10 Things To Know Before Starting a Home Remodel
If you are preparing for a home remodel, there are a number of steps you should take to ensure a successful… and relatively stress-free project. Especially if this is your first time renovating, it’s especially important that you do your ‘homework’ before getting started.
You may think that it’ll be as easy as the home remodels you’ve seen on HGTV, but it is anything but. In reality, you will likely encounter a number of things that may surprise you about the renovation process, your remodeling contractor search, and the work that goes into preparing for your project. We’ve compiled a list of ten noteworthy surprises that you should know about before beginning a home remodeling project.
A home remodel can be stressful, but you don’t have to go it alone. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable general contractors, then provides ongoing project support to ensure a stress-free experience. Give us a call at 818.317.3567 or visit our website at www.GreatBuildz.com to learn more and discuss your project.
1. You’re likely to choose your home remodeling contractor based on your ‘gut’ feeling about them
You know how the saying goes – humans are irrational beings. Most people make a remodeling contractor hiring decision based on the cost estimate and their ‘gut feel’ of the general contractor after one meeting. This is a start, but it’s rarely enough information for you to truly tell the good guys from the bad guys. When you meet a contractor, they are trying to sell you, so they are on their best behavior (like when you’re on a first date), so you shouldn’t use that as a true gauge of character. The price they give you for the job is important, but it tells you absolutely nothing about whether they are a quality contractor.
Since these two factors are insufficient for finding a truly trustworthy contractor, a homeowner should take as many of vetting steps as possible to protect themselves from having a renovation nightmare. The more of these steps you take, the more likely you’ll find a ‘red flag’ that should concern you…and if you find no red flags, you can feel confident you’ve found a quality professional.
2. You are not prepared for your home remodel
When planning a renovation project, homeowners typically prepare in two ways. First, they develop an idea of what they want to remodel and their budget for the project; and second, they find a remodeling contractor to hire for the work.
In theory, that’s all it should take… but unfortunately, that’s a recipe for disaster. Some people think that remodeling a home is similar to buying a car: just choose a car, find a dealer, and write a check. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case when it comes to renovating. With a car, you know exactly what you’re going to get: a well-engineered machine with a long warranty that is likely to function properly for many years. A remodel is a completely different purchase.
With a home remodel, there is quite a bit more hassle involved, as well as preparation required. The hassle includes searching for remodeling contractors, scheduling appointments to meet them, reviewing their various estimates, understanding their contract, shopping for materials, and worst of all, living through the actual remodel. Unlike a new car purchase, in order to have a positive experience, you must do a substantial amount of work and preparation.
Some of this work includes:
- Finding reputable general contractors
- Vetting and interviewing these contractors
- Creating a project scope/checklist so that your estimates are consistent
- Laying out your expectations of your chosen contractor
- Regularly reviewing their work and providing feedback through the duration of the project
3. Selecting materials will be a major task and the contractor won’t help you decide
Many people these days, upon deciding on a home remodel, will start looking online for inspiration and to find a look they would like for their remodeled space. They search on Google, Pinterest, Houzz, and other sites and create a ‘mood board’ that represents what they’re hoping to achieve.
That’s a great start, but it’s also the easy part. Most of those images don’t come with a label indicating what the product is, where you can buy it, or how much it costs. Much of the time, the pretty pictures online include items that are either custom made or only available at boutique and uber-expensive online retailers.
So, the next step (and the hard part) is taking your images to the various stores and trying to find those same materials. Often, you’ll visit specialty stores for marble/quartz counters, tile, wood flooring, appliances, plumbing hardware, lighting, etc. Odds are good that you won’t find an exact match of your photos and will have to settle for something similar. So, you’ll have to do your best to combine a bunch of varied materials that you ‘think’ will all look good together and hope it looks something like the image in your head (or on Pinterest).
And usually, your remodeling contractor will not be involved in helping you shop and likely won’t be able to tell you if your design will look good. The best they will do is give you some suggestions for good local retailers.
That being said, there are some contractors out there who love to take their clients shopping and discuss finishes – if you’re looking for this type of high-touch relationship, definitely discuss this at your first meeting with them. Some contractors even offer full design-build services, with an interior designer on staff. You may pay a premium for their ‘full suite’ of services, but if you’re looking for this level of service, it is often worth the price.
