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Tips & Reference Checklist for Your Dream Renovation
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A renovation is only as good as the professionals who do the work. Here's how to assemble the right team for your renovation project.

Who's Who

Your first step is to decide which trades belong on your remodeling team. Complex jobs -- those that involve more than one room or that entail moving walls or building new space -- may benefit from the participation of several professionals. You'll certainly want to consider an architect-contractor duo or a design-build company for a big job. You might also bring in a kitchen or bath designer or interior designer. On the other hand, a designer or designer-builder may be your single source for a simple job.

Architect - An architect will develop a design, refer you to contractors, help you select a contractor, and oversee the construction to make sure the plans are followed. On large jobs, the architect's fee usually is a percentage of the construction cost. On smaller jobs, the architect may charge an hourly fee. Some architects will work on a consulting basis -- creating finished plans from your sketches or shepherding plans through the engineering and approval process.

Contractor - Once you have an architectural plan, the contractor makes it happen. The contractor reviews the drawings and specifications, providing a cost estimate to you and your architect. Then, the contractor's crews -- or the subcontractors that he or she selects and supervises -- tear out old components, move and upgrade the plumbing and electrical systems as necessary, and complete the new construction.

On most jobs, contractors charge a fixed price; changes are estimated and billed along the way. If you want more flexibility to design as you go, time-and-materials payment (a running tab of labor and materials charges) is an option.

Design-Build Company - These one-stop companies provide both design and construction services. Some have staff architects, and others supervise consulting architects they've handpicked. Most design-build firms have their own carpentry crews, but schedule subcontractors for the plumbing and electrical work. A benefit of design-build firms is that they keep communication simple: From design through completion, you're dealing with just one company and one team of individuals who are used to working together. Most designer-builders charge a design fee up front, but then credit it to the price of the job if you hire them to proceed. Often, the design-build approach costs less than the architect-contractor arrangement.

Kitchen or Bath Specialist - A designer on the staff of a cabinetry or product showroom, especially one with certified skills, will produce a complete room design or flesh out the rough plan drawn by your architect. Dealer staff or subcontractors will install cabinets and counters. Most showrooms do not charge a separate design fee; their flat fee for products and installation also covers the design work. If you're not looking for construction help, independent designers can provide designs only without trying to persuade you to hire other fee-based services you don't need.

Interior Designer - Don't make the mistake of hiring an interior designer only at the end of the project to select finishes and furnishings. The designer's role varies, from making product recommendations to drafting layout plans and helping you make smart decisions about allocating your remodeling dollars.

The designer may also help choose a contractor and oversee construction. Consulting designers charge an hourly fee. Those who have bigger roles may charge a flat fee and/or a percentage of the cost of products purchased.

Six-point Hiring Test

The phone book is full of design and construction firms. The trick is finding the ones that fit your project -- and you as client. Zero in on professionals who pass this six-point test:

  • They are experienced in remodeling the rooms in your plan. How long have they been in business? How long have they been doing the type of work you want?
  • Their references are good. Call references and ask questions about communication, workmanship, reliability, and responsiveness.
  • They have the required credentials, including the relevant licence to practice.
  • You like their work. Look at pictures. Visit recent jobs comparable to your planned project to assess design and craftsmanship. Visit not-so-recent projects to see how they've held up.
  • You trust them. It's essential to have a contract specifying exactly what will be done, the payment schedule, starting date, target completion date, warranties, dispute resolution procedures, and so on. But you should also feel as though you could trust the person with just a handshake.
  • They "click" with you on a gut level. Don't underestimate your gut feeling. You have to have open, comfortable communication with the people remaking your house.

Reference Checklist

To avoid facing "Why-didn't-I-ask-that?" remorse, take this list with you when you meet the references provided by your prospective contractors or designers:

  • Were there any surprise costs?
  • Was the professional flexible?
  • Was he or she willing to make changes as the project went along?
  • Were subcontractors or crew members pleasant to do business with?
  • Were your needs and wants taken into consideration, or were they simply glossed over because the pro considered him- or herself the expert?
  • Was the paperwork in order?
  • Are records complete?
  • Did you have any problems after your remodeling project was complete? Was the person quick to fix them?

Your Important Role

Once your team is in place, you can't just get out of the way. After all, it's your property and your money. It's up to you to make sure everything goes the way you want it to.

Before any work begins, hold a pre-construction meeting and make sure all the key players attend. This is the time to go over the plans and schedule, clarify who's doing what, and establish rules, such as use of your phone, bathrooms, etc. Once construction begins, meet with your designer and builder regularly to review progress.

As the project goes along, voice questions and concerns right away. Don't become intimidated; although your professional team brings valuable expertise to the job, the final decisions should always be yours.

Source: Kitchen Planning Guide

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