By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.
Recently, I was asked a popular question from an editor at SheKnows.com, "What do contractors wish homeowners knew?" With the popularity of DIY-everything nowadays, homeowners may be feeling a little more ambitious to do their own home renovation or remodeling. While there are some projects that can be done without hiring a contractor, we feel the bulk of your remodel or renovation should come from a professional. Given the complexity of today's projects, the new building technologies and the increasingly rigorous requirements of municipal, state and federal agencies, most projects are better left to licensed contractors.
When hiring a general contractor, there are a number of things to consider. First and foremost, do you get the feeling that you will be able to develop a good working relationship with the contractor? When there are issues (and there will be issues), does this person strike you as the type who will be reasonable, calm and open to compromise? Get and check references and if you have the time, ask to see a couple of completed projects so you can assess the level of workmanship. Is this company you are hiring a profitable company? Yes, you want your contractor to be economically healthy and have the ability to weather ups and downs in the economy so that you won't be left holding the bag if they go belly up. How long have they been in business? How many people are in the company? Do they mostly do their own work or mostly subcontract the work out?
Over the years, we've seen a number of DIY remodels/ renovations and unfortunately most of the ones we see are not successful, since we are called in to bail them out when things go wrong. By the time we are called, either the owner has given up in frustration or the local building inspector has issued a stop work order. The problems we've seen range from multiple and blatant code violations (low ceilings, narrow doorways, incorrect stair rise and run, etc.) to inaccurate layout of walls, things out of square, level and plumb, etc. We say, leave the core elements of a project in the hands of your general contractor. You will sleep easier at night!
Leave yourself enough time to plan your project carefully. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get as much information figured out ahead of time as possible. This means plans, selections, elevations, fully developed window, door and finish schedules, as well as a full set of specifications. This will require a good deal of homework but it is well worth it. Get a designer or architect involved early and develop a clear set of plans and specifications so that when you go to solicit estimates, the contractors will have a very clear understanding of what is to be expected of them, both in bidding and executing the job. Interview multiple contractors and get at least one involved early for preliminary pricing of the schematic set of drawings to make sure that the project is not beyond your budget. Avoid making changes during the project, it's a budget buster.