You’re wise to have decided to contract out your major home project. Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, building an addition, finishing a basement, or totally remodeling your home are all jobs that extend far beyond the skill level of most homeowners.

If you have ever survived an exasperating do-it-yourself project, finding the right contractor may give you a sense of relief, as you imagine yourself telling the contractor what to do and then having it magically done for you.

Your physical labor will be minimal, but a different kind of work is involved: preparing yourself/family, preparing your home, and dealing with your contractor. Let this guide help ease your project’s transition.

Most Important Thing to Remember

Communication, communication, communication. This never gets old and cannot be expressed enough. Bad and/or no communication can ruin projects and/or relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, voice concerns, or even express your appreciation.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

The timeline for finishing your basement is 60-90 days. This does not mean you need to uproot your life, personal and business, to accommodate your projects needs.

Even in our virtual, connected world, nothing compares to seeing and touching your ongoing renovations in real life or talking to your contractor in person.

Arranging Your Schedule

Do not expect to rearrange your work schedule or activities due to your remodeling project. Contractors work around your schedule. Remember, they are receiving a commission. So, meeting you at the job site after work or during your lunch break is what they do.

 Protecting Your Personal Life from the Project

We work hard to minimize the impact on daily life that a home remodeling project has on you and your family. How to carry on life during the construction process? Keep your sense of humor.

If you enter a major home project knowing that it will put significant strain on your relationship, you are a step ahead of most.

A whole home remodeling project is a perfect storm where many factors clash: huge financial responsibility and privacy are a couple. Protect your relationship by keeping the lines of communication open but giving each other ample breathing room when needed.

Neighbor and Community Relations

If you live in a single-family dwelling, you probably are not legally obligated to seek approval from your neighbors for your project. Remodeling projects that touch the property line, like fences, are an exception. If applicable, research HOA guidelines as well.

If you live in a condominium, you may need to seek approval from the board for projects within your walls. It is almost certain that you will need approval for projects that involve common (shared) walls or your home’s own interior walls. As a goodwill gesture, though, you should talk to your adjacent neighbors, informing them of your upcoming plans.

Prepare Your Home

How Much Should You Do Yourself?

Some homeowners believe that they should not have to lift a finger prior to their upcoming project. Others jump in wholeheartedly by “helping out” the workmen prior to or during the project. What should you do?

In general, it is unwise to do absolutely nothing prior to your remodel. Some prep work, such as clearing out rooms, is involved, and it is only to your benefit to do this yourself. Unless you have made prior arrangements with your contractor, you should not do any work during the course of the remodeling project. Contractors hate it when clients change things around at night or on weekends when the workmen are not around, as this impedes the workflow.

Things You Absolutely Must Do

  • 1. Move Fragile and Precious Items: China, photos, artwork, electronics, and all other items that you do not want to get broken or dusty should be moved by you out of the work area and into safe zones (see below).
  • 2. Clear Rooms of Large Items: What about the big stuff, like sofas, cabinets, large rugs? If you are capable, the best-case scenario is for you to remove these items from the work zone and seal them tightly in plastic sheeting. If you are not capable, speak to the contractor about this. For a nominal fee, the contractor may agree to have some of the workers perform this task for you.
  • 3. Keep Your Items Safe From Theft or Misplacement: Whether located in the work area or not, any items of monetary value – jewelry, cash, precious metals, even some prescription drugs – should be removed from the home and placed in a safe deposit box. If you have a home safe, store them there. You don’t want to play the blame game with your contractor or their workers, especially if it turns out your child misplaced something.
  • 4. Make arrangements for your pet(s) safe keeping for the duration of the project. Some products used in the process can be harmful to animals so they need to be secured appropriately.
  • 5. Provide proper site access for material delivery and storage and vehicle parking.

Establishing Zones and Limits

Even though workmen are invading certain areas of your home, this does not mean that they can go anywhere and do anything. Contractors will usually order up portable toilets for large-scale projects, like building an addition. But in most other remodeling projects, there will be no toilet. It is your decision about whether to allow workmen to use yours.

If you have a guest bathroom or powder room, it will be to your advantage to “sacrifice it” to the workmen during the course of the project. Tip: remove all towels and place a roll or two of paper towels on the back of the toilet for workers to use.

Unless you are feeling especially generous, kitchens and dining rooms are off-limits for workers to use. You are not expected to provide dining facilities.

Working with Your Contractor

Communicating with the Contractor

Before you start a project, you and your contractor will establish lines of communication: phone numbers for calling or texting as well as email addresses. Contractors are all about communication; they spend their days talking to clients, sub-contractors, and designers. If the contractor is not responding to you on a timely basis, that person is not doing his or her job well.

But what is “timely”? Since you are probably not the contractor’s only client, it is unreasonable to expect the contractor to return your call within minutes. Calls or texts should be returned within the day. Emails involving documentation, such as drawings or change orders, may take a couple of days for the contractor to process.

Who Pulls the Permits?

Contractors will apply for the building permit and see it through the entire process. This is one of the services that contractors perform that make your life easier.

Rarely is it better for the homeowner to deal with permits. The permit fee will be listed separately on the estimate, and the charge for dealing with permitting will be included in your contractor’s commission.

Change Orders

Change orders are addenda to the original estimate/contract that account for any changes made to it. Home improvement and building are fluid processes. Writing an estimate before a job has begun is like trying to nail down water. While you try your best, you are essentially trying to predict an uncertain future.

This means that you should not be alarmed by change orders. These are mutual agreements between you and the contractor; nobody is telling you to do anything. You have a choice. In fact, most change orders are initiated by clients as they creatively reshape the project.

The Price Is Going Up: What to Do?

Most changes involve more work and thus more money. The contractor may discover unforeseen complications that require extra work. Or you may ask for changes that involve additional work.

Limiting changes is the key to controlling remodeling and building costs. The main way to do so is to make sure that the entire scope of the project is discussed in your initial walk-through meeting.

Another way to limit costs is to purchase some building items yourself, rather than the contractor ordering them. Tile, paint, vanities, and other finish items are a very involved process for the owner. Often it makes design sense, as well as financial sense, for you to buy light fixtures, paint, window coverings, and other small items. (Norton’s estimates include all materials, with allowances for specific items).

How to Deal with Delays

Nobody welcomes delays in the project: you want your house back and the contractor wants to move on to other jobs. Your project’s timeline is talked about and/or negotiated before the project begins. Change orders will undoubtedly slow down the timeline. So, limiting your changes is an important step toward meeting project deadlines.

In fact, if no changes have been initiated, blame for the delays most often rests squarely on the contractor’s shoulders. In extreme cases, you can sue the contractor for breach of agreement. (Please don’t let it come to this, Norton’s clients are his first priority 🙂 ).

Prepare yourself for the unexpected.  During construction we may encounter problems that couldn’t be foreseen before work has started:

  •    Existing walls, framing or drywall, not plumb and level.
  •    Substandard existing framing.
  •    Concealed electrical and plumbing.
  •    Doesn’t meet current code requirements.
  •    Rot or pest infestation.
  •    The presence of hazardous materials.

In most cases though, it won’t come to this. By planning out your remodel in advance and knowing what to expect, your contractor and you will be prepared for the minor hiccups along the way. Contracting out a home remodeling or construction project helps you by leveraging the skills and manpower of experienced professionals

(As always, Will Norton’s phone and email are always open for communication; any time.)