Hire Contractor-- 3. View recent work. After looking at a contractor's portfolio, request to visit a few projects similar in size and style to yours. Try to check out one that was recently completed, one that's under construction and one completed five to 10 years ago. Ask yourself: Does the work carry a warranty, and are problems corrected? How does the construction site look? Did the older finished project stand the test of time? 4. Check references. Ask for a list of references. In private, discuss with previous clients their experiences working with the contractor. Ask: Was it a pleasant working relationship? Did they and the contractor communicate well? Was the contractor fair and honest? Was the project completed on schedule and within budget? Were there extra costs or surprises? How were problems handled? How was the quality of craftsmanship and follow-up?
Hire Contractor--5. Understand the contract. Decide on the contractor you wish to hire and while your plans are in the permit-review process, discuss the different kinds of contracts available and ask for one to review. Ask for updates to the construction bid if plans change for any reason. Do not sign the contract until your permits have been approved and all costs have been finalized. Be aware that there are always unknowns in the construction process that create change orders and additional costs. This is normal. Expect it. Allow 5 to 8 percent of your total budget for these extras. With good planning, design and management, they can be minimized.
Create a Garden Room--Imagine this sitting area in the middle of an open lawn. “Cozy” is not an adjective that comes to mind. But enclose it within a simple vine trellis and a rich bed of greenery, and it takes on an intimate personality conducive to hours of conversation and relaxation. Tip: If your goal is to create privacy for your dining patio or reading room — or any space where you’ll be seated — a 5-foot-tall hedge or wall is all it will take to make you disappear. Any taller and the space could feel claustrophobic. And keeping the top within easy reach makes trimming less of an ordeal. Privacy from neighbors--Don't block off your entire view. Landscape architect Clodfelter is all about privacy, but he likes to open up small windows between his property and his neighbors' for the occasional "borrowed view." Here in his own garden, he used jasmine and ivy to create a partial partition but left the middle of the trellis wide open.
Create a Garden Room--Break up your space. Whether your garden is large or small, breaking it into smaller spaces — each with its own boundaries and personality — creates the illusion of more space. The solution can be as simple as erecting a partition that insinuates a separate space and serves as a gateway. In the garden here, an open grid of wood slats does double duty as a backdrop for a commanding focal point.
Questions to Ask Contractor--1. What is our schedule? A schedule is more than just a start and end date. Having a schedule that outlines tasks and timing will give you a big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines for things such as tile and countertops. It will also give you a benchmark so that you know if things are slipping by a day or two. With small projects such as kitchens and baths, schedule is everything. The cabinet lead time determines the start date and sub-trades need to be scheduled in quick succession, for instance. Don’t start without a schedule that tells you what days and times workers will be on site. brant3 Timing of payments is a touchy issue to begin, give yourself some leverage. Last payment when you are completely happy with the work. Also give yourself all the out's possible with a contractor or sub such as keeping to the time schedule, quality expected, etc. Get it and keep it ALL in writing. If nothing else just to document the discussions..you will be glad u did. Nothing is too small to detail on paper. Tip: write an issue on the wall for all to see, to be painted over later (no kidding). For instance...'FIX LEAKY PIPE!!' PLAN on cost's being more ...
Questions to Ask Contractor--4. How will you communicate with me? With every mode of electronic communication at your fingertips, you may have some ideas about how you would like to receive information about your project. Your contractor likely has specific ways he or she likes to communicate, too — daily emails, cloud-based schedules or maybe just phone calls. Make sure you understand how you will be contacted and receive information. If the contractor's format doesn't give you what you think you'll need, agree on a method and format so that you’re not in remodeling limbo on a daily basis. Weekly meetings at a specific time are an effective way to make sure you see your contractor in person to get your questions answered. noreaster88 Great article! I would add one...ask about their clean-up policy. You do not want to be left with a pick-up load (or multiple pick-up loads) of drywall, tile, and lumber scraps that have to be taken to a landfill, and I say this as someone with a crawlspace with about a ton of that still to be dragged to the dump.
