First, you need a project.
You have decided to invest in your home. Maybe it is a new kitchen or bath. Or a build out of the basement to give the kids some much needed space. Perhaps it is exterior renovations or repairs, new windows, doors or siding. What ever the job, you have work to do. I know what you are thinking. That’s what the contractor is there for. You are right and wrong.
This all depends on the size and scope of your project. If you want to paint a room, replace the roof, or replace a few doors and windows, or refurbish that old deck, the contractor stops by your house to determine your needs. A few phone calls later, and you have a quote.
If your job is larger and more complicated, like a room addition or major remodel, where plans and specifications need to be developed, the estimate and proposal process is much more complicated and time consuming for you and the contractor.
A contractor builds what is called for on the plans. First you have to have approved plans and specifications. Who approves the plans and specifications? First of all, the customer has the final say, assuming the plans meet the current building codes for the area. The city has to approve any plans before a building permit will be issued. A reputable builder can not build without a permit if it is required by the city.
The next logical question is who develops the plans. This can be done a few ways; you could hire an architect or designer to generate the plans and specifications, you can work with a Design/Build firm, such as Knollwood Construction, who can assist you with making those selections or you can use some combination of them both.
Regardless of how you proceed, you have work to do. Selecting materials, fixtures, colors, doors, windows, molding and trim all fall on your shoulders. Architects, Designers and Contractors can give you suggestions but you have to choose what you want to live with in your home.
Does this service cost money? Yes it does. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop detailed plans and specifications that contractors can bid on. By far, the single largest reason that bid prices vary greatly from contractor to contractor is the lack of detailed plans and specifications.
You have to have a budget to work to. This can be done with a lot of research on your part. No I do not mean the DIY shows on TV where they totally remodel a house for $2000.00 in two days. This is not reality. You can talk to friends and neighbors who had work done and ask for a ‘ballpark’ cost. You can find a lot of information on the internet. Keep in mind labor and material prices vary greatly from area to area. You will spend a lot less to have the same job done in Cody, Wyoming than New York City.
Or you can select a contractor to help you with setting a budget. Depending on the complexity of your project this can be a simple phone call like “can I add a 20ft by 20ft addition on the back of my house for $10,000.00?” The answer is no. Not in Chicago you can’t, maybe in Cody though. In this case the call is free and now you know you cannot do what you want for the money you have to spend.
Most other situations will require more time and research on the part of the contractor to develop a detailed and accurate proposal based on your needs and wants that you can depend on. This work is not given away for free by the contractor. They should be paid for their time and expertise. After all, the contractor does not know he will get the work at this point. They do not know if you can afford to do the project you want. No professional can work for free and stay in business. Keep in mind we are talking about adding to, or remodeling a piece of your house, not installing a new roof or installing carpet. Those two jobs can be easily estimated based on square footage alone.
For some projects where the homeowner has had remodeling done in the past and has done their research, setting the budget may be a matter of fine tuning, separating the wants from the needs. I need more kitchen space, but I want Granite counter tops and professional chef appliances. For your budget I can give you the space, but you will have to settle for more modest counter tops and appliances. It is all about making the choices that fit the constraints of the project.
Then you have to get the names of contractors.
A referral from someone you know and trust is the best way. Word of mouth is the second best, a friend of a friend perhaps. Vehicle advertising seen while driving, yard signs seen in your neighborhood and flyers hung on your door or in your mail box are other ways to get a name. Now days, of course, the internet is king of the information superhighway.
Just “Google” anything and anyone and you get more names than you ever wanted, or could ever search through. There are a number of websites that rate contractor’s performance. Angie’s List is one that comes to mind, but there are others. Additionally, you can search the Better Business Bureau. You should know that Angie’s list and The Better Business Bureau do not have all contractors listed. These are subscription services that not all home owners and contractors pay to use. You can visit the contractor’s website, if they have one, and get a feel for the type of work they have performed, the size and complexity of their past work. Make sure that all the contractors you are considering are licensed and insured. Many so-called contractors try to avoid the legitimate cost of doing business by skirting the law.
They may give you a lower price, but who is at risk? You are the one taking all the risk. If the project goes badly you have no recourse. Is that a risk you want to take on your home, one of your biggest investments?
OK, now you have some names. Now what?
