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 for their specific project. Over the years, 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. 

Since contractors depend on projects for their income, they're typically quick to move on to the next client when a project isn't a good fit. But as the client, how should you decide which contractor to work with if you don’t know the basics of your project, like budgets to timeframe? 

I believe this dilemma creates a counterproductive situation that contributes to misunderstandings and nightmare projects! It's also a disservice to the homeowner, who sincerely wants to feel comfortable making decisions about their home and their future. (It's no help that there is so much misinformation on the internet.) 

One day—instead of offering my typical free initial 45-minute consultation and a reasonable rate for any follow-up meetings—I decided to spend more time with homeowners who reached out to me by answering their questions, offering suggestions, and providing real education. 

From a business perspective, I'm not making significant revenue on these consultations, but I think of my time as giving back. 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.

Daniel Westbrook Home Remodeling

Should you hire an architect, contractor, or interior designer first?

The first two questions any homeowner should ask themselves are: What do you want to 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—an architect, a designer, or a contractor? They all have valuable knowledge, methods, and expertise to share. 

A lot of owners talk to architects first. Architects bring a lot of knowledge to the table; but often, the architects I work with like to have a contractor involved early in the concepting and design phase to provide logistical and budgetary input. 

In these instances, it becomes a three-way conversation that provides a homeowner with the information they need to arrive at the right scope and budget.  

I recommend talking to a knowledgeable, experienced contractor who knows how to build things, and also knows what those things cost. I deal with budgets and expenses every day, so my off-the-cuff estimate is probably 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?

Knowing your thoughts on a 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 budget is $60,000, then I'll educate you on what that lesser amount will get you. 

The point of this conversation is to provide you with the knowledge you need to plan ahead in ways that are best for you! Maybe $60,000 was actually your poker face number, but after discussing, you're open to adjustments. I’ve had this happen before! The lesson here is that choosing a contractor to work with is more about trust than budget. 

questions to ask your home contractor

What should you ask a contractor before starting a remodel project?

  • How does the remodeling and contracting process work?
  • What role does an architect play in a remodel?
  • What does the permitting process look like?

Seek out answers related to budget, whether it's for a major second-story remodel or a minor window replacement. Keep in mind that during an initial conversation with a contractor, the budgetary numbers are rough estimates designed to help you understand 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. The great thing about these questions is they can start a natural conversation about your home and your dreams. 

What happens after your first contractor meeting?

No matter the size of your project, the next step is to involve architects, designers, and engineers in permitting, inspections, and site visits. This provides the contractor with the specific information they need to make a detailed project plan and realistic budget. Expect the bid and design process to take time, and know that there may be a consultation fee.  

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 toward your next remodel, and I hope this information will help you get the most out of the experience! 

How To Prepare for a Home Remodel

To learn more about the home remodel process, check out these relevant articles from Dunn Solutions: