When you bring contractors, carpenters, plumbers and various tradesmen into your home, you are opening up a considerable part of your family’s home life to them. Not only do you need to affirm that they are capable professionals; assessing their integrity is imperative as well. You need to know not only can trust them to coordinate the project effectively, but also that they will respect your family, your home, and its contents.
You can avoid most serious problems with a little planning and insight. You want both competent and honest workers in your home; by referring to this list of the top 10 questions to ask a renovation company before hiring them, you will improve your chances of a successful and stress-free renovation.
1. Insurance and bonding – Make certain your renovator of choice is fully insured and bonded. It’s recommended that you ask for the particulars of their insurance coverage early in your discussions; your renovator should carry at least $2.0 Million liability coverage. On your part, it’s important to let your insurance company know you are renovating; they may suggest a renovation rider is added to your home for sufficient coverage during your project.
2. Design - One of the most important items of your project is the overall design. Some renovators will only build what an architect drafts, without offering in-house design services. Consider using a renovator that offers a Design-Build concept. The benefit with this is that the designer and construction team are synchronized. The designer is creating what can feasibly be built within your home’s actual structure; while the renovator ensures that what is being designed will actually work onsite. Keep in mind…anything can be created and built from a design; but a trained, experienced renovator can help offsett unnecessary costs; in many cases with some simple plan revisions. A common complaint from homeowners is that they hire an architect only to find that once the design was completed, it was beyond their expected budget parameters.
3. Budget – Start with a realistic budget as you begin your dialogue with your renovator. Though this may be difficult, it’s imperative that you have a clear understanding of your investment parameters. Make sure both you and your renovation firm are on the same page; nothing is more disappointing than having the design completed only to find that it was outside of your budget directives. Understanding budgets up front and allowing the architect to design within those parameters will ensure good foundation for future discussions. Find out up-front what type of payment plan, or progress billing is expected, as well as what sort of deposit is required. ‘Fixed-Cost’ as opposed to ‘Cost-Plus’ will allow you to more accurately follow your renovation budget, and will avoid large and expensive cost overruns. Understand however that changes mid-way through your project will affect your overall timing and project costs.
4. Project time-lines – A detailed project schedule is vital for a renovation of any size, so be certain to ask specific questions about when the job will start, how long each phase will take etc. This information will be part of your project plan, so plan to get it early and get it “set in stone.” Of course, you need to be flexible (mid-project changes may happen), but if you do not have a detailed timetable, flexibility will turn into extended (and costly) delays. You may ask to see an actual timetable of previous projects to see how timely they have been completed. Ask the contractor you are interviewing what their policy is for homeowner accommodations if the renovation isn’t finished by the completion date. (Make sure and ask for this in writing, as this is one of the most often complained about issues with renovation contractors.)
5. Warranties – You will need to know what kind of warranties are supplied; both on the work itself as well as the materials used in the project. You should keep track of any warranted work or materials so that you are prepared should any problems arise down the road. All RenoMark contractors are required to offer a full two year warranty.
6. Portfolio – The calibre of the renovator’s website should give you a snapshot of various galleries of before and after photos. Take a good look at the contractor’s portfolio and make sure that you are satisfied with the level of their work. Drive by some of their current and finished projects to see how their work looks “up close and personal.” You may also wish to request a ‘tour’ of projects under construction. A great deal can be determined by something as simple as jobsite cleanliness and attitudes of staff and trades you encounter on the site.
7. References – Checking contractor’s references is crucial. Not only do you want to hear testimonials about their work, you will want to discover if they are part of any homebuilder or tradesman associations. Being part of professional organizations means the contractor is well informed of the latest designs, as well as best building practices. Checking references means possibly speaking with other homeowners for whom the contractor has worked; but equally important is to determine their standing with the City’s licensing board and the Better Business Bureau.
8. Job supervisor – Subcontractors & Suppliers – Make sure that you know who the onsite supervisor will be for your renovation. What is the person’s experience? Will they speak and make decisions for the contractor in his absence? If the contractor uses subcontractors, make sure they are fully licensed and WCB insured as well. You also need to understand how the communication flows between you and them as you make your various product selections. A good renovator will have long-standing relationships and purchase liaisons with reputable suppliers and subcontractors. A truly wonderful service that will take and enormous amount of pressure off of you during the selections process is if the renovator has an in-house interior designer to assist you during this very important stage. You might want to insist you have this level of service since the sheer volume of available product is literally in the thousands of different varieties. Working with an experienced interior designer will avoid the proverbial second-guessing that could occur with selecting something as simple as a paint colour or backsplash tile with literally in excess of a thousand different varieties of these selections.
9. Permits – The contractor’s expertise here is essential. Ensure your renovator of choice is up to date on all permit regulations and requirements, and ask about the time-line for obtaining permits. For example, with many of Calgary’s new land use bylaws, new permit applications may be required including land use assessments and development permits. A good renovator is fully versed in the entire process; once again you are transferring responsibility to a professional. The specialized permit applications can be extremely onerous even for a professional renovator, let alone a homeowner with little or no experience dealing with planning and development officers at City Hall.
10. Appliances and Other Hardware – It is perfectly understandable that you would want to get fair costs for the appliance components of the project. The way to avoid problems is to understand your renovators process in advance. If the contractor provides a list of preferred suppliers or distributors, it is likely because they have a long-standing relationship with them. Dealing with the contractor’s regular suppliers will typically mean a smoother selection process; prompt warranty follow-up, and an overall more relaxed renovation experience.
Like any sizable endeavour, a home renovation can be complex by nature. The best overall rule for managing this kind of project is clear, continuous communication. Nothing should be decided or done in the dark, and everything should be undertaken in accordance with the plan, the budget and the timetable…and make sure you get it all in writing.
It is mostly a matter of common sense and self-discipline. Make the plan and stick to it as closely as possible, while still allowing for some mid-stream changes if necessary. Remember that the goal is to enhance your family life by making the center of it, your home, as comfortable, welcoming and secure as you can.
Remember to stay positive, and determine to ‘partner’ with your renovator; treating your chosen renovator with dignity and respect could very well foster an increased level of purpose on their behalf, resulting in a collaborative, more enjoyable renovation experience. Consider your home renovation another adventure in life, and decide to enjoy it!