Remodeling Done Right
Area pros offer proven tips for ensuring a successful project
A remodeling project often requires a substantial investment of time and money, but the payoff is sweet — an improved home that better suits your lifestyle and is more in keeping with current housing trends.
The process of moving from idea to reality can be relatively stress free if you take steps to ensure a successful project. We turned to area experts to round up some practical pointers.
Do your Homework
Take time to prioritize your values before beginning the process of selecting a contractor. “What I do not see enough homeowners doing is defining what qualities are most important to them before calling contractors to ask for estimates on the project at hand,” says Tara Dawn, co-owner and marketing manager of Opal Enterprises, which has offices in Naperville.
For example, one homeowner might place the most importance on finding a contractor with experience working on historic homes, while another might seek a contractor who is known for cutting-edge design. While some homeowners might prefer to wait for a popular contractor that has a backlog of work, others might want to pick someone else who can get started sooner. “Knowing how you define a project as successful will help you find the contractor that lines up with your needs,” says Dawn.
Don’t rely on posts on a local Facebook group — take time to thoroughly vet any firm you are considering for your project. Part of that will be information gathered during your own interactions with the company, but be sure to double check their references as well. “A reputable company will provide you with references so that you can see their completed work and talk to other clients they have worked with,” says Sue McDowell, owner of McDowell Construction in St. Charles.
Even if you are cost-conscious, you might want to put that aside at the beginning of the design process. “Pretend you are a kid in a candy store,” says Mike Campbell, operations manager for Reliable Home Improvement in Naperville. “Put everything you want in the project in the beginning. When you do decide to scale back, you may be able to keep some of the design ideas your contractor offers. If you limit yourself too much in the beginning, you may miss the boat on some of those small details that really end up setting the project apart.”
Sweat the Small Stuff
Work with a design-build firm that has experience with the type of project you are considering. Make sure they provide you with a comprehensive plan, including visuals, that outlines the details. “Work with a company that will help you map out a precise plan for your project,” says McDowell. “It’s important to exhaust all possibilities and make sure the design is right. You don’t want to get all done and say ‘uh-oh’ or “I wish I would have . . . ”
Consider More than Money
Though everyone needs a budget, don’t make decisions on price alone. “Remodeling is a service and not a commodity,” explains Dawn. “Each proposal is going to include the value that the contractor will bring to your project.”
Personality matters, too. “It’s all about who you mesh with the best,” adds Jeff Pavlatos, president of Silver Leaf Construction in Burr Ridge. “There are a lot of reputable companies out there that do a great job, but it’s best to make sure you find one where you connect with the people you will be dealing with.”
Get it in Writing
Remodeling projects are not like birthdays — no one likes a surprise. “It may sound sort of trite, but get things in writing, both the contract as well as all the details, no matter how big or small the project,” says McDowell, who notes that, in the excitement of the planning stage, it’s easy to focus on “big picture” ideas only to later find that some of the details expected are not included.
Once you have it in writing, be sure to read through all proposals, contracts and other supporting documents. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. “Unhappy projects result from unrealized expectations. These unrealized expectations can be avoided by being very informed,” says Dawn. “Take your time and get all the information you can.”
Keep in Touch
Maintain an open line of communication with your contractor. “Communication is the most vital part of a good remodeler/customer experience,” says Brad Hogan, production and sales manager for Hogan Design and Construction in Geneva. Make sure you are comfortable with a prospective contractor’s communication style. Find out whether there is a job superintendent or point person you can call or text with questions or to receive updates. Most companies have a system for keeping clients in the loop.
Silver Leaf, for example, offers a digital platform that allows clients to log in and view information such as product selections, change orders and daily site-superintendent logs. “Everybody is busy, and we’ve found this is a great way to communicate and stay in tune digitally with our clients,” says Pavlatos.
Trust the Process
Find out exactly how the remodeling process works for the company you are considering hiring. You should have a clear road map for how your remodeling project will proceed, from initial design all the way through to completion. A company may do excellent work, but if their process does not work for you, you may want to seek a different firm.
“Whoever you hire, trust their process and their systems. They are tested, tried and true, and if you try to go against the grain, it could be a nightmare project,” says Pavlatos.
Leave it to the Experts
Though most homeowners are savvy online shoppers, special deals or offers on fixtures and other products might bring more headaches than savings. “Sometimes you can get a real deal, but then can’t find someone to install it. Many installers won’t warranty a product if they don’t provide it,” says McDowell.
There are other benefits to purchasing products through your contractor. “We have faith in the products in our showroom. There are popular faucets we don’t carry, for example, because we’ve seen too many problems with them. If you trust our company, trust our suggestions,” says Campbell, noting that if you find something in a style you love, your contractor should be able to offer something with a similar look.
Working with your contractor on selections for a remodel well ahead of time can also ensure products are in and all parts are accounted for well before your project gets underway, which is important to staying on schedule. Says Hogan, “All selections should be locked down and on site prior to starting to prevent delays.”
Remodeling Red Flags
High-Pressure Tactics. Remodeling is a big undertaking and comes with a big price tag. A reputable contractor will allow you the time to review your options and make a decision.
Unrealistic Timeframe. If the completion time for a project sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Life does not imitate the sped-up timelines shown on HGTV. “The initial or design phase takes more time than you think — sometimes up to 60 days, plus you need to allow time for building permits. That’s all before you even break ground on a project,” says Pavlatos.
Payment Due Upfront. Be leery of those who require payment in full before the project begins. This offers you less protection as a consumer. Most reputable contractors will provide you with a payment schedule that is spread out over the phases of the project.
Long, Unexplained Delays. If work suddenly ceases and the reason has not been communicated, this is cause for concern. “There are interruptions in every project, but big spaces of time when no one is there with no explanation is a big red flag,” says McDowell.
No Written Warranty. Good contractors will stand behind their work and should provide you with a written record of what is covered and what is not.Edit Module