I get several inquiries a year from homeowners eager to
start (or finish) their remodel project, looking to me for advice and
connections. They often come to me with
the impression that hiring or consulting with a designer will make their
remodel project easier, and possibly less expensive. That can be true in some sense, but the truth
is that remodels are stressful and expensive.
There is no way around that. You
will be stressed, and you will spend way more money than you are comfortable
with. What does help is the ability to
anticipate the problems you can and will face.
I’ve assembled an ABC list of tips and general rules of remodeling, for
the first or second time remodel enthusiast.
The first stage
in remodeling is getting quotes, right? Wrong! W
ithout a detailed floor plan and
specifications, your chance of getting accurate quotes from various
sources is minimal at best.
If budget is
at all a concern, make sure you have a well-drawn floor plan, with
specifications on cabinets, measurements, material types, fixture types, fixture locations, etc.
before you start getting estimates.
will help you get an apples-to-apples
This is where a designer may come in handy in
the early stages.
They can help you
solidify your plans, and save you time and confusion later on.
If there is one price that differs
significantly from the others, make sure you clarify with that
contractor/source the specifics of the design.
It is possible they may not have accounted for some details that others
This can also be an indication of
their attention to detail, and you may want to rule them out entirely.
you think the budget should be, it’s a safe bet your end expenditures will be
double if not triple that amount—or more.
Don’t fight it.
Just be prepared.
If going over budget will mean financial ruin for your family, do not begin a
line is there is no perfect contractor.
Contractors today are overbooked, charging higher rates, are often late,
can often no-show, and will make mistakes.
Like any normal person.
you can hope for is someone who shows up regularly, and completes the job in a
reasonable amount of time.
research in the world will not give you the “perfect” experience.
Do not demo
until you have all materials and fixtures (or close to all) in hand.
The biggest issue homeowners face in remodels
is having part of their home (usually high traffic zones) in ruins for longer
This is most often due to delays on cabinetry.
cabinet maker estimates 4 weeks completion, plan for 6-8 weeks.
If you want to minimize the amount of time
your home is uninhabitable, hold off on demo until you have your new cabinets
sitting in the garage. Also, ask your contractor in advance to tarp the floors and partition off doorways. Dust will be abundant and is very difficult to control. If you or your family have respiratory issues, it is best to schedule an extended vacation starting from demolition to countertop installation. (a 1 to 2 month period)
If you are
comparing the cost of different contractors or products, bear in mind the that
the initial estimate will not be accurate, probably not even close to
If you have three estimates,
and they are all within a couple grand of each other, you can probably expect
them to come out about the same in the end, once you dot the I’s and cross the
business with friends and family, particularly if you want the job done in a
Contractors (active) who
agree to projects for family/friends usually will fit them in while they are
working on other projects, which means regular no-shows, regular tardiness, and
in the end, chaos and stress on your relationship.
Even if the price is lower, the stress may
If you are paying less, the
priority will be on the other higher paying customers.
Do not expect
your contractors to work around your entertaining guests.
It is an interruption to the pace of the
If you tell your contractor
they can’t come on a certain day, expect that they will switch to another
project, and you may not see any workers again for a week.
If your kitchen or other high traffic part of
your home is under construction, and you must have guests, put them up in a
hotel instead, or better yet, don’t have guests.
Don’t schedule guests until your remodel is
are totally slammed the closer it gets to the holidays.
They are under intense pressure to complete
all their projects, which means there is a higher rate of mistakes, quality
issues, and delays.
No matter what,
don’t start your remodel any less than five months before you expect to
No matter what
the contractor says, remodels (done properly) will take no less than four
months to complete.
for your contractor to ask you what your paint or tile selection is.
Choose finishes as far in advance as you
Most of the time, the contractor
will not ask for this information until they have scheduled the installer,
which often gives the homeowner a week’s notice at best.
This means that they will be in a rush, more
likely to make a mistake, and will probably not get what they want.
Quality materials typically take at least two
weeks to deliver, and paint color some people can take months to select.
If you're in a time crunch, call a designer and follow their instructions to the letter
But if you take initiative, make all your
selections far in advance, this may not be an issue at all.
tends to be a slower month for contractors.
They’re finishing up their holiday jobs, and eager to sign new
This can mean more reasonable
pricing and not having to get on a waiting list.