4. You will get contractor’s estimates that vary widely on price and you won’t understand why
There are a few reasons why contractor estimates often vary so much. First is the contractor’s desire to win the job. If a contractor is having a slow period, they want more jobs to keep their crews busy. They are likely to be more ‘aggressive’ on pricing potential projects in order to win the bid.
Second is a contractor’s overhead & costs. Some are small operators who work from home, while others are large corporations with hundreds of staff and a high-rent corporate office. As you can imagine, their ‘overhead’ costs will be reflected in your project bid.
Next is each contractor’s assessment of the project. Although you know what you want to be remodeled and may convey that clearly to each prospective contractor, they each have their own ‘understanding’ of what the project will require behind-the-scenes. Some contractors like to be very thorough and include the costs of potential unknown issues and therefore their bid might be high. Others will include only the bare minimum required for the job, and their bid might be on the low side. However, the latter contractors are likely to request ‘change orders’ or ‘extras charges’ during the job for any unforeseen issues, driving the total costs up.
Another difference is that some contractors have their own construction workers (crew) on staff and other contractors will retain multiple sub-contractors to complete each project. Since each sub-contractor is another company, they will each require their own profit margin for the job, adding to the total cost for the homeowner.
Finally, when a general contractor comes to your house, they are judging whether you will be a good client to work for. Additionally, some are judging your house and neighborhood. If you live in a fancy house or a fancy neighborhood, they may take that as a good sign that you can afford an expensive remodel.
The point here is you need to be organized and prepared before you meet contractors so that you can tell them the exact details of the home renovation you require and your approximate budget. The more you know about your project scope and budget when you meet a contractor, the more likely you’ll get the most accurate estimate back.
Always make sure to write your full detailed scope down and present this same list to all contractors you meet with – then you’ll know you’re receiving bids on the identical project. If a new idea or contractor suggestion leads to a change in scope, be sure to inform the other contractors of this change!
5. You will have some arguments with your spouse/partner
When it comes to a full home remodel, there are many, many decisions to be made. Odds are when you have two different people, even if they are married, they will have two different opinions on many of the decisions that need to be made.
One obvious decision is how much to spend. It’s wise to agree on a total budget upfront, but more costs will come up along the way. They’ll have to decide whether to spend more or to get less of their desired remodel. Another possible disagreement can come out of differences in style. If styles and tastes don’t align when selecting materials together, one person will have to compromise so that the other person can get their way.
Another possibility for friction can come out of the time commitment involved in remodeling. It’s pretty hard to share this responsibility evenly, so most likely one partner will have to put in more time to ensure the project goes smoothly. Finally, just the inconvenience of living through a home remodel can leave nerves frazzled and tempers short. Imagine living without your kitchen for a month or two; that can get frustrating over time.
While this process can certainly become stressful, there are plenty of steps you can take to ease your renovation experience with your partner. For some additional reading on this topic, here are ten tips for effectively renovating with your spouse: www.marriage.com/blog/tips/house-remodel/
6. Your home remodel project will not be perfect
As consumers, we are spending a large amount of money on a remodel. We, therefore, feel that we deserve a high level of service and quality. This is not an unreasonable perspective, but we neglect to consider the many potential challenges faced by the remodeling contractor.
The daily problems faced by contractors that are largely out of their control are almost infinite: workers not showing up, truck breakdowns, traffic delays, material delays, material quality issues, subcontractor problems, equipment malfunctions, surprises hidden in the walls of the home, architect mistakes, worker injuries… the list goes on and on.
So, remodeling homeowners need to have realistic expectations for their contractors (but also not be pushovers). There is some validity to the anecdote that homeowners should assume “the job will cost twice as much and take twice as long”.
Although this is an overstatement, homeowners need to set their own expectations at the beginning that most jobs will cost more and take longer than originally anticipated. It is worth noting, however, that there is a fine line when it comes to delays and overages. Although a 10-20% delay or project cost overrun is normal with even ‘good’ contractors, a 50-100% delay or cost overrun is not normal and could be indicative of a dishonest or mismanaged contractor.
7. There is often a HUGE knowledge gap between you and your contractor
Most people don’t really realize the inherent imbalance in the contractor/client relationship. The first and easiest to describe is the knowledge imbalance.