At this point in the process you should have a very detailed idea of what you want the contractor to do for you. Maybe it is a simple job like replacing the front door. In this case you have the contractors visit your home to see the current conditions. Then you tell them ‘exactly’ what brand and type of door you want. Just like anything else you purchase, there are differences in quality and price. In order for you to accurately compare the quotes you get from different contractors they have to bid the exact same thing. You should not assume you and the contractor are thinking the same thing.
In the simple job of a door replacement discussed above there are many things you need to consider besides the cost of the door itself. Will the contractor dispose of the old door, or leave for you to do. Will the installation be in accordance with the manufactures specifications? (This is mandatory for the company’s warranty). Will the contractor replace the interior and exterior trim that was removed to get the door out? I know this sounds crazy but it happens all the time. When you see a big swing in pricing between reputable contractors, there is a reason. You need to find out what it is. If you make a contractor selection solely on price you will likely be disappointed with the result.
Maybe your job is more complicated than the door replacement. Have your plans and specifications ready for each contractor you want to bid the job. They all have to be given the exact same information package to bid to.
Once you receive the bids back from the contractors you need to grab your self a cup of coffee and get to work. I know you go right to last page and look at the price but there is more to it than that, trust me there is. Although price is important it is not the only thing to look at. If you are lucky, I mean really lucky, all the bids from reputable contractors will be priced very close to each other. This really is a good thing for you. Now your contractor selection is based solely on schedule and personality.
Contractor A, B and C prices are all in the same range. Contractor A is very popular and booked and can not start for 5 months. You need the job started sooner. Contractor B is not booked out as far as Contractor A so he can start quickly. But he runs a small crew and it will take him longer to complete the job. Contractor C can start soon and finish on time, but he has a personality that just does not ‘mesh’ with your own. Not an uncommon problem.
Whoever you select to do the work will be in and out of your house for weeks and months working. You need to be able to work with this person and their employees. Trust and good communication is very important in this relationship. These guys will be in your home 5 to 6 days a week from 8am to 5pm. Will they take care of your house and possessions? Will they keep the place clean, contain dust and debris. Will they respect the landscaping you worked so hard to grow? There is a lot more than bottom line price to consider.
You selected your contractor, now what?
Now the fun begins. It really should be fun and exciting to see your project come to life before your eyes. Of course you will have contracts to sign and checks to be written before the work begins. It is all part of the process. Don’t let the word contract scare you. They are a necessity to any large construction project. A contract affords protection to the homeowner and the contractor. It spells out exactly what will be done and at what cost. It details the level of workmanship that is acceptable to both parties. It defines when payments will be made and how much will be paid. It also dictates how unforeseen situations will be handled. In remodels and additions there will always be something unforeseen. The biggest reason is; you cannot see what is behind the walls. We make educated guesses and go from there.
Depending on the size and scope of your job you will see a variety of people and equipment show up at your house at various times during construction. There is a specific order to construction. It may, and probably does, look like chaos in motion but the order is there. When that order is disrupted, delays are inevitable.
What can make the project schedule change? For any exterior work weather is a big driver, special order materials that arrive late or damaged is another. The homeowner can delay a project by not selecting a product or answering a design question in a timely fashion. A sub-contractor runs over time on a pre-existing job and cannot start on time is yet another reason, change orders desired by the home owner is yet another. In short many things can and do cause delays. A good contractor will build some leeway into the schedule to account for these things. It is always better to under commit and over deliver.
If you have done any remodeling in your home before or watch home shows on TV then you have heard about “Change Orders” A change order is nothing more than a change to the original contract. More often than not it is an increase in the work to be performed by the contractor. A good example would be a more expensive counter top is desired after the home owner sees the new cabinets installed, or the addition of crown molding in the new kitchen. You can view a change order as a mini-contract. One that has a set price and deliverable that is separate from the original contract. To eliminate confusion between the original contract and any new changes, contractors will want to be paid in full for any change orders prior to performing that additional work.
As the end of the project draws near all the tools and equipment start to be removed from your property. The area is being cleaned up and your home life starts to return to normal. You and the contractor do a detailed walk through of the project and any discrepancies are noted. Once these discrepancies are corrected to both parties satisfaction final payment is made and your project is complete.
In the weeks and months that follow the Contractor will follow up to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
Start by contacting Knollwood Construction and put Chuck’s professional knowledge to work for you, 708-497-5868.