Plan your game for a home renovation project

Suspension

Most HGTV shows give us the idea that home remodeling projects are done within 30 minutes and only involve one token issue right before the commercial break (“Chip, there’s a mold behind the molds!”).

But in the unreal world of reality TV, many major renovations — from additions to the kitchen and bathrooms to finishing unfinished spaces — involve multiple and time-consuming downtimes, testing your patience, family relationships, and wallet.

The potential star or villain in this mess is a general contractor. The right person can create a successful show of some sort, and bring in plumbers, electricians, and other professionals to work with your architect or designer, if you have one. Most importantly, the right remodeling company develops a relationship with you, collects your opinions and instructions, and responds to them; Communicate openly about problems and solutions; and guide you towards better ideas and cost-saving solutions when necessary.

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

Start by asking and answering basic questions.

What do you want to check? More living space? An extra bedroom and bathroom? Updating tired old rooms? New layout to correct dysfunctional floor plans? Will you use the remodeled or new space enough to justify the cost? Will it raise the market value of your home? Does this even matter to you?

The key is to develop a wish list and then weigh it against what you are likely to pay to achieve it. Will you really get $25,000 worth of fun out of this bathroom remodel? How often will you use a $50,000 home theater in your 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 a new bathroom upstairs, would you be better off building it or using that money to trade in a bigger house? Setting goals and thinking through your options will force some decisions on you – and help you set a budget ceiling.

Get design help and make a serious plan.

Architects, home designers, kitchen and bathroom designers can turn your wish list into a detailed plan with a rough budget. In general, you’ll benefit most from hiring an architect or home designer if you need a lot of design work—to add a large or complex one, or to tie together major changes in more than one room. Architects have the most education and training, but the difference between a qualified designer and an architect is often due to the latter’s knowledge of engineering, which is not an essential qualification for most home improvement projects.

Architects and home designers both charge by the hour or use a flat rate (preferred), depending on the level of service, or charge a percentage of the final build price if they oversee and direct the entire issue.

Kitchen and bathroom designers specialize in planning and planning those frequently remodeled spaces. You’ll find kitchen and bathroom professionals working for architects, design and construction firms, manufacturers’ showrooms, free-standing studios, retail chains, independent stores, and general contractors. Fees paid for the work of kitchen and bathroom designers who work for another company, such as a design firm or store, are often transferred to the price of the remodeling job or items purchased in the store.

Screening of potential contractors.

Hiring a contractor who can turn ideas into reality – as painlessly as possible and at a fair price – is the most important step. As you make a list of potential contractors, gather references to past clients and the professionals they work with—among them: Does the company do the type of business you’re considering? Do you follow plans? Does he get the job done when promised? Does it help you find low cost solutions?

Do you stick to the agreed rates? Do you solve problems right away? Do workers communicate effectively? Does it limit disruption in your daily life as much as possible? Are the results as professional and attractive as you would expect? Is it flexible enough to make changes at a reasonable cost if you change your mind?

Interview the candidates carefully.

Meet with at least three candidates (but preferably four or five), and review your plan in detail, asking specific questions about their experience and credentials as well as potential issues—from your perspective and from 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, check key credentials, including references, licensing, insurance, past lawsuits, and complaint history.

Get many offers and bids.

Mystery checkbook shoppers asked contractors to bid on two different projects. First function: extending and remodeling the kitchen, expanding and reconfiguring an existing family room addition and reconfiguring portions of the first floor to create a central hall. Other function: Master bathroom remodeling.

The price differences between one company and another were staggering. For a kitchen remodel, prices ranged from $74,000 to $169,500—a difference of about $100,000. For the kitchen and large room expansion and remodel, prices ranged from $113,000 to $205,000—a difference of $92,000.

the lesson? Get multiple offers. Also, don’t assume there is any relationship between price and quality. Many contractors do a great job at low prices.

In addition to ensuring a low price, collecting multiple bids will reduce surprises. If Company A suggests installing a header and Company B does not, ask Company B why not. If he tells you that it probably isn’t needed, ask the company to add it to their proposal as an option and avoid a potential surge in cost later. Another benefit of itemized pricing is that it makes it easy to calculate your savings if you downsize the job.

Carefully evaluate proposals.

Look for detailed rates, reasonable payment schedules, descriptions of guarantees, and flexible terms that accommodate inevitable changes.

Contractors often use suits for kitchen cabinets, appliances, worktops, and other products that you’ll choose later. The proposal might include, for example, three amounts for lockers depending on whether you decide on premium, standard or budget line. Before accepting an offer, do what you can to explain all of these details so that you establish a fixed cost for all parts of the job.

For items that you can buy on your own, check prices with retailers to make sure you can’t do noticeably better, especially for hardware, cabinetry, and fixtures. When calculating budgets and bids for clients, most remodelers mark up the prices they pay for retail and wholesale sources, sometimes a lot.

Choose the winner and then get an official contract. A good contract includes a detailed description of the work, who will do the work, price and payment terms, quality standards, warranties and guarantees, how to handle changes in scope of work, and start and end dates. You must require that the Contractor secure all permits and approvals and require the Contractor to provide you with applicable mortgage clearances prior to each payment you make. And it should make it clear that you will say when the job is done.

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A contract better protects you from shoddy work if it reduces your down payment and increases your down payment. The more money you can withhold until the end of the mission, the more leverage you will have to make sure the mission is done well and according to your agreement.

There is a lot you can do to help your project run smoothly. Give in to some hate. Parts of your home will be a mess, your things may be stored, and your privacy will suffer from intrusions. To prevent errors and avoid misunderstandings, reach out to the project manager every day and ask for daily schedules.

Make sure you are available for questions and deal promptly with surprises: no contractor can anticipate every problem; When an additional element appears questionable, find a compromise that you and the contractor can live with.

Don’t take advantage. When you’re overloading with a lot of money, asking a worker to toss some old stuff in the trash or unpack the gutter as he climbs the ladder may not seem like a big deal. These perks really drive some contractors crazy.

If the work is not done to your satisfaction, do not pay until the contractor corrects it.

Kevin Pressler is executive editor of Washington Consumer Checkbook magazine Checkbook.orgIt is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers obtain the best service at the lowest prices. It’s backed by consumers and doesn’t take any money from the providers that evaluate it (everything from auto repair shops to doctors to roofing workers). You can access checkbook ratings for general contractors in the Washington area for free until February 10 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Remodeling.

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