Questions to Ask Contractor--5. What part of my project concerns you? There’s always something unknown about a project, or an area that is most likely to trigger an immediate change order. Odds are, your contractor already knows what that is. Talking about it upfront and running some worst-case-scenario numbers or doing some early, selective demolition to get more information could be the best way to get a handle on what may be ahead. pgeis Great list -- I would add that in addition to asking your contractor questions, it's even more important to ask questions ABOUT your contractor -- BEFORE you sign that contract. In this business, it's all about word of mouth. Be sure you get some. Find out where your state posts licenses, complaints, arbitrations, etc, and check to see what you can learn. Try Angie's list. Even if you haven't used an architect to design your work, see if you can buy time for an architect to look over the contract and advise you on the provisions for change orders, payment, and how to get out of it if things go terribly awry. An architect is not a lawyer, but knows project management, what is typical, what works, and what often leads to problems.
Questions to Ask Contractor--6. What will happen if there is a change order? Change orders can be easily handled in your construction contract. A common way to document change orders is in writing, where the change in scope of work and the price are noted and signed by the client and contractor. Some contracts also note the change in schedule, if applicable. Make sure you have a plan in place to document the unexpected and expected changes that happen along the way. cvsharke Changes to a project will ALWAYS cost money. Deletions to a project may not reduce the cost as you think it should. Don't wait until the end to be presented with the final bill--insist up front on WRITTEN costs involved in ALL CHANGES. They don't like to stop in the middle of a project to do this--but it makes a huge difference in your budget. And will effect your feelings about the finished project and your contractor. George L. Ewbank Change orders or additional work orders should be in writing and approved prior to work commencing and will almost always add time the project. Good communication between the Homeowner and contractor should be maintained to manage everyone's expectations.
Questions to Ask Contractor--7. How will you let me know I need to make a decision? There are many ways to organize a list of decisions — from spreadsheets, to lists, to notes on a calendar. But all of these methods focus on the same outcome: giving you clear direction about what and when you need to make a decision on something. Asking for a list and deadlines will help you keep organized and ensure you are able to shop for materials and make decisions in time to meet your contractor’s schedule. Braitman Design Studio I keep a working spreadsheet of all costs that I review with my clients as often as needed -- often weekly. This ensures that everything that changes the total cost -- from selection of fixtures and materials to change orders and "while you're here" requests -- is integrated into a total cost so that both the client and I know the impact on the bottom line as or before decisions are made. Here's an example of the spreadsheet -- if your contractor doesn't provide something similar, you can do something like it yourself and ask him/her to help you keep it up-to-date during the course of the job. http://www.braitmandesign.com/home-remodeling/budgeting-for-a-remodel...
8. How do I reach you after hours? Knowing how to reach your contractor on an emergency basis is just as important as your contractor being able to reach you. Exchange all your numbers — work, cell and landline — so that contacting each other won’t be a crisis in itself. by Ventana Construction LLC Add to ideabook by Ventana Construction LLC 9. When do I need to be available to meet? Even if you set up a regular weekly meeting, there may still be necessary additional meetings. We usually schedule an electrical walk-through on the day the electrician sets boxes and can lights so that everyone can review their placement and function before wires are run. Another key day is when the tile-setter works on layout. There are a number of ways to set tile, and having an on-site meeting is the best way to make these decisions. It’s also possible to have your architect or designer attend those meetings in your place. 10. What kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done? Contracts frequently call out end-of-project paperwork — lien releases, marked-up plans with as-builts on plumbing and other utilities, copies of inspection reports, etc. But there may be additional items yo...
? for Contractor--1. How is your company structured? General contracting businesses can be organized in a number of ways. Understanding who owns the company and who is assigned to tasks will give you an idea of the company’s capacity to handle paperwork, manage your project and provide you with the service you expect. 2. Who from your company will be at my house each day? This could be a company owner for a few hours or the whole day, or a lead carpenter or superintendent full time, or a lead carpenter plus a project manager for several hours a week. Understanding staffing will help you get a handle on how job security will be handled and how much attention your project will get from staff at the jobsite and in upper management. It'll also help you understand the skill level of those involved.
? for Contractor--3. How do you handle scheduling? This is an open-ended question that can cover everything from how the contractor schedules staff and subcontractors to how a schedule is communicated to you. Many contractors use a task-based schedule with a start and end date to schedule not only your project, but the project that is scheduled after yours. Having a copy of this will help set expectations about sequencing and help you understand when material decisions will need to be made. 4. Who will communicate with me once the project starts? In some companies the same person who makes the initial visit and estimates your project is also the person who performs the work. In others there may be separate salespeople, estimators, project managers, superintendents and a crew of carpenters who perform the work onsite. Understanding how information about your project is handed off from one employee to another or kept track of by a single employee or owner is important. Know how the company works so you can compare it to others and select the one whose system best aligns with your needs. 5. Is my project the kind you like to do? This is a great question that very few people ask. The...
