Choosing to do a remodel is a major decision for most homeowners, and getting the information you need can be daunting. Every homeowner is unique. We all have different needs, budgets, and homes, so how does one go about getting the right information in order to choose a remodel in the first place?

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people about remodeling or repairing their homes as I've looked for the right client to work with. As a contractor, I ask myself if the client and I are going to be a good match while I execute their project. I’ve developed a system that allows me to make that determination quickly, so my time isn’t wasted on projects I’ll never see. As a rule of thumb, contractors are in a hurry to move on if you’re not going to hire them. But how do you know if you’re going to move forward with a given contractor if you don’t know the basics of your project—from budgets to timeframe? This dilemma can create a counterproductive situation that I believe contributes to many misunderstandings and nightmare projects!

This dynamic is also a disservice to the homeowner who is earnestly and sincerely wanting to be educated, so they feel comfortable making decisions about their home and their future (it's no help that there is so much misinformation on the internet). I decided one day to spend more time with homeowners that reach out to me, by answering their questions, offering suggestions, and providing real education. I typically offer a free initial 45-minute consultation, and a reasonable rate for any follow-up meetings. From a business perspective, I'm not making significant revenue on these consultations, but I think of my time as giving back to a community in need. I've learned that many people are willing to pay for in-person, unbiased consultations, and I'd like to share some of the expertise I offer potential clients.

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Who should you talk to first?

  • The first two questions any homeowner should ask themselves are: What do you want to specifically accomplish, and what kind of budget do you have? 

The problem with these questions (while essential) is that you may not know the budget needed to accomplish what you want, or you may be willing to change your expectations to match a budget. So who do you talk to as you seek clarity on these questions: an architect, designer, or a contractor? They all have valuable knowledge, methods, and expertise to share. A lot of owners talk to architects first—which is good—because architects bring a lot of knowledge to the table. The architects I work with like to have the contractor involved early in the conceptual design stages, to provide logistical and budgetary input. In these instances, it becomes a three-way conversation—providing the owner all the knowledge they need to arrive at a decision about scope and budget. 

Couldn’t you just talk to a contractor first and cut to the chase? The answer is yes, and I recommend it—because a knowledgeable, experienced contractor knows how to build things, and also what knows what those things cost. I deal with budgets and expenses every day, so my off-the-cuff estimate is more accurate than what an architect or designer might offer. Once I help a homeowner head in a direction that is best for them, I introduce a designer, architect, or some other service.

What questions should you be prepared to answer from a contractor?

  • Why you are thinking about doing this project, and what kind of budget do you have? 
  • What would you like to have done, including long-term goals?
  • Are you going to be in your home longer than five years? 
  • Do you want additional bedrooms, larger bathrooms, or perhaps an increase in general living space?
  • Are you expecting to grow the size of your family? If so, will that change your needs for essential areas like the kitchen and laundry room?

I will ask you these questions first, because that will help me help you. I don’t mean to pry into personal financial matters as it’s not my business, but knowing your thoughts on budget can help me educate you more quickly as to what you can expect for that amount. For instance, I may be looking at a $150,000 kitchen remodel after listening to what you want, but if your drop-dead budget is $60,000, then I try to gently and respectfully educate you on what that lesser amount will get you. The point of this conversation is to provide you with the knowledge you need so you can plan ahead in ways that are best for you! Maybe $60,000 was actually your poker face number, and I get a call from you the next day saying you were thinking of spending $300,000 on the remodel (and asking about next steps). I’ve had this happen before! The lesson here is that choosing a contractor to work with is more about trust than budget. 

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What questions should you be prepared to ask a contractor?

  • Ask about how the remodeling and contracting processes work, and how these processes interact with an architect. 
  • Ask about the permitting process. 

Seek out answers related to budget—be it a second-story remodel or a window replacement. The great thing about questions is that they can start a natural conversation about your home and your dreams. Keep in mind that during an initial conversation with a contractor, the budgetary numbers are rough estimates designed to get you to think about the relationship between budgets and scope. Verbal estimates cannot in any way be used to dissect details, because there simply isn’t enough information at this preliminary phase. Detailed budgets come later, through a more robust project analysis.

What’s next after an initial contractor meeting?

No matter the size of your project, the next step includes architects, designers, engineers, permits, inspections, site visits by the contractor, and subcontractors. This is when a detailed budget is flushed out that matches your project's scope. All that information has the added bonus of providing a specific path for the contractor's understanding of how your project is going to be accomplished. Expect the bid and design process to take time, and there may be a fee for these consultation services.  

Talking with homeowners feels like a privileged opportunity, where I get to share ideas, dreams, and smiles with my neighbors in the community. I hope you'll seek out consultations with a contractor or other trade professional prior to setting off down the path towards your next remodel, and I hope this information will help you get the most out of the experience! 

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