Your house is often one of the largest financial investments you will make, and the decision to alter that investment by spending money on it, is not an easy one to make.
So how can you end up with a great looking remodel or addition that updates your house, increases the value of your investment, and customizes the living space to meet your needs? Is it simply just finding and hiring the right contractor? How can you avoid the “I thought I hired the right contractor,” “I wish I would have done X or Y,” or “I should have done this” issues? Well let’s look at the different stages and the general order they fall in to see what you can do to help assure success.
First, you should assess your current situation by looking over your property carefully. What repairs are needed? How long do you intend to stay in your present home? What might be some of your future needs? What improvements would you like to make? Are you remodeling the property for your comfort and benefit, or so that you can sell it? You should also review your current homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure your current structure and belongings are covered. You should also assess what adjustments will need to be made for the added value of the work being done.
Defining the Project Scope & Budget:
Start defining the scope by listing the areas of the home that you want to change. Make a list of rooms that need to be altered and the reasons for those changes. How soon do you need the work done? Next you should create a realistic budget that you can afford for the project. You should have some idea of what the remodeling project will entail before you even call a contractor.
The following two links will help you with the scope & will help speed up the design phase of your remodel: (Kitchen Questionnaire) (Bathroom Questionnaire)
The Design & Planning Phase:
Many home improvement projects really do not require professional design services and can be handled by an experienced remodeling contractor. With that there are plenty of time that design services are required &/or would be worth pursuing especially if you are planning on making more changes later. In these cases you may wish to consider a Specialized Designer, an Architect, or maybe even a Design / Build Contractor. A Design Build contractor is one that provides both design work and construction services within the same company.
The Finding and Hiring Phase:
Most often this stage happens midway during the design and planning phase, but sometimes as early as the assessment phase. First you need to find a reputable contractor or specialist that is established in your area. You can start this process by seeing if any of your friends, business associates, etc… have someone they can recommend. You can also check with organizations such as NARI, NKBA for professionals in your area. You should also consider checking with your State’s Consumer Affairs Office and the Better Business Bureau to ensure there is no adverse files on record for the contractor.
Licensing: Licensing varies by State & even by local. For example in Arizona where I lived any project over $750 required a license through a State Agency. In Alabama unless a project was over $10,000 (including materials) you didn’t need one & if you did you were licensed as a homebuilder by a board. We compiled a list of licensing agencies for each state so you can contact them to ensure that the contractor meets all the necessary requirements & is in good standing for that state (For those with a line through them – that means the associated page has been moved elsewhere – by clicking on it you may be redirected or at least can start your search from the appropriate agency as of the last update).
One key item to remember, the company you are hiring is going to be in your house, dealing with the entire family for a period ranging anywhere from one week to maybe a year depending on the scope of the project. The ability of each party to be able to listen to each other, trust each other, and have confidence that each person will do what they say they are going to do, will help your project succeed while minimizing issues that are bound to arise.
The Contract Phase:
You should get a complete, written contract before you allow any work to begin. It should cover the description of the project, the cost, the payment schedule, how long it will take and what types of products are being used. It should spell out the responsibilities of the contractor, subcontractors, and you the home owner. Make sure you have in writing what the change order procedures are, warranties, and what – if any alternative dispute settlement clauses are.
Payments should be tied to stages of work completed or Start of Work Phases. Be wary of any remodeling contractor who wants a large amount of money up front. Normal contracts split payments by tying them to significant work stages in the project (see below for an example). Payments should be made promptly or the contractor maybe able to legally stop work & this would delay the project and can cause some animosity to develop which does no one any good. You need to make sure that all subs & suppliers are being paid by the contractor & should request lien releases to protect your investment from unscrupulous contractors that collect & run.
An example of a payment schedule: 10% deposit / retainer fee, 25% due at start of excavation, 20% due at start of framing, 20% at start of “Rough in”, 20% at start of drywall / finish stage, 5% remainder paid when Certificate of Occupancy is issued (If there are items still on a Punch List – a dollar amount covering the cost of that item & labor may or may not be held back which should be covered in the contract). Change Orders are generally required to be paid for immediately or within 5 days of signing.
The Actual Project:
You should clear plenty of time on your calendar for the project. There should be an established, realistic timetable that allows for delays due to weather, supply shortages, or other glitches that may occur. If you have started a project with allowances for material choices that need to be made – make sure you get those done before they are due. This is one of the biggest items that causes delays & can result in you paying more money.
Remodeling is a noisy, time-consuming process that will disrupt your normal house life and environment. Once the project has started take a deep breath, it’s important to keep your perspective, your sense of humor and stay focused on the end result. While a great contractor will do his or her very best to minimize any issues or problems that may arise, there will be issues and it is normal. If you see something you are wondering about – speak up, most problems, issues, etc… can be handled better at the front end rather than at the end.
Not yet, the contractor should review with you and give you all the applicable brochures that came with the products installed. This should include how to clean, maintenance that needs to be done, and any product warranty cards that need to be completed. Make sure you have all the necessary lien releases, final payment is made, and enjoy your new space(s).