If possible, have your designer create plans
in November and December (which are usually slower months), and get pricing by January.
K. Keep tabs
If there is one task that homeowners can assist with during a remodel, it is keeping tabs on the condition of items as they are delivered by the vendors. Appliances, for instance, can take a long time to replace if they arrive damaged, and contractors don't usually inspect the items until install day, which can invite considerable delays. Cabinets ordered from big box stores (Home Depot and the like) will be delivered in packaging, in which case you need to inspect them promptly. Custom cabinet makers are more desirable because they tend to be better quality, and are able to perform touch-ups themselves, rather than go through a grueling claims process. If something arrives in a box, open the box as soon as you get it (or pay your contractor to inspect it and remind them as things arrive). Odds are at least one item will arrive damaged beyond repair. Plan for it.
L. Leaving the door open
Contractors will leave the door/s open. It is very typical and not something to fuss over. They are going in and out constantly and it is troublesome to open and close the door--especially with filthy hands, or when carrying extremely heavy objects like cabinets, appliances, or marble slabs. Let them do their job and stay out of the way. This is one really good reason to remodel in the early springtime, when temperature is mild and your heating/cooling bill won't skyrocket. If you have pets, you need to be prepared to keep them confined, or have them stay with a family member. Your contractor is not responsible for your pet.
can have a devastating impact on a marriage.
Couples can disagree on layout, priorities, colors,
One thing that can
help is hiring a designer that will listen to both of your wishes and ideas,
and develop a plan that blends the two in the most efficient manner
When there is a neutral and non-biased party
working on behalf of both partners, they will feel that their opinions are
being respected and fully considered during the design process.
This can lighten the load of marital strain
during the planning/design phase.
A lot of noise.
Some stages are noisier than others, and some
contractors are noisier than others.
you have a team of workers, they may converse, laugh, whistle, shout, and you
pretty much should just let them do their thing.
If there are individuals working, they may
choose to play music, or they may be perfectly quiet.
But one thing is certain.
will be noise during a large portion of your project.
If you work from home, or are retired and
spend a lot of time at home, just be prepared.
And if you like to sleep in, get used to being woken up early.
that can cause unnecessary stress in a remodel is overanalyzing.
If you are an engineer, are generally indecisive,
or cannot visualize, save yourself the time and hire a professional designer or
They are accustomed
to visualization, problem solving, focusing on the big picture, and weighing
the pros and cons of all decisions to ensure a pleasing outcome.
like all human beings, need access to a toilet at least once during the work
You need to be prepared to provide
If you don’t want
contractors using your personal bathroom/s, you can rent a porta-potty unit.
If you don’t want to take on that expense,
make sure your toilet tissue is stocked and easily accessible, have a plunger
handy, and if possible, provide disposable hand towels.
Most contractors are men, and sometimes, the
seat will be left up.
If any of this
will drive you nuts, just get the porta-potty.
You get what
you pay for.
With contractors and with
With products, like cabinetry
and flooring, if you shop around enough, or have the right connections,
sometimes you can find great bargains.
With contractors, if you cheap out, you will get poor quality service
If quality is a concern, call a
They will have access to high
quality resources and can make solid recommendations.
and sales reps are people too, and deserve respect.
You will find that if you treat these people
kindly and with respect, you will get better service.
Don’t try to negotiate on price. If you don’t
like the price, go somewhere else.
Say please and thank you.
Delays are normal and not always in their control.
Good contractors are hard to come by. If they do a good job on
something, let them know you appreciate their hard work.
have no concept of space—what is possible within their space, or how something
will appear in practice, rather than on paper.
Consult with a designer or interior architect when designing your new
They will guide you on proper
clearances and efficient layout.
should be one of the very first steps in a remodel.
Here is the
biggest reality check of all.
how good of a planner you are, no matter how many doctorates you have, you
cannot always control the timing of your project.
