Remodeling a home isn’t easy. Whether it’s something small like changing the floor and fixtures of a powder room or swapping the carpet and paint in a growing child’s bedroom or something major like a room addition or a kitchen remodel, there are large and small questions that every homeowner will—and must—both ask and answer.
Knowing these questions and being able to answer them correctly will simplify your project and improve the outcome dramatically. What are they? Let’s start with the obvious.
1. Can you afford it?
Every homeowner would like to change something about his or her home. It’s just part of living in a space and the appeal of home renovations is strong. A remodel can convert the irritants of daily life in a home into a blank canvas that can be filled in with anything we desire.
But that costs money and in most cases, it costs money we don’t have sitting handily in a Swiss bank account. So before slapping any paint on that seductive blank canvas, do the math and determine an affordable budget. Then stay within it, no matter how difficult that seems.
2. Will it add value?
While it’s likely that many of us plan to stay in our homes for a long time, it doesn’t make sense to spend enormous amounts of money on improvements that won’t add value to the place. That being the case, one part of the budget calculation needs to be whether or not a specific project will increase your home’s value—and by how much.
Do your research, look at your renovation as an investment—not just a personal benefit—and when you calculate the cost of that investment, be sure to include whatever you expect to spend in interest on the money you borrow.
3. Do you want it “Good, Better or Best”?
“Good, Better, Best” is the terminology that home improvement retailers have adopted for their product tiers. The terminology roughly translates as “cheap, good, and expensive.”
You need to know the level at which you hope to complete your remodel or else you’ll run the risk of falling for upsells and exceeding your budget faster than you can say, “Oh, that’s very nice.”
4. Do you prefer traditional or contemporary?
Most of us remain blissfully ignorant of the technical details that separate one design school from another. But designers, salespeople, and contractors will use this terminology liberally when you start talking about your project. Taking some time to familiarize yourself with concepts like “Art Deco” and “modern architecture” will help a lot when it comes time to discuss your preferences.
5. Are you going to do that yourself?
Thanks to the DIY revolution and the rise of big home improvement retailers like The Home Depot, it has become far easier and more common for homeowners with very little construction experience to take on renovation projects themselves.
Doing the job yourself will generally cut your budget by half, but if your answer to the above question is “yes,” then you’d better spend some time in the How-To section of the Internet or your local library so you’ll know what you’re getting into ... and how to get out of it again!
6. Who is your contractor?
If you don’t plan to do the work yourself, then you’ll need someone—or an array of people—to do it for you.
Choosing a contractor (like us) might be the single most important decision of the entire remodeling process. A good one will more likely perform the job well and potentially within your budget, while a bad one can cost you thousands of dollars now and down the road.
What kind of other questions will tell you if you’ve found the kind of contractor you’ll feel comfortable with? Here’s a checklist of sorts that will get you started. Feel free to add questions of your own.
- What makes you different from other builders in our area?
- Are there areas where you really stand out? What are they?
- How do your fees compare to other builder’s fees?
- How many projects like ours have you completed?
- How many projects do you do in a year?
- Will you provide us with a list of customer references?
- What type of warranty do you provide?
- What was your worst building experience, and what did you learn from it?
- How long have you been building?
- How is your fee structure set up?
- How many other projects will you have going at the same time as ours?
- How do you handle requests for changes?
- Do you supervise the project yourself or have a site supervisor?
- How often will you come to the job?
- What work does your crew do and what do you subcontract?
- Can you show me a sample contract that you use with subcontractors?
- Can you provide us with a bank reference?
- Can you provide us with a copy of your insurance certificate?
One of the most important decisions you’ll make after deciding to embark on a home remodeling project is who will be doing the work. Why is this so important? Not only will you be spending a significant amount of money on this project (which means you want it done right), but you’ll also be spending a fair amount of time with this person and his workers. If you’re going to have someone in your home for weeks, you want it to be someone you trust.
Finding a Good Contractors List
Here are a few warning signs that can help you find those good remodelers and avoid remodelers who lack the skills—or the integrity to work on your home remodeling project.
Lack of references.
If remodeler you’re talking to is only willing to give you a couple of references you should wonder why. Make sure the references you get are recent and that they’re credible. Call them! Better yet, go look at work the remodeler has done. Would you be happy to have that quality in your home?
Any reputable remodeler will provide you with a list of projects they’ve worked on—including contact information for the homeowners. Make sure there are some current projects on the list. It’s also important to actually follow up with one or two to find out about the experience. A contractor who won’t furnish references is hiding something.
Push to sign a contract.
If the remodeler attempts to rush you into signing a contract before you’re ready, that’s a red flag. A building project is a big decision and no reputable contractor will rush you.
Trust is a huge part of choosing a remodeler. You want to deal with someone who is completely above board. If you have trouble confirming a contractor's license or registration, it's a warning sign. In a similar way, you'll want to check with local organizations to ensure you're dealing with a trustworthy reputable company. For instance, Sunwood is a member of both the Wallingford Connecticut Remodeling Association and the Northford Connecticut Home Building Association.
Specifications are too vague
If the specifications for your project are too vague (what type of materials, what quality standards, exact finishes, specific timelines) you should ask for clarification. Incomplete or vague specifications are a way that some contractors take advantage of homeowners and run up the price. You don’t want to hear: “That wasn’t covered in the original contract” when it’s something that should have been covered.
When you interview a remodeler, you shouldn't be the only one asking questions. You want a contractor who is looking to provide a solution that fits your needs. If the remodeler you're considering doesn't ask you questions—or if you get the feeling that he or she is simply not listening to your questions or concerns—walk away. You want to choose someone who is going to help create your dream house—not simply complete a task.
Unscrupulous contractors will sometimes include allowances that are inadequate to complete your project. It’s an old trick. While your initial bid may look great, the remodeling contractor will come back and hit you up for what he really needs to complete the project. And once he’s got your house torn up, he’s got you over a barrel. What it really comes down to, is trust. If you suspect that a contractor is trying to take advantage of you—you need to just walk away. It’s an awful feeling to go through a whole project wondering if you’re being taken.
If you get two or three bids on your remodeling project, it’s pretty obvious when someone is out of line. And while no one wants to pay too much for a project, there’s also a significant risk in taking a bid that’s too low. Click here for a post that looks at specific areas to check out when a low-price bid seems too good to be true (and by, the way, it almost always is too good to be true!).
Take your Time to Build a Home
You’re the one who has to do the research and make the decisions about what kind of home you want: how you want things to look and feel, and how you want the overall traffic flow of your house to work. You’re the one who knows how your family lives, and which rooms will get the most use.
The good news is that there is a lot of helpful information out there. There are plenty of pictures and ideas on sites like houzz.com and Pinterest. We even offer free downloads on creating an ideal kitchen or designing a beautiful bathroom retreat.
But sometimes you’ll come up with questions that require a specific answer that isn’t covered in an online guide. And in those cases, what you really want to do is ask an expert what he thinks.
Now you can! If you’re considering building a custom home, or if you’re looking at starting a home remodeling project, you can talk to an expert—a Sunwood Development home advisor. It’s a short and simple, no-obligation 10-minute phone call. One of our advisors will bring you up to date on some current design trends, and tell you about what others in your situation are doing. You’ll get a budget range to make sure what you have in mind is feasible. And we’ll answer your specific questions. If you want to take things to the next step—great! If not, we promise not to bother you!
Building a custom home or undertaking a significant remodeling project requires some work on your part, but we’d love to help you shoulder the load—and get the great results you want!