? for Contractor--6. Deal-breaker questions: Will you let me do part of the work? Can you leave the bath unfinished? Will you let me supply all of the materials? If you want any of these or other things that don’t leave the contractor in control of the materials and able to complete the project in its entirety, make sure you discuss it up front. Many contractors will take on projects only for which they do all the work from start to finish, but some are more flexible. Go down this path very carefully so you are clear about what the contractor is and is not finishing. 7. What do you subcontract? Things vary by state, but usually a licensed subcontractor does work that is limited to one or two trades, while general contractors can have their own staffs and subcontract out to other companies for some work. Knowing what work the contractor will do with his or her own forces and with subcontractors will give you a sense of how the contractor runs the business and the skills the employees will bring to your project. Check with your state licensing board for specifics about contractor licenses in your area.
? for Contractor--8. How many projects do you have going at one time? Generally, the more employees a company has, the more projects it will be able to run concurrently. Asking this question will open up a conversation about the number of employees the company has and how multiple ongoing projects are handled. A follow-up question is, Will the person assigned to manage your project be managing other projects at the same time? 9. What can I expect at the end of the project in the way of paperwork and lien releases? The final paperwork generally does include lien releases, final permit sign-offs and some information about warranties. It can also have as-built drawings showing mechanical locations, photos of the interior of the home before insulation is installed, manuals for installed equipment and a complete list of subcontractors on the project. Ask about this in advance so you know what you will receive and if you'll need to track something down or document something yourself. 10. Do you have any concerns about what we have planned, or think something might be a problem once we get started? This question will give you immediate feedback about the feasibility of what you want to ...
Gerald Lorentz Nice article; a good primer for the uninitiated. I've done estimates for a number of years and the formula is quite simple: Materials Costs + Labor Costs + % Contingency Fund = Project Estimated Cost. I use a simple computer spreadsheet with a number of columns: 1 - Item # (to be able to reference the task and cost when speaking about it.) 2- Task Description (drop a wall, remove debris, electrical relocation, install equipment.) 3- Total Cost (addition of 4, 5 and 6, below) I like to have this column next to the Task and not the last column as is customary. 4- Materials Costs (include subcats such as demo, build, furniture and equipment) 5- Labor Costs (Labor Rate/Hour x Estimated Hours for completing Task) 6- Contingency Anyone who needs an example can send me a note and I'll be glad to furnish - free of course!
Get the names of the contractor’s last three to five clients and ask all of them these questions. Did the contractor seem knowledgeable and resourceful? Was he on budget? Was he on time? If there were delays or cost overruns, was it the contractor who caused them? If so, how did he deal with them? Did the client feel the contractor worked collaboratively to come up with mutually satisfactory resolutions to problems, or was the tone combative? Were the clients happy with the workmanship and the contractor’s subcontractors’ work? Did he keep a clean site? How was he with follow-up after completion? Did he come back in a timely fashion to deal with inevitable drywall cracking and nail pops?
You want to confirm that no red flags pop up as you go through this part of the process. Generally you are looking for contractors who deliver a consistent level of client-first service. Those contractors that do are almost never the cheapest to hire, but sometimes the extra 2 to 10 percent in cost can be worth it.
Fixed Price Bid--A fixed price implies that the contractor will charge you X dollars at the end of the job — end of story. But most contracts have provisions stipulating that latent conditions (for example, things that are unseen, such as termites in existing walls or large underground impediments to excavation) will add to the price. Another potential issue with a fixed-price contract is that it tends to put homeowners across the table from their team member (the contractor), as quality decisions are often dictated not by the scope of the project but by the budget. This means that compromises are made in how certain elements are delivered, due to cost implications (such as removing wall finishes like tile) or deleting elements altogether.