The key to efficient timing is in drawing
formal plans that can be referenced by all parties throughout the project,
selecting and ordering all materials and fixtures in advance, and being totally
flexible on when contractors are allowed to come and go. One thing that homeowners seem to constantly fall prey to is completion time estimates from contractors. The contractor will be estimating the time it takes to do the actual labor on demolition, new walls, texturing, taping, painting, flooring, and fixture installations. What they don't factor in is the design process, the finish selection process, the 2-4 months it takes to get custom cabinets built and delivered, the damaged range hood that had to be re-ordered, or the tile that was miscalculated and is now backordered. There are a million things that can and do add on to that "three to five weeks". Plan for 4-8 months, or more, depending on the size of your project and whether you are pulling permits.
research phase, when interviewing contractors and specialists, you will find
that some will be more positive, with the “should be no problem” approach, and
some will be more reserved, with the “well we might run into this issue”
While the “no problem” guy
might be more enjoyable to listen to, chances are he will come across the same
issues that the other guy anticipated, and your price will skyrocket after the
fact, rather than be factored in beforehand.
The guys that bring potential issues up at the estimate stage are the
ones with more experience, the ones you probably want working on your
They are the “Under-promise
Over-deliver” policy workers that will be straight with you, and handle things
safely and properly.
hurdle homeowners face when selecting their materials and layout is the
inability to visualize.
Before you get
estimates or do anything else, find a good designer and have them create a plan
for you, complete with 3D renderings in color, to help you visualize what your
finished space should look like.
them select proposed finishes and fixtures for you that all flow together.
It can save months of stress and hundreds of
miles on your car, and may be the difference between a mediocre result and a
Get it in
With any contractors you hire,
you must have a written contract.
should specify the scope of work, the approximate lead time, the price, and the
Like it or
not, a remodel will mean strangers in your home, around your family and
There is no way around
The guy that comes out to give you a
quote will not usually be the one doing the work, and the guy/s doing the work
will not always speak English.
your responsibility to vet your contractor, ask if he has employees, or if he
hires random workers.
If it’s a less
expensive contractor, it is almost always the latter, no matter what they
If you want to be able to speak
with anyone who is working in your home at any given time, be sure to address
this in advance with the foreman, and expect to pay a premium for English
speaking workers (or whatever language you speak).
Also, in order to keep your project moving,
you will need to issue at least one house key to the contractor.
Expect contractors to show up early, or
Make peace with having strangers
in your home before you begin a remodel. If theft is your concern, lock your valuables in a safe.
someone contradict themselves bothers you to the point where you need to
schedule an extra session that week, you may want to rethink your plan to
Remodels are a constant stream
of issues, often resulting in contradictions regarding pricing, timing, and
The best way
to handle it is to hire an all-inclusive higher end construction firm that
covers all the bases.
The more money you
spend on labor, the more detail oriented you can usually expect them to be, the
fewer surprises and issues you will be burdened with (not because they don't exist, but because they will mostly
be kept behind closed doors).
Alternately you can hire a designer to perform project management
But be warned, schedules will
change, items will be backordered/discontinued, pricing will vary, no matter what.
If your mental stability is dependent on absolute consistency, don’t remodel.
realtor or make peace with what you have.
focus too closely on one thing, or focus too closely on each individual thing,
a remodel can be a nightmare. The key is
to have a firm foundation. To start
with, develop a strong overall design plan.
Professional interior designers can help with this—they can develop a layout
and guidelines to keep you on track throughout your project. Second, vet any contractors you are
considering. Ask for references, check
Yelp reviews, use the NextDoor app.
Once you’ve found your qualified contractor or specialist, trust
them. Let them do their job. Don’t micro-manage or interrupt them unless
you sense that something is seriously wrong (like you ordered white cabinets and they show up in navy blue).
If you feel like there is a problem with how things are being done, call
your project manager. Do not associate
directly with workers (unless the worker is the manager). Call the manager or foreman. Document what is to be done specifically in
advance, so you don’t have to worry later.
Let them finish their work before you criticize. And if there are mistakes, then at least you
can point to the paperwork/drawings, and they will redo it. Make sure you have a primary point of contact
that you can rely on, such as a designer or project manager. If you are an engineer (or highly critical), either manage your
own subs, or hire a high end building firm, delegate complete authority, and
take a two month vacation while they complete the work.
In conclusion, your first step should always be to call a qualified designer. They can help you prioritize, formulate a design layout and theme, and give you some general recommendations on where to go for what. And remember, if you hire a project manager, it will only be worth the investment if you let them do their job. Listen to them, and give them the freedom to make your project a success.