodeling can pay for itself. If your house is smaller or simpler than the rest of the neighborhood, bringing it up to date may increase its value enough to reflect most, or even all, of the cost of the improvement. When you compare the expense of moving with the cost of remodeling, you may find that remodeling is a more affordable way to get the house you really want. With remodeling, there is no real estate commission or moving costs to pay, and you don’t have the worries of selling your current home and starting over in a new neighborhood. A professional remodeler can help you decide whether or not remodeling makes sense for you.
Whoever plans your remodeling project will need lots of information that only you can supply. The process will go much more smoothly if you have a clear idea of what you want. Take time to assess your current house. What do you like or dislike about it, and why? Make sure to include everyone in the family in this process. Make a list of things to change, add or take away and rank each item on the list in order of priority.
A little research will assist you in finding solutions. Look in magazines that show new and remodeled homes and save the pictures that appeal to you. Start a separate file for each area to be remodeled. These pictures will give your remodeler a good feel for your tastes and preferences. Take a tour of remodeled homes in your community. Many homeowners would be pleased to show off their “new” homes and if you see great craftsmanship you can find out who did the work! Home shows are also a great place to gather information about new products and services. Don’t worry if you don’t come up with the perfect solution for your house and don’t try to decide every detail ahead of time. Your designer and remodeler will have a wealth of experience to draw upon for ideas and can provide information about products that will influence your decisions