Getting Your Project Started - Choosing a Design
and Choosing a Contractor
List as many ideas about possible features of the new or remodeled spaces. Compile ideas gathered from home improvement shows, design magazines, and websites. Also, take pictures of the homes of friends and neighbors. This information can give your designer or contractor a better idea of what you’re aiming to achieve.
Set the budget
Friends and neighbors who have completed similar projects can be a good source of information about how much money remodeling may cost, but keep in mind that the details of their projects and their choice of materials will vary from your own.
Consult written guides, news articles, and remodeling industry professionals for “ballpark” planning numbers as well.
Respect the standards of your neighborhood, consider your likely longevity in your current home, and plan your remodeling budget in order to achieve the best long-term investment value while maximizing your enjoyment of the home. Also, keep some money in the budget as a reserve should you wish to add to or change the scope of the project as it progresses.
Choose a designer
Many remodelers (including Westwork) are trained and have the necessary experience and professional relationships to offer design services as a part of the overall package. A design-build contractor is familiar with your needs on a practical level and can design with the budget and the ultimate construction of the project in mind. This option can be the most cost-effective since a design-build contractor often either rebates design costs or offers special pricing should you sign a construction contract with them. Many design build contractors have tremendous creative vision coupled with the practical aspects of getting the job done.
You may also consult an architect to design your remodel project. An architect is a licensed professional with the experience required to assess your needs and plan your project. You may then use these plans to evaluate potential contractors who will build based on their content. However, some architects can be disconnected from the actual construction of your project and are sometimes less familiar with the latest costs and requirements for building with both efficiency, and the home’s services and systems in mind. The services of an architect are usually more expensive and may negate any financial benefit in keeping the design and construction phases in the hands of two separate parties. In any case, a good contractor will always offer their own expertise in adjusting the design work of an architect to meet the realities of the construction process.
Should your remodeling plans not require structural changes, and include mostly superficial improvements such as trim, finishes, and cabinetry, an interior designer might be a good option (keep in mind that a decorator is not a designer and the distinction is vital). These providers often have creative vision and professional designations, however many of them are often removed from the actual process of construction and therefore find designing on a budget or suggesting cost effective solutions/alternatives a bit more challenging. For projects of this scale, an experienced, solutions-based general contractor may be all you need.
Choose a Remodeler
Look to people you know who can offer an honest assessment of remodelers with whom they have worked. Also, evaluate remodelers based on their experience with the type of projects similar to your own. Here are a few qualities of a good contractor:
- They return calls promptly
- They arrive for appointments on time (or call in plenty of time to explain and reschedule)
- They are polite and well mannered, considerate and careful around the home and its furnishings
- They carry workers compensation insurance and insurance that covers them in the event of liability or property damage.
- They are licensed (Frankly, it's unclear what someone who's willing to break the law is capable of and it's best to steer clear. If someone is knowledgeable, experienced and capable of ethically running a business, a license is fairly easy to obtain and why someone is without one is anybody's guess.)
- They can provide you with a list of past customers so that you can check the quality of their work
- They will be able to tell you, before the job starts, when it will start and approximately when it will end. If the schedule has to be changed, they will give you notice and an explanation.
- They will provide written specifications and a contract that lay out the scope of the work in detail.
Homeowners are often encouraged to obtain multiple bids or estimates. This is sound advice providing it’s not done for the purpose of identifying the lowest bidder. Those who’ve done their research and have interviewed experienced, professional remodelers may find that their bids do not vary greatly. In fact, a big difference between bids in a remodeling project may mean that one of the remodelers has misunderstood something important or simply offers a different level of quality and service. Unfortunately, one of the most troubling reasons for huge differences in bids is that an increasing number of contactors (even some who are licensed) compensate their employees in a manner that allows them to avoid paying worker's compensation premiums which, despite their assurances, put homeowners at significant risk. Also, be careful when a bid is not comprehensive, spelling out all costs and services in detail, as their "lowball" will soon add up with change orders as the project progresses.
If you decide to ask for competitive bids, make sure you give each contractor exactly the same specifications, and that you understand the level of quality you can expect from each, so that it is easy to compare one bid with another. Companies with high standards, skilled workers, and who use premium non-customer specified materials are almost never the low bidder.
Ultimately, while qualifications and costs need to be carefully considered, choose the contractor with whom you feel most comfortable. A remodeler’s style and level of attention during the interview and bidding process is a good indication of how they will conduct your remodeling project.