The contractor knows a ton about construction while the client often knows very little. This disparity can easily allow a dishonest contractor to “pull the wool over the eyes” of a client about costs, quality, materials, etc. and the client has no way of knowing it… until it’s too late.
Another issue is there is no way for a client to truly determine some important details about the remodeling contractor prior to hiring him: Are his workers consistent? Do his subcontractors like working for him? Does he take pride in his work? Is he overbooked with projects right now?
The contractor knows all these details, but will certainly only tell the client about his good qualities and not his issues. Also, because of a client’s limited knowledge of construction, they can’t know if the contractor’s work is performed in a quality manner with quality materials.
Finally, and unfortunately, a client often has limited options for recourse if a contractor does poor work, doesn’t finish the job, or just acts unethically. Filing a complaint with a bond or a licensing agency is one option, but it’s time consuming, frustrating, and doesn’t guarantee a positive result. Often, the only real recourse is a lawsuit, which is tremendously costly and stressful.
8. The contractor you hire is not always the same person who will be working daily on your home remodel
When you request an estimate for your remodeling project, the person that comes to your house is either the owner of the construction company or one of its salesmen. You’ll probably work with this person on the project scope, design, budget, and contract before the job is started. However, once the job begins, you may see this person only rarely, if ever.
That’s because the actual work will be performed by the company’s employees and subcontractors. You’ve never met these people and they will be at your house every day until the project is done. All you can do is HOPE they are honest, hard-working, dedicated folks. You might expect the contractor’s employees to be well qualified since they are employees of this qualified contractor. But, that’s not always the case.
As such, it is imperative that you discuss these details with any contractor you are considering to renovate your home. Ask them how often they will be at your job site, inquire how they will address any issues that may arise, and set clear expectations for them and their workers throughout the project. If you agree upon terms at the beginning of the project, you can call back to this agreement in the event that anything goes wrong.
9. In order to have a smooth home remodel, you will need to manage it closely – it will be like having another part-time job
A homeowner should check on job progress a few times per week, and at least once a week together with the remodeling contractor or project manager. When the contractor is there to walk the job with you, it’s your opportunity to ask questions and address concerns. But it’s also important to walk the job alone in order to view the project progress and take your time looking carefully at the quality of the work and the functionality of the space. It’s also a good idea to drop by during the middle of the day unannounced…just to ensure a full crew is working daily.
In addition to these regular reviews, you will also continually have other tasks that come up during the project which require your attention. Issues will arise with the materials you choose that will require you to shop for replacement items. The contractor will find issues on the job that require you to weigh your options and decide between various solutions. You’ll need to regularly communicate with your contractor about various project details, issues, solutions, etc. Plan to take an active role in your home remodel so you’re not caught off guard with the level of time commitment required.
10. Your expectations of your contractor’s organization and communication skills are probably wrong
Based on the kind of work you do and where you work, you have a certain expectation of how people communicate with you. Some people work in an office where they send an email or text and expect a response within a few minutes or hours. Such people will have a similar expectation when they start working with a contractor… and they will probably be very disappointed.
Remodeling contractors and their staff are rarely planted at a computer or even in front of their phones. They spend most of their time on job sites, buying materials, etc. and are much less likely to respond quickly. Beyond that, some contractors can get overwhelmed, disorganized, or frustrated with multiple simultaneous projects and neglect to respond for even longer periods of time.
So, if your expectation is that your contractor responds to you within a specific timeframe, you should make that clear to them BEFORE you begin your project. Clarify all your expectations during the project, and ask for another contact person if they aren’t available to answer your call. A good resource you can use to clarify expectations with your contractor is our Contractor Code of Conduct.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
At the end of the day, planning a home remodeling project is all about strong communication, having reasonable expectations, and spending as much time as possible preparing yourself for the project. Renovating is typically a serious undertaking, but by doing the right work up-front (deciding on materials, clarifying your scope of work, hiring a reliable contractor, etc.), you can ensure that you will have a positive experience.
When it comes to preparing for a home remodel, you shouldn’t have to go it alone – GreatBuildz can help simplify your renovation experience.
We know that renovating can be stressful – that’s why we started GreatBuildz. We are a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides ongoing support to ensure a stress-free remodel.
Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next renovation project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com