Time & Materials Contract--A time and materials (or cost-plus) contract is sometimes more favorable to a homeowner, as it can be viewed as more transparent. Simply put, your contractor buys materials and charges you an hourly rate to install them. But in the hands of an unethical contractor, you might find yourself on the wrong end of a hefty bill, as latent conditions also tend not to be covered. In reality, most contractors will break up their bid into a part that is fixed (for the parts they have a good handle on) and a part that is not fixed. This makes your contingency even more critical. (As we mentioned previously, you should set your budget and then subtract 20 percent to arrive at your real construction budget.) The contingency is not for “splurges,” but accommodates the usual price variations on a construction project.
Comparing Bids--Your team should help you confirm that what is in the drawings correlates to the bid, so the contractor doesn’t miss anything. It is sometimes hard to do this without experience, because one thing on the drawing may imply several steps in construction or a different way to do things than the contractor might be used to. As part of the bidding process, what we like to do is go over areas that contractors should spend a bit more time on right off the bat in a meeting, so they cover all the items that are required. Remember, we all want the contractor to give an accurate bid, so he doesn’t get frustrated during construction by having to go back and redo elements of the building. As much as we advocate for our clients, contractors are running a business too and have bills to pay. And the good ones are in high demand, not just because they do great work, but also because they have a reliable method for assessing the work and the cost to the owners. And having a good contractor that can deliver your project far outweighs the apparent cost savings of a cheap bid up front.
Building a new house, if you have EXTREMELY detailed plans, is a much more known quantity. While most contractors will still prefer a cost plus type of arrangement (and note: that "plus" can either be percentage or fixed fee), if they are comfortable with the fluctuations in the price of materials, they will give you a bid. And these bids will be apples to apples. I will actually have both kinds of contracts. Cost plus for the site prep and foundation work, because we don't know what we're going to run into, and then bid/stipulated sum for the rest of it. If you want to go the bid route, narrow down the pool of potential contractors to those you really like and trust before asking them to put bids together. If they're all solid and vetted, why not go with the lowest bid? Do not ask someone you feel the least bit squeamish about to put a bid together. If you choose a cost plus arrangement, ask potential contractors about transparency. How do they document costs, and when and how is that information conveyed to you? This is important. If they do not have good system for this, they are either sloppy or dishonest.
When a general contractor estimates the cost of a project, the goal is to capture all the costs of building — from preconstruction pricing to the cleaning service that washes the windows at the end. Most will charge directly for all costs directly attributable to the project, and then charge a markup to cover the overhead costs that are a result of general business operations not related to a specific project. What specifically are general conditions? They fall roughly into three categories: site management, material handling and project management.
General Conditions--Site Management Site management includes all of the tasks that have to do with property protection and utilities. If temporary utilities are required — a temporary power pole or a temporary water source — expect that to be included here. A portable toilet for worker use is usually in this category as well. There may also be temporary storage or an office, depending on how much room there is to stage materials, and if there is dry space to work in so that plans can be consulted in a place out of the weather.
General Conditions--Site management may also include items like erosion control measures and permits required by a local jurisdiction if roads need to be temporarily blocked by vehicles and equipment, like concrete pumps and trucks. The costs may be a combination of labor costs and permit fees, depending on what is required. Flagging for traffic could also be included.
General Conditions--There’s also daily and final cleanup. On a large jobsite, it may take one to two hours or even more daily to make sure the jobsite is tidy and safe inside and out. It’s almost always more efficient to install materials and drop the scraps and packaging than picking them up as you go, so this means daily cleanup is a must. Contractors also usually count on final cleanup costs: A professional cleaning crew dusts everything, cleans out newly installed cabinets and ductwork, and cleans the windows.
General Conditions--Once the finish materials — flooring, tile, cabinets and doors — are installed, they are usually covered with materials like Ram Board, rosin paper and other protective coverings to prevent damage. Site protection can also include covering materials between the time they are delivered and the time they are installed.
General Conditions--Material Handling Material handling is the labor required to deliver and move materials around the jobsite. Often materials are delivered with a flat fee from a supplier, but when the truck arrives with the materials, the driver does not unload, or unloads in a location far away from where the materials need to be staged. That means staff onsite must spend time moving those materials where they need to go. This can include framing materials, millwork, cabinetry and windows. There are also one-off material needs that require a trip to a supplier, or can be met less expensively than paying the supplier’s delivery fee.
