Home renovation

Your game plan for a home improvement project

The potential star or villain in this chaos is a general contractor. The voucher can create something of a hit show, calling on plumbers, electricians and other professionals to work with your architect or designer, if you have one. Most importantly, the right renovation company develops a relationship with you, collects and responds to your opinions and instructions; communicate openly about problems and solutions; and guide you to better ideas and cost-effective solutions whenever needed.

Below are some basic strategies for hiring a contractor who can complete your project. Through a special arrangement, Washington Post readers can access the Washington Consumers’ Checkbook general contractor ratings for free through February 10 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Remodeling. At Checkbook.org, you can also check out our articles and tips for finding and working with home improvement companies and other home improvement contractors.

Start by asking and answering basic questions.

What do you want to accomplish? More living space? An extra bedroom and bathroom? An update for tired old parts? A new layout to correct dysfunctional plans? Will you be using the renovated or new space enough to justify the cost? Will you increase the market value of your home? Should it even matter to you?

The key is to come up with a wish list and then compare it to what you’ll likely pay to fill it. Are you really getting $25,000 worth of fun out of that remodeled bathroom? How often will you use a $50,000 home theater in the basement?

These considerations are especially important if you are considering a major renovation or addition. For example, if it costs $200,000 to add a large room downstairs and a new bedroom and bathroom upstairs, is it better to build them or use that money to trade for a bigger house? Identifying goals and thinking about available options will force some decisions – and help you set a budget cap.

Get design help and come up with a serious plan.

Architects, home designers, and kitchen and bathroom designers can convert your wish list into a detailed plan with an approximate budget. In general, you’ll get the most out of hiring an architect or home designer if you need a lot of design work – for a large or complicated addition, or to tie major changes to more details. ‘a piece. Architects have the most education and training, but the difference between a skilled designer and an architect often comes down to the latter’s engineering knowledge, which for most home improvement projects is not not an essential qualification.

Architects and home designers charge by the hour or use a fixed price (preferred), depending on the level of service, or charge a percentage of the final construction price if they oversee and direct the whole business .

Kitchen and bathroom designers specialize in the layout and planning of these frequently remodeled spaces. You’ll find kitchen and bath specialists working for architects, design-build firms, manufacturers’ showrooms, independent studios, chain stores, independent stores, and general contractors. Fees paid for the work of kitchen and bathroom designers employed by another company, such as a design-build company or a store, are often rolled into the price of the remodeling work or items purchased from the store.

Examine potential contractors.

The most important step is to hire an entrepreneur who can bring ideas to life, as simply as possible and at a fair price. When making a list of potential contractors, collect references from past clients and experts they work with, including: Does the company do the type of work you have in mind? Does it follow the plans? Is the job done as promised? Does it help you find inexpensive solutions?

Does he respect the agreed prices? Does it solve problems quickly? Do workers communicate effectively? Does it limit disruptions to your daily life as much as possible? Are the results as professional and attractive as you would like? Is it flexible enough to make changes at a reasonable cost if you change your mind?

Interview candidates carefully.

Meet with at least three (but preferably four or five) candidates and go over your plan in detail, while asking pointed questions about their experience and credentials as well as potential issues – from your perspective and that of the contractor. Your relationship will be close, so imagine what it would be like to work with this person for weeks or even months. Next, view key identifying information, including references, licensure, insurance, prior lawsuits, and complaint history.

Receive several proposals and offers.

Checkbook’s undercover buyers asked contractors to bid on two different projects. The first job: expanding and remodeling a kitchen, expanding and remodeling the addition of an existing family room, and reconfiguring parts of the first floor to create a central hall. The other job: remodeling a master bathroom.

The price differences from company to company were striking. For the kitchen renovation, quotes ranged from $74,000 to $169,500, a difference of almost $100,000. For the expansion and renovation of the kitchen and the great room, the estimates ranged from $113,000 to $205,000, a difference of $92,000.

Lesson? Get multiple offers. Also, don’t assume that there is a relationship between price and quality. Many contractors do good work at low cost.

In addition to ensuring a low price, collecting multiple offers will minimize surprises. If Company A offers to install a header and Company B does not, ask Company B why not. If they tell you it’s probably not necessary, ask the company to add it to their proposal as an option and avoid a possible surprise cost increase later. Another advantage of itemized pricing is that it makes it easier to calculate your savings if you reduce work.

Evaluate proposals carefully.

Look for detailed pricing, reasonable payment schedules, warranty descriptions, and flexible terms that accommodate inevitable changes.

Contractors also often use allowances for kitchen cabinets, appliances, countertops, and other products you choose later. A proposal may include, for example, three allowance amounts for cabinets depending on whether you opt for a premium, standard or budget line. Before accepting a proposal, do what you can to work out all of these details to establish a fixed cost for all parts of the job.

For items you can buy yourself, check prices with retailers to make sure you can’t do much better, especially for appliances, cabinets, and light fixtures. When calculating budgets and quotes for clients, most renovators mark up the prices they pay to their retail and wholesale sources, sometimes quite a lot.

Choose a winner; then get a formal contract. A good contract includes a detailed description of the work, who will perform the work, price and payment terms, quality standards, warranties and warranties, how changes to the scope of work will be handled, and due dates. start and completion. It should require the contractor to obtain all permits and approvals and require the contractor to provide you with applicable lien releases before each payment you make. And it should make it clear that you can tell when the job is done.

A contract best protects you against poor work if it minimizes the down payment and maximizes the final payment. The more money you can hold back until the job is done, the more leverage you will have to ensure the job is done right and to your agreement.

There is a lot you can do to help your project run smoothly. Resign yourself to some inconvenience. Parts of your home will be messy, your belongings may be in storage, and your privacy will be intruded upon. To avoid mistakes and avoid misunderstandings, communicate with your project manager daily and ask for daily schedules.

Make sure you are available to answer your questions and manage surprises quickly: no contractor can foresee all the problems; when a questionable extra appears, seek common ground that you and the contractor can live with.

Don’t take advantage of it. When you’re spending a lot of money, asking a worker to throw some of your old stuff in the dumpster or unclog a gutter while they’re on a ladder might not seem like a big deal. These favors rightly drive some entrepreneurs crazy.

If the job isn’t done to your satisfaction, don’t pay until the contractor has done it right.

Kevin Brasler is editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and checkbook.org, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It’s consumer-backed and doesn’t take money from the service providers it reviews (everything from auto repair shops to doctors to roofers). You can access the Washington Area General Contractors Checkbook Ratings for free through February 10 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Remodeling.