Hiring a General Contractor: Vet Your General Contractor and Hire the Best Home Builders

There are a couple questions we’ve been getting a lot we felt would be perfect to address together on the blog: How do you choose a general contractor or home builder? And what makes one home remodeling company different from another? These are both very broad, but we’ll address them in five parts: 1. Vetting your contractor or other home improvement expert, 2. Being flexible, 3. Property Inspection and what to look for, 4. Contracts and 5. How you can expect contractors to charge for their services.

  1. Vetting Your Contractor

You want to have trust in your contractor, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. They’ll be working for you so be sure to address any concerns or additional services you may want/need prior to signing a contract.

Here are a few of the questions you’ll want to have in mind when vetting your contractor:

  • When can the contractor start and do they have enough resources/bandwidth to commit to your job?  
  • Do you like this person?/Do your personalities jive well together?
  • How long has the contractor been working in this industry?
  • How many projects have they worked on and what type of projects?
  • Has the contractor attended any type of formal training or continuing education?  
  • Is the contractor licensed to practice as a general contractor?
  • Does the contractor have a valid workman’s comp insurance policy for their employees that will be on your site?
  • If the contractor  only employs subcontractors, do they have valid insurance and licenses?
  • Does the contractor  have insurance in case something in your home gets broken in the renovation and/or construction process?
  • What is the projected timeline for the project?  
  • What happens if the construction goes past the stated finish date?
  • How often will the contractor or his project manager stop by to check on the progress?
  • Does the contractor plan to work on the project personally or assign a supervisor?  
  • How often should I be updated on progress?  
  • Who pulls the permits for a project?
  • Who meets with the inspectors?
  • What hours should I expect a contractor to work?
  • Has the contractor been involved with any legal disputed following a previous job?  
  • Has the contractor previously operated as a contractor under a different name? I
  • What is the payment schedule?  

To go more in-depth in answering these questions, read here.

  1. Be Flexible

Knowing your schedule gives you a big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines- Are you planning a big event at the house, a wedding, an anniversary party? Is a new baby on the way? It’s already stressful to plan an event, not knowing if you’re going to make the deadline is adding unnecessary stress.  Be mentally prepared for things to be delayed.  

  1. Property Inspection

If someone tells you nothing will go wrong, hire someone else.  Something always goes wrong in construction and the best defensive is a good offense.  If your contractor can think on their feet and feels confident problem solving, they will work it out.  Ask if them what the most challenging aspect of a project has been, and how they worked through the challenge. Have they ever worked on the problems they see occurring at your project?

  1. Contracts with Your Home Remodeling Company

When the scope of work changes the process starts with what is called a “change order.” Change orders are a reality throughout projects because it’s likely you’ll change your mind about

what you want, add things or the project or financing takes a turn. Have a very clear clause in your contract about how the contractor will record, handle and bill for the change orders.

A contract is a good communication tool to make your project run as smoothly as possible, as it is a written understanding of what is expected from each side.  It should be referred to throughout the process. Common contracts include elements like: a detailed work scope, line items for materials, the cost, and a termination clause.  Any special requests, concerns or agreements should be written in the contract.

What are the termination terms?  Either party, you or your contractor, should be able to stop work and a good contract will have written terms as to how this plays out.  

  1. How Contractors Should Charge

Once the contract is written, you and the contractor will work out a payment schedule that will keep the job moving forward and meet your financial capabilities.

A good contractor should be able to give you some very broad ranges of what past projects with similar scopes cost, but will not be able to give you an accurate estimate until you provide a specific set of plans from a designer or architect detailing exactly what will be done and what types of materials will be used. If someone gives you a firm quote without seeing plans, be careful. You could have a lot of change orders in your future, which will cost more time and money.

For more detail about how contractors charge, read here.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

Whether you’re renovating your very first home or you’re a seasoned veteran onto your 10th property, unexpected projects always pop up. This can be incredibly frustrating–but manageable! And the sooner you work with your designer or general contractor to get these projects out of the way, the smoother the rest of your renovation will be. Here are some of the most common hidden home renovation projects we run into:

Home Renovation: Expect the Unexpected

1 Building Permits

Dependent upon where you live, building permits may or may not be fixed costs. Sometimes they exist on a sliding scale or as a percentage of the overall cost of your home renovation. They can also take time to secure, and time is money!

