Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation, Part II: From Finding A Contractor To Commencement

In Part I of Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation we covered finding your inspiration, setting your budget, coordinating your financing, and securing architectural plans for your remodeling project. In Part II we’ll look at the remaining four steps necessary to ensure that your home renovation is successful.

Gather bids and select a professional renovator.

This topic is critical, and we cannot emphasize enough the significance in selecting the right contractor for your renovation. This information could be the single most important step you take in finding the best fit for your project and, ultimately, reducing your overall risk.

Once you are set on the scope of your renovation and have detailed drawings for your project, it is time to search for a qualified contractor. A professional remodeler provides you with excellent customer experience, efficient project management and high quality results; therefore, selecting the right contractor is crucial to the success of your project. What follows is our insight into finding and selecting the best contractor possible for your renovation.

A. Where To Find Your Contractor

The following sources can help you find qualified contractors:

  • Friends & Neighbors. Ask friends and neighbors that have recently renovated. You are more likely to get an unbiased assessment from them and you can often view the work that was completed. If you are on a neighborhood email group, posting your questions here will usually generate a number of responses from neighbors.
  • Search Online at NARI. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) has local chapters throughout the country and is the only major trade association solely dedicated to the remodeling industry. They are an excellent source for locating qualified renovation contractors in your area.
  • Review Websites. Searching review websites is a fantastic place to find information on contractors. Look for positive reviews listed on sites like Angie’s List and Google. After reading just a handful of testimonials, you will get a much clearer picture as to how each particular business operates and if they have satisfied clients.
  • Home Tours. Keep an eye out for local home tours through NARI, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin (HBA), American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Cool House Tour by the Texas Solar Energy Society. Visiting the various renovated projects highlighted on these tours will help you with conceptual designs and you will often get to meet the contractors, architects and designers that made it all possible.

B. What Should You Look For In A Contractor?

  • A History Of Success. Renovation is a field with low barriers to entry. Anyone can pick up a hammer and claim to be a remodeler. Choose a contractor who has been around for a number of years and who has a substantial number of positive references. Ideally, the contractor should be affiliated with organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the Texas Association of Builders (TAB), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin (HBA) or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Awards from local or national organizations also speak well of a contractor’s experience and credibility.
  • Experience. Past successes are always an important factor in selecting a contractor. Determine if the contractor has completed any projects that are similar in scope to your planned renovation. Check out their portfolios and see if they can personally take you to view any similar completed projects first hand.
  • Good Communication. Timely, accurate answers from your contractor are the foundation of a successful project and a solid contractor-client relationship. If the contractor doesn’t communicate clearly and effectively from the outset, you are more likely to encounter frustrations – both emotional and financial – as the project continues.
  • Detailed Proposals. Without a detailed, fixed-sum proposal there are no guarantees against budget overruns that could cost you greatly. Knowing exactly what the contractor is bidding on will help you determine if your concept matches up with the proposed work and limits the need for change orders for work that the contractor may claim was not included in their bid. We do not recommend “cost plus” contracts, as they leave little incentive for the contractor to remain within your budget.
  • Proof Of Insurance. Be certain that any contractor you choose to work with carries a General Liability insurance policy of at least $1 million. Confirm that they can offer Builders Risk insurance if necessary. Request a paper copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate for your records.
  • A Firm Construction Schedule. Without a strong commitment to a completion date, you could find yourself unable to return to your home when planned, which could cause you additional financial hardship as well as headaches in determining where to reside until the work is completed. A reputable contractor will provide you with a firm completion date.
  • Accessible References. When making your final selection for a renovation contractor, be sure ask for a minimum of 5 references and do the legwork of checking them. A contractor without references is one to be avoided.
  • A Reliable Warranty. The work performed by the contractor is something you will have to live with for many years. Be certain that there are protections and remedies in place should something go wrong down the road. The contract should contain a warranty description that states clearly what is covered.

C. Selecting Your Contractor

After you have done your research and have narrowed down your potential contractors, your next step is to interview and select your contractor. Before you make your final selection, though, you must ask yourself if you feel comfortable with this potential contractor working on your home and trust the information they are giving you. If the answer is not a definitive yes, then we strongly recommend that you continue your search. The owner-contractor relationship has to be positive and based on trust in order for your renovation to be successful.

Execute the contract.

Now that you have selected your contractor, it’s time to put all of the details in writing. The contract should include – or reference – the following minimum requirements:

  • Detailed scope of work
  • Any necessary drawings and specifications
  • Design selections, including tile, paint, cabinetry and other items as
    appropriate

  • Payment schedule based on completed work
  • Construction start and completion dates
  • Warranty information

Before executing the contract, be sure to read it carefully and determine if you are satisfied with the scope of work that is described in the agreement. Are the contractor’s responsibilities clearly defined? And if you have a question about the project that the scope does not clearly answer, it would be wise to include this information in the contract to avoid confusion and additional fees down the road. Does the payment schedule (aka draw schedule) appear reasonable to you?

Consider living arrangements.

Remodeling a home can lead to significant upheaval in your daily routine and, depending upon the scope and nature of the renovation, it may be necessary to consider lodging elsewhere for some portion of the project. Even if you intend to occupy your home for the duration of the renovation, consider the following:

  • Are you going to store your belongings – and any furniture that must be moved to accommodate the work – on-site in a portable storage unit or off-site?
  • Have you coordinated with your contractor about the construction schedule? What are the start and finish dates for the renovation? Are they specified in the contract, and what remedies are their if the dates are not met?
  • Have you established working hours for the renovation? Is work scheduled for weekends? If so, does that fit with your own schedule?
  • Have you asked your contractor if there will be any major interruptions to electricity, water, sewer, gas lines, etc. for longer than a day? If so, ask the contractor to provide you with notification at least 24 hours ahead of time so you can make other arrangements if necessary.
  • Will the contractor provide a portable toilet for the tradesmen, or are they planning to use your facilities?
  • How does the contractor handle dust containment? Ask the contractor to hang plastic sheeting over doorways and openings to help contain as much dust as possible.
  • How will jobsite debris be dealt with? How often is the debris removed from site?
    These are all questions you will want to discuss with your contractor before the project begins in earnest. Understanding the answers to each of these questions will make your life easier during the renovation.

Additional Topics For Discussion.

As with any project, communication is critical. Asking the following questions of your contractor is crucial for a successful renovation.

  • Is a permit needed for your renovation? If so, ask the contractor to handle permit acquisition.
  • Do you want lien releases from the contractor and his subcontractors? If
    so, be sure to notify the contractor before the project starts to allow him
    time to notify his subcontractors.

  • Was your home built before 1978? If so, all painted surfaces or materials
    to be removed or disturbed must be tested for lead based paint by a Lead-Safe certified firm per EPA regulations. Additionally, the firm completing the demo or removal work must be EPA Lead-Safe certified.

After the project has been completed, and prior to making or authorizing the final payment, create a punch list of items that need attention or touch up and give a copy of this list to the contractor.

Conclusion

We hope that you find these Eight Steps To A Successful Renovation helpful as you undertake the great adventure that is remodeling your home. Watermark & Company is dedicated to making sure that all homeowners, not just our own clients, are well-educated and thoroughly prepared for the renovation process.

If you have any questions regarding this guide, or would like to discuss our own Design | Renovate process in further detail, please feel free to contact us at your convenience.

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