Renault of the Month: 5 red flags when hiring general contractors or home remodelers

Written by Nicola Cole Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Doing your first major home remodel can be a daunting task. It’s not always easy to know where to start and what to look for when deciding which home remodeling company or general contractor is right for you.

We’ve all heard stories of the renovation nightmare. As a professional home remodeling company, the last thing we want is for any homeowner to end up in a situation where they keep remodeling with no end in sight, or to hear that the initial estimate submitted has now doubled and the total cost is increasing day by day. So, this month, we’re looking at some red flags and things to ask to help you choose the perfect partner for your remodeling project!

Red Flag #1

A general contractor or home remodeling company tells you that they can start building in a few weeks. This should make you stop and wonder why.

We’ve heard from a number of homeowners in the area recently who tell us they can’t even convince renovators and dealers to return phone calls. As with the housing market, the building and home remodeling industry is still thriving. There is no excuse for not answering an email or a phone call, but the fact is that many companies don’t have the bandwidth to start any new construction projects until later in 2022/early 2023.

At Synergy, we can begin the design process within the next six months, but construction start dates are now reserved for new projects in early 2023. So, if someone comes to your home with promises of being able to start construction in a few weeks, ask questions about reason for its availability.

When it comes to how long it takes to complete a remodel, we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: No major home remodeling project will be completed within two weeks (and at minimal cost) from the time you sign on the dotted line. Any company or individual that tells us differently is disappointing. Thoughtful remodeling design takes time. Design comes first, followed by construction. We have a saying at Synergy “Materials wait for build, build doesn’t wait for materials” which means you had to make all the design choices with most of them ordered (especially things like cabinets and appliances that have long lead times – especially in recent times due to supply chain issues ) before anyone comes anywhere near your house with a sledgehammer.

The point is, if you’re considering home remodeling, have realistic expectations about how long the process will take. Start the conversation now and don’t call in early fall expecting to have your new kitchen by Thanksgiving!

red flag #2

The contractor gives you a cost on his first visit.

This makes us crazy! We know you’ll want to know on the first visit, but asking a professional designer how much a remodel will cost is like asking, “How much does a car cost?” The make, model, engine size, alloy wheels, leather seats, heated steering wheel, and third row you really want to carry the kids around add to the price. The same goes for home remodeling. Offering a free estimate for a simple pull out and replacement for a powder room remodel or to paint your master level is one thing, but very different for a full kitchen or other home remodel.

A number of things affect the cost of your remodel from changing the footprint (which usually requires plumbing, electrical, and/or mechanical changes), to the cabinet line you want to the level of finishes you expect. Nobody wants to be asked for change at every turn during the redesign process when you have no choice but to pay more to get the job done. Not every remodeler takes the same approach, but we’d rather be realistic about the cost with you up front so you know what you’re getting yourself into rather than hitting the end of the project with your budget and costs twice as much as you were initially told.

Read more at Square Feet Pricing for Home Remodeling: What Every Homeowner Should Know.

Kitchen remodel in Fairfax (Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction). At Synergy, we pride ourselves on coming on time and on budget for every home remodel!

Red Flag #3 The contractor has not worked on a project of the same size and scope as yours before.

This is a recipe for disaster. Before you meet any potential remodelers, find the contractor/remodeling company’s website and look at project examples to get a sense of the size and scope of the typical project they’re working on. Read testimonials and Google reviews – it’s a great way to get a sense of what the company is all about with real customers.

Cautionary tale! A picture of Project Synergy appeared in the marketing materials of another company they were just starting out and they didn’t have a portfolio of their own. If something doesn’t seem right for you, trust your intuition and ask to see photos from the actual projects they’ve completed.

Basement remodel in McLean (Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction). See more of our projects here.

red flag #4

You have been told that you do not need a permit to remodel.

If a contractor tells you this, one of two things will happen. You’re doing a small and simple pull-and-replacement type remodel and replace cabinets or worktops or They don’t tell you the truth. Why Lying? Because permits take time and cost money. Bottom line: If you are remodeling any part of your home that requires moving or adding mechanical, electrical, plumbing, or even walls inside your home, you need a permit.

Reputable companies will submit permits and obtain approvals on your behalf. Read more about why permitting is important and what the long-term consequences are if you decide not to apply for a permit here.

Kitchen remodel in Vienna (Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction). Was this Viennese kitchen remodel allowed? You bet he was – he’s one of us!

Red Flag #5

The contractor outsources all of their work to subcontractors.

Not all remodeling contractors or rebuilding companies are set up the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how to get carpenters, designers, project management, and specialty occupations (think plumbing, mechanical, electrical, drywall, tiling, etc.). Are they at home or from the sub?

When you work with a full-service design and build company like Synergy, there is usually an in-house team working on your project. The benefit of this is continuity and a single point of accountability with less likelihood of things being forgotten or dropped during deliveries. At Synergy, we have a team of carpenters, interior designers and project managers working on your remodel but partner with trusted specialist trades that we run on your behalf. Read more in Life Under Construction: Who’s In Your House?

Finally, don’t assume the contractor is licensed and insured. Ask!

Are you considering a home remodel and not sure what is possible or where to start? Give us a connection! Our consultations are free and we are happy to help you get started!

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