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

2 Temporary Displacement

If you’re doing more than painting a few rooms, you and your family will likely have to move out of your house for a few weeks or even a few months. Consider these accommodations when evaluating your overall budget. Even if you are able to stay in your home, if your kitchen is being redone, you likely won’t be able to prepare your own meals, which can involve an added expense as well.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

3 The Gross Stuff

If you’ve bought a beautiful older property and intend to maintain it, you’ll be discouraged to learn you may have mold, water damage from plumbing issues, or asbestos. These issues greatly impact the structure of a home and the health of its inhabitants, which is why we always always always insist upon a thorough home inspection prior to getting to the fun projects so we can take care of the necessary evils first.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

4 Shoddy Wiring or Other Code Updates

An older home may be improperly wired, or generally not up to code. Building codes vary from city to city, and though you may not be planning on it, you may find your home needs requiring to be brought up to code. Luckily this won’t take too long and you can move onto more exciting cosmetic projects quickly!

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

5 Outdoor Maintenance

It takes a lot to maintain a gorgeous yard, especially if you have a lot of land. Talk to your landscape architect about yard maintenance so you’re aware of all your options, like automatic sprinklers and water reduction systems that help limit or recycle your water usage.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

6 Clean Up

Construction sites get messy! It can be discouraging to have your beautiful new home finished but have left over materials strewn about. Be clear up front about who is responsible for clean-up and clean-up costs after a construction project or design installation. Cities charge different amounts to have dumpsters parked on the street. And after having installers track dirt around, you’ll likely need new flooring professionally cleaned.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

7 New Walls

If you want to remove a beam or other structural element of the home, that can usually be done, but it will cost you. In order to maintain the home’s structural integrity, added walls or reinforcement have the potential to inflate your overall budget by 15-20%.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

8 Hourly Fees

Use your consultation time wisely! Many (if not most) designers will charge an hourly rate, similar to that of a lawyer. If new necessary projects are discovered or there are delays, it can inflate your overall budget.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

9 Moving Furniture & Storage

During a giant overhaul, you may need to remove any existing furniture and have it placed in storage for the duration of construction. Consider the logistics and timeline that moving and storing existing belongings entails in determining your overall budget.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

10 Changing Your Mind

Once a design/build plan has been decided upon, a clearer picture of how much it will cost will begin to fall into place, closing the gaps in the price ranges designers or contractors give you. Because of that, if you change your mind it will cost you. Your designer will have to go back to the drawing board, implement the design change, put in new orders for materials, which will likely have either longer lead times or will cost more for rush shipping.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

Our Advice: 3 Tips for Managing Expectations

  1. Your home is never really completely “done.” Accept that. Even with impeccable design and structural integrity, things around the home will always require upkeep whether that’s in the form of replacement or slight upgrade so ask your designer and contractor questions about down the line: 5  years out, 10 years out.
  2. Consult with a general contractor or designer who can give you realistic budgets and timelines for your home improvement projects: if a designer or contractor gives you too firm a budget or timeline, rather than a range, without having first done a deep home inspection into your personal needs, run for the hills and find someone who will!
  3. Take your time! We’ve written before about how overwhelming home renovations can be, especially when you try to do everything at once. Most design projects can wait, so be sure to prioritize. We shared even more specific tips on how to prioritize your home improvement projects in last week’s blog: Read it here.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

So you’re all moved in and ready to renovate your home… but where to begin? It’s tempting to focus on cosmetic repairs, or overhauling the shared spaces of your home like kitchens and living rooms, or starting with what’s most or least expensive, but we have some other tips for prioritizing your home improvement projects:

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Beyond First Sight

You’re going to want to have a general contractor assess the condition of the home’s structure before anything else. Before you start adding new furniture and installing new lighting or even before you slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls, have a contractor assess whether you have any water damage or other non-cosmetic issues to take care of first. These projects are going to make everything else go much smoother.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Access Your Budget & Start With Your Needs

Once you know if there are any structural issues you need to take care of, you can get an estimate as to how much of your budget that is going to consume. From there, you can begin making a to-do list of everything else you want upgraded. You can begin ranking projects by what needs to get done immediately, and what can wait (and truthfully, most projects can wait), and what you need to hire a contractor or designer to do vs. what you can do yourself. Generally what needs to get done immediately are going to be the things you need a contractor for, including:

  • Structural projects, which, if left unchecked, can cause permanent damage (leaky gutters, etc)
  • Safety priorities (child-proofing, alarm systems, etc.)  
  • Energy Savers (Windows/Doors, AC, Water tanks, etc.)

