For a while now I’ve been writing about my recent experience with purchasing and renovating my home, a small apartment in bustling city center.
One of the more difficult steps in this process was renovating our home. Home renovations have some characteristics which make them extra difficult to plan and execute:
1. Uncertainty is high
2. The professional knowledge at our disposal is scarce
3. Our experience is very limited while the contractor is well versed
4. The costs of a single mistake can be relatively high
5. The work takes place at our home thus creating more pressure on us
Understanding these crucial elements is essential to a managing a successful renovation. While the following advice I provide from my own recent experience won’t assure surprises won’t happen they will greatly reduce the risk associated with them.
This is my list of 15 practical tips for successfully navigating your way through home renovations:
#1 Get professional help
My readers probably recognize by now how strongly I feel about this particular advice. Architects and interior designers get paid because they have added value. Professional help is crucial in any field which requires a level of expertise and experience which is unavailable to us.
Our architect saved us from many mistakes and helped us greatly in deciding which of our plans is feasible and within out budget limits and which plans will never leave the drawing board.
As in all aspects of life pricy designers and architects are abundant and pretend to offer greater value in various forms: from feng-shui interior designs to spiritually designed homes. If that’s your cup of tea it’s ok, just be aware of the price you’re paying for this. A good proficient architect and interior designer will save you 80% of the headache with significantly lowers costs (as always, it’s all about marketing).
#2 Have an agreed bill of material and work
I was surprised when I heard how many people get into home renovations without a proper summation of the scope of the work. This is absurd and is the worst thing you can do when renovating. This is obviously a clear and sure way into early arguments with the contractor on what is included and what was left out in the initial agreement which will usually end in you constantly paying more and more (remember the pressure part?).
Another aspect is properly pricing your renovation. You have no way of comparing two offers if you don’t have one defined and finite scope of work and bill of materials. Each contractor will make an offer based on his assumptions and understandings which will eventually change after the work begins.
A bill of material and work should be a tabled document providing information in very high resolution which will enable the pricing of each work and material unit.
#3 Shop around and let them know you do
Use your bill of material to shop around. The high resolution pricing will enable you to negotiate better with each contractor as you’ll know exactly how much each material and work unit should cost.
The most beautiful part of this process is that the contractors themselves will provide you with that information.
#4 Don’t hire the cheapest contractor or a rouge contractor
I personally never buy the cheapest available. It ensures getting lower quality 99.9% of the times. I agree expansive doesn’t mean better but the correlation exists without a doubt.
A cheap contractor might prove to be very costly. Remember, no one works for free. If the offer is cheap something is paying the price: work quality, material quality or he might have future plans of sticking in some ‘unexpected’ costs.
Make sure your contractor is a professional with the required certifications. Cheap is costly! Just imagine getting stuck midway into the renovation. You’re at his mercy.
#5 Sign a contract
Contracts sound scary. Who needs all that legal lingo? A handshake is as good as a contract. Right? Wrong! You definitely need to sign a contract with your contractor. This binding and legally anchored document is your assurance if things go wrong. Better yet, it’s an excellent measure towards making sure things don’t go wrong. A contract is your leverage on the contractor. Remember, we are the weak party here and we need all the help we can get.
If a contractor doesn’t want to sign a contract or tries to convince you it is unnecessary, take that as a bright red flag and think three times before you hire him.
Make sure your contract includes all the following:
a. Agreed dead line and penalties or rewards – No renovation ends in time. You will get a more realistic time estimate if the proper motivators are set in the contract. This, in turn, will help you plan better for things to come.
b. Agreed price per bill of work and material – Naturally your contract should include the agreed upon work and the agreed upon price.
c. Agreed payment milestones – Payment milestones are a very important aspect of planning a project. Don’t agree to pay too much too early. Payments are the main motivator for the contractor to keep on working.
#6 Plan to overspend by at least 20% and don’t be surprised by surprises
Even if you’ve agreed on a price you should plan for surprises. The initial décor you thought would work seems plausible. You suddenly discover some bad wiring, etc.
We’ve already noted the level of uncertainty renovations hold. Plan in advance to spend 20% over your agreed price for the work (this might mean lowering the work down a bit if you’ve planned on your entire budget).
#7 Coordinate your expectations
Are you a perfectionist? Let your contractor know. In such negotiations and price offers people plan and price considering reasonable circumstances. Do you simply must have each tile spaced exactly 2.1 mm apart? Let him know in order to price accordingly and remove future arguments and conflicts.
Remember each expectation comes with a price. The more you communicate your wishful thinking and expectations to your contractor the better the chance you’ll make them happen with a lot less conflict but with higher costs.
#8 Perfectionism should be leveled
I believe there is little room for perfectionism in construction unless you’re willing to pay a very high price for the best workmanship and materials. Don’t expect to get something you didn’t pay for. If a 2 degree deviation in the bath tub prevents you from sleeping consider renovating very carefully.
#9 Be there
You can’t replace good overseeing and inspection. Your presence will greatly increase the chances of better workmanship and schedule. Don’t hesitate to ask and comment, probe and touch. Most of it isn’t rocket science.
Make sure you drop by often and sometimes unexpectedly. There is no other way to make sure you’re getting what you want.
#10 Have boundaries
The contractor is a person too. Keep your demands at a reasonable level. I’ve heard from many contractors (that didn’t have a contract and a bill of materials and work by the way) how frustrated they were by unreasonable and pricy demands from their customers. Guess it works both ways.
Reader Green Pastures suggested hiring a local contractor which has a reputation to maintain. I strongly support his advice. They hold all the cards and we must strive to maximize our bargaining power which way we can.bill, budget limits, contractor, feng shui interior, home, home renovations, interior designers, pressure, small apartment, Work