General Conditions--Project Management The third piece of general conditions costs is project management. Depending on the size of a project, management can happen in a few hours each week or require more than 40 hours a week. Some companies include just direct onsite management in this category, while others include in-office work done supervising the project. Project management can include preconstruction pricing; establishing scopes of work and meeting with subcontractors; creating mock-ups or ordering materials to show options; holding onsite meetings with the owners, the architect and other designers; and meeting inspectors to have work signed off on. It also usually involves creating material take-offs, ordering and scheduling delivery of materials, scheduling and assigning tasks to staff, helping troubleshoot subcontractors’ work and overseeing jobsite safety. Project managers also keep track of change orders, write agendas for meetings and communicate with clients and architects.
General Conditions--General conditions can account for 10 percent or more of the project cost, depending on the logistics, access and complexity of the project, so they are a significant factor in a project’s budget. Understanding how much of the budget goes to general conditions and which items are covered will give homeowners a good indication of how the project will generally be run in terms of security, cleanliness and oversight.
Scope of work contract--Aside from the nuts and bolts of construction materials you won’t see once the walls are covered, the scope is also used to document all of the finish materials to be used. These materials should be easy to check if you have been closely involved in material selection. If you have chosen wood flooring for your bedrooms and the contractor lists carpet, you know further discussion is needed. The scope of work can also document items that have not yet been selected. Those items can be either NIC (not in contract) or an allowance, which means there is a budget for the item even though it has not yet been selected. Notes can also be made if the homeowner will purchase certain materials (typically appliances, cabinet knobs and pulls, and sometimes other materials) for installation by the contractor.
Contract--Compare construction bids to the plans very carefully to make sure everything on the plans is listed in the construction bid. Otherwise, you will be surprised later with unexpected additional costs. We used a CKBD to draw up full plans for both the kitchen and the bath, and gave copies of the plans to contractors for bidding. We therefore had the expectation that the bids included everything except those items we specifically asked be excluded (we sourced and purchased many things ourselves, including cabinets, counters, appliances, tile, tub, faucets, etc). Imagine our shock mid-construction to learn that the bid didn't include: the built-in wall pantry, shelving inside the walk-in pantry, or (the biggest shock and extra expense), fixing the flooring in the bedroom where the old bathroom was removed. The bathroom had been a long narrow area along one wall. It was removed (thus increasing the size of the bedroom, and a room behind it was turned into the new attached bath. The result was a gaping hole in the floor to the raised foundation along one wall of the bedroom. When the subject came up, we took another look at the original bid and, sure enough, nowhere did the b...
Beware-- kristikrafft I recently had a contractor on a bath renovation try to get out of his extra labor on his original bid by trying to say painting it wasn't included in his price. He also originally promised when he wanted the job to smooth coat the old textured walls. When it came time, he tried to get out of the extra labor & ask to just patch up the old walls texture, which I declined. As a single female renovator, so many people attempt to low ball you to win the job. They then try to cut corners or jack up their prices on extras or add- ons later on. They Frequently get greedy and over confident that they can't get fired in the middle of the job while they do sub par work.
Hiring--1. Start with a detailed plan. This is the most important item before you even approach a contractor. Work with a professional designer or architect who can come up with a comprehensive plan to show your contractor so that he knows exactly what you have planned for your space. Walking your contractor through your space without a detailed plan in hand will allow the contractor to change his pricing as he goes, since the specifics were never discussed from the beginning.
Hiring--2. Provide a list of specifications ahead of time. When it comes to your finishes, fixtures, appliances and accessories, this is your bible. Choose your plumbing fixtures, finishes and accessories ahead of time, & save a lot of grief during the construction process by having the items on hand when they are needed.
Hiring--3. Price out your project. If you have been working with a designer or architect and you have a complete set of drawings and complete specifications, ask that professional to recommend a few builders to whom you can send your plans for pricing. Also, ask your friends whether they have a contractor they have been happy with and send them your construction package to bid on as well.
Hiring--4. Ensure your contractor is insured. drj1097I found a couple of key points that saved my sanity during a major renovation: 1. Work with some one who is positive, and has a "can do" attitude. I personally find being around negative people who only say "it can't be done" a real drag. They make the project effortful and tedious. And they crush your dreams. 2. Find a contractor who LISTENS and is genuinely interested in your project and your ideas and will help you bring your plan to fruition