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Developing a Strategy

Once you have your list of priorities, you can begin working with a designer and contractor to develop an efficient timeline. Do you want to tackle one room at a time? Or is it better for your work flow to conquer larger, general projects like painting every room, or reflooring the entire home? Designers and builders work with project managers whose job it is to keep projects running smoothly and answer those questions to fit your specific needs.They can provide you with a lot of excellent advice about the workflow of your home improvement projects.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Energy Reduction

A huge priority of our firm, that is a win-win for everyone and the environment, is prioritizing energy-efficiency in home improvement projects. This extends from the zero-waste processes and sustainable materials we use to the outcome for homeowners: lower electric bills, more temperature-regulated homes, and homes that are built to last! If this is also a priority of yours, consider moving up projects like new roofs, new windows and doors, new water tanks up on your list.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Remodeling for Resale

If you are remodeling to increase the property value of your home, however, your priorities are going to be different: This is an instance in which you may want to go project by project, focusing on the high-ticket rooms that are going to immediately increase your property value like full kitchen and bath remodels.

We wrote all about home improvement projects for resale value, read it here.

Hack Your Home: 10 Tips for Hiding All the Ugly Stuff in Your Home & Keeping Your House Clean

ahh…That feeling you get when your house has been spotlessly clean. It’s refreshing, relaxing, it feels like your home is brand new. It’s ready to grace the pages of Architectural Digest. But then the kids come home from school and litter countertops with school papers; you have to make dinner in a rush and have another new sink full of dishes, then the dog tracks mud through the living room, and that wonderful, accomplished feeling of cleanliness subsides. But it doesn’t have to be that way! What if we told you there were ways to maintain a tidy home? Here are 10 tips to implement in your space:

10 Tips for Hiding the Ugly Stuff in Your Home and Keeping Your House Tidy

1 Cord Corrals & Hooks  

We’ve written before about how easily untamed bundles of cords can ruin an otherwise beautifully designed room. For media rooms, home offices, or other spaces where you have ugly cords, consider taming them with cord corrals and desk hooks to keep your home’s streamlined aesthetic.

Ultra Charging Station & Cord Coral

2 Utilize Art

Install art or a mirror on hinges so it swings like a door over unsightly thermostats or home security systems installed in walls.

3 Varied Cabinets

Include a variety of storage options in kitchens and bathrooms for organizational purposes and maximum functionality. Clear-front storage will entice you to keep both the interior and exterior of the cabinets clean. And you want to be sure your shelving is not too deep, so you don’t run the risk of accumulating expired products that might get neglected at the back.

4 Drawer Charging Stations

Top Desk Drawer charging stations: Install a charging strip at the back of the top desk drawer to utilize as a charging station that keeps devices and chargers off your desktop.

5 A Place for Everything Mentality

Embrace an ‘everything has a place’ mentality to aid in habit building, purge everything else, which includes pets, shoes, things that come and go from your home like keys and bags.

6 Custom Built-In’s

Consider working with a designer and contractor to design custom built-in’s for odd items that don’t need to sit out on counters, but don’t usually fit in general storage space, like printers or computer routers in home offices, purses and shoes in closets, trash cans and smaller appliances in kitchens, laundry baskets or hampers in laundry rooms, etc.

7 Easily-Maintained Building Materials

Consider that in the design of your home, the storage materials, countertops, and flooring should be as easily cleanable as their contents. Avoid dust collectors or things that show spots. Ensuring everything is installed and sealed correctly, by a professional contractor, will make maintaining your home easy.

8 Accessible Cleaners

Keep a green, all-purpose cleaner within reach of places in your home that need them most frequently, rather than with the other cleaning supplies, hidden away in a closet or the garage far away, which you don’t use all the time, like wood or mirror cleaners.

Gabriella System from Pottery Barn

9 Think Vertically

Don’t waste any space! Embrace vertical wall space with wall hooks for coats and hats and install a collapsable wall drying rack in laundry rooms, hand ironing boards on a wall or build one into a closet that can retract.

10 Decorative Organizers  

Decorative chotchkies and art objects or books and magazines should fit on or in your coffee top table tray, and any that don’t, have to go. Similarly, keys should go in a catch all tray or hung on a key hook by the door so they’re never lost!