Craig Durosko, founder of Sun Design, an architectural design-build firm located in McLean and Burke, Va., writes an occasional column offering renovation tips.
Remodeling your home can be a major investment so it’s no wonder that people can be wary when it comes to choosing a company to do the work. There are plenty of stories out there about work being done poorly, incomplete projects and other situations we’d all rather avoid.
So how do you find the right company to do the job? It’s best to find a firm with plenty of experience doing the specific project you are planning, whether it’s a powder room, a full basement or a whole-house remodel. Ask neighbors, friends and co-workers for referrals. On the Internet, go to Houzz.com. A few more things to consider:
• Review their Better Business Bureau statistics. Make sure they are a reputable business with a good history.
• See if they belong to professional organizations and/or hold any designations from NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry), NAHB Remodelers (National Association of Home Builders Remodelers), AIA (American Institute of Architects), and/or NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association).
• Verify that they are licensed in your jurisdiction. This is very important.
• Verify that they are insured — this includes liability insurance, workers compensation, auto insurance for company vehicles, etc.
• If you were referred, ask about the firm’s strengths and weaknesses. What could have been done better? If you were not referred to them, still ask to talk to a couple of their clients.
• Check financials. Dun and Bradstreet Reports provide financial history on any business. Be sure the company has a history of positive financial banking.
• Ask about the communication process. Who will be your contact during design or construction? Will they be accessible after hours if there is an emergency?
Design, pricing and permits
Spending a bit more time in the planning stage will mean fewer issues during the building stage. Let’s say you are building an addition. How will you address heating and cooling?
Will there be a licensed HVAC contractor sizing the ducts? What brand window and doors will be used? What is the warranty on those windows?
Will electrical systems be brought up to code? Bathrooms, kitchens, basements and bedrooms all have different electrical requirements than they did 20 years ago. Consider exclusions; what will need to be done after the contract is completed? Any finishes, landscaping or alarm system? What is the warranty time period for the entire project? What does it cover? What is the process for making a claim on the warranty?
Do your due diligence so there are no interruptions once construction starts. Do you have a homeowner’s association? Will they prepare HOA documents for you? Are you in a historic district? What are your county zoning restrictions?
Are you in the RPA (Resource Protection Act) that would have special restrictions, or does FAR (Floor Area Ratio) requirements restrict your project? You shouldn’t have to figure this out. It should be addressed during the design and planning stage.
Verify that the company will take care of these for you. The goal would be to identify all of your restrictions before building and designing to ensure your design is something that can be built.
Make sure you have the right permits. If you ever hear a contractor minimize your suggestion to get a permit, consider this your red flag. Often, a contractor who is not licensed and unable to pull a permit might ask you to do it as a homeowner to “save money” when permit costs are minimal considering the value of a third party inspector. The contractor should be pulling the permits in his or her name.
Know what you are agreeing to before signing the contract. And, by the way, you must have a contract. That is the only way that you and the remodeler can be absolutely sure what is expected of each other during the process.
The agreement should include an explanation of work including exclusions, plan and elevation drawings showing all the work to be performed and clear expectations of what products are included or if there are “allowances.” Allowances are materials (e.g., vanity, sinks, tile, etc.) that are included in the final price.
Minimizing or eliminating allowances will reduce the chance of “budget creep.” For example, if a contractor presents a contract with all allowances, it makes you liable for all the overages. Try to have all selections completed and fully priced out so there are no allowances. Be sure to create a punch-out list and agree on the “hold back” amount to be paid upon completion of that list.
Minimize surprises during construction
Make sure you and the remodeler agree to the building process. If you will be living in the home during construction, what will be done to protect the adjacent areas?
It’s a good idea to have dust walls with zippers and filters on return air grills to the furnace to minimize dust. Security and safety, pets, children, valuables and access to your home are all concerns that should be addressed.
A pre-construction meeting is always good prior to starting construction. It allows the project manager to go over all expectations. Where will they park or store material? Is there a bathroom to use or a portable toilet? Are any neighbors more sensitive than others to parking or yard access?
Other things to consider:
• Keep communications open. A weekly job site meeting is always helpful to be pro-active to look at next week and last week.
• Figure out how to handle emergencies that happen after-hours. What happens if there is a leak from the plumbing or a tarp blows off in a rainstorm after working hours? Talk about worst-case scenarios.
• Determine the schedule. What is a typical work week? Do they ever work weekends? What are the daily start and end times?
• Spell out your expectations for contractors’ behavior. Set boundaries for anyone working in your house. Inappropriate language on the radio, dress or lack thereof (no shirts) might be typical at a new home construction site, which may not be a big deal. However, when you are working in someone’s home, it is not okay.
Now you are empowered with some remodeling discussion points to review with your remodeler.
Use these to get to the agreement for moving ahead smoothly.
Durosko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.