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Going Beyond the Basics for a Positive Remodeling Experience

Written by Lorraine Hart, Ideal Consulting Services, Inc.

The original tragedy involved a family in upstate NY who decided to remodel their home by first enlarging their basement.  To make the basement usable, it was determined that two feet needed to be dug out.  To gain access to the basement, the contractor needed to lift and move the house.  Unfortunately, in the process of moving the house, they dropped it.  Yes, you read right.  They dropped the house.  If this doesn’t sound bad enough, it gets worse.  The contractor was not insured.  Fortunately for this family of five, they were part of a church community which helped them find temporary housing, while their house was put back together.  It took over a year to put the house back together.

The recent tragedy was reported to me by a client from the mid-west.  He had been disappointed that he had not been chosen for a particular project.  The homeowners wanted to save some money, so they chose the low bidder.  Recently my client was in the area and decided to drive by to see how the project was going.  He was shocked and quite dismayed to see that the house had collapsed.  Although he doesn’t know the details of what happened, he was told by their architect that the couple had to move to an apartment.

As I was thinking about these two situations, I had to ask myself, why would anyone want to leave such an important decision and valuable asset to chance?  You are probably thinking that would never happen to you; let’s hope it doesn’t, but let’s also take an ounce of prevention.

You may be thinking that your project is small and there is no way you could end up with a collapsed house.  The worst that can happen is probably proportionate to the size of the project.  While this may be true, remember you may have to look at a poorly done renovation for years or until you decide to have the job redone.  I have had clients tell me that they are doing a bathroom or a kitchen for someone who had the same project done within the last few years.  I’m sure that you would rather do your project right the first time, instead of having to do it twice.

Keep in mind that a professional remodeler will also use professional subcontractors for electrical and plumbing work.  Obviously, you want a safe electrical installation.  You also don’t want a plumbing mess to handle, especially water damage to your newly renovated home.

Now that we have looked at some of the basics in pre-screening contractors, let’s look at the finer considerations in choosing the remodeler who is the right remodeler for you.

It is always beneficial for you to speak with references.  I would not consider working with someone who can’t provide references.  When you speak with these references ask about how the project went.  Also ask what they liked most and what they liked least.  Although they may have loved the contractor, there is usually something that they liked least.

Another part of your decision in choosing a contractor is to gauge whether the contractor has experience in the type of project you are interested in.  For example, if you want to renovate your kitchen you would want to choose someone who specializes in kitchens.  Even beyond that there are many differences.  Some contractors have more expertise in different areas of construction.  Some specialize in doing simple, straightforward work, while others specialize in designing the project around your needs.  It is important for you to determine who will best suit your specific needs.  A professional contractor is confident in explaining his services and experience. He will gladly provide you with multiple examples of previous projects similar to the one you have in mind.

Now that you have done the preliminary steps in selecting the remodeling professional you want to work with it is time for your next step.   The initial meeting with the potential contractor can tell you a lot about what the future holds if you decide to choose this remodeler.

A key aspect in choosing your contractor is communication.  Depending on the size of your project you could be dealing with your contractor for an extended period of time.  Therefore it is critical that he is willing to listen and communicate.   For you, that means that he pays attention and appreciates your needs and is able to clearly explain all aspects of the project.  Listening to and understanding your needs can make or break your project.  You want to work with someone who listens, is open to your ideas, but who can also recommend solutions to satisfy your dreams for the project.  Both you and your contractor must realize that this is your home and your project.

Communication is critical to a successful outcome, whether your project is a small enhancement or a major home improvement.  It starts with the professional remodeler asking the right questions and listening to your answers.  It includes his ability to understand your needs, wants and goals.  It also includes his ability to rapidly assess the project and create a proposal that is understandable without being over complicated.

These abilities encompass a sense of caring and honesty and the willingness to do what it takes to satisfy you.  Just as you want to work with a contractor who is willing to communicate to you, it is equally important that you communicate openly and honestly to him.  With good communication you will end up with a successful project, a project that satisfies your hopes and dreams and a project that your contractor will be proud of.

Rather than focusing on price negotiations, I suggest that you and your contractor focus on creating your dream for your home.  Keep in mind that this renovation, whether small or large is something that you may be living with for years to come.  You certainly don’t want to have any regrets or wish that you had done it differently.  The small amount that you save now may not be worth it in the long run.   By communicating with your prospective remodeler, together you will be able to make your dream a reality.

To establish a good working relationship with your contractor honesty is needed on all sides.  It is best to share not only your needs and wants for your renovation, but your restrictions as well.  Unfortunately I often hear about the broken relationships caused by lack of information from the beginning.  In order for a professional to create a sound, realistic plan for your project, it is important that they have some type of idea of your budget.  I know that many of you will resist this, however I want to point out that it is next to impossible for anyone to create a project plan and proposal unless they have some idea of your financial limits.

It doesn’t have to be the exact amount of money you can afford, but you need to give some parameters to the remodeling professional.  This will guide them in developing the project and selecting materials.  A good remodeler will be able to give you various ranges and you can choose the range that will be most comfortable for you.  Otherwise the prospective contractor is hampered in determining which way to go.  If the project is too low-end you will be disappointed because it doesn’t have all those things which you want included.  On the other hand if it is too high-end you stand the chance of falling in love with something that is just not affordable.  In either case you both lose.

Another area to address is that of free estimates.  We all see ads for free estimates, but most of us don’t know what that means.  What it should mean is that the potential contractor will meet with you to get an idea of what home improvements you are interested in.  Once the scope of the project is loosely defined, the contractor can give some ball park ranges.  A free estimate does not mean that the contractor will create a design, or do a design analysis and feasibility study.  That is beyond the scope of a free estimate.  Professional contractors deserve to be compensated for designs or anything that requires significant analysis.

By selecting a contractor that will do a professional analysis up front, you will ultimately save time, money and aggravation.  By getting all the questions answered up front there will be fewer surprises and fewer change orders.

I suggest you and your contractor focus on buying your dream, rather than just negotiating price.

Congratulations on making the decision to take charge of your life and to create the home of your dreams.

Published by 4 th Dimension Media for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).NARI is a Not-for-Profit Association