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2011 - Volume 1 Issue 1
Casas Bonitas
Article: Bob Skolnick
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It is important to emphasize right from the start that a professional remodeler requires a unique set of skills, in some instances different than a custom or production homebuilder. In particular, a professional remodeler typically must make evaluations of homes built several decades before. (Decades old homes were built to a different set of building codes and with appliances and materials of a different technological level.) The professional remodeler then has to take those evaluations and make sure the conversion of the present mechanicals (electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling) can be upgraded to meet the needs of the new plans. They also need to be conversant in the elimination of hazardous materials used in the past such as lead based paint and asbestos. Also, they must know how to make these changes with a family living in the house.


The remodeler you select
needs to fill the role of
Project Manager and
Coordinator. Here is what
I recommend you look for
and expect:

• A commitment to
communicating with you
and keeping you informed
on a regular basis.

• A knowledgeable planner understanding the scope of work and the most efficient order of work.

• An effective facilitator getting the most efficient results from the team and the sub contractors.

• Knowledge of the area’s subcontractor resources and a history of making good selections.

• Knowledge of the area’s wholesale supplier resources and the ability to get your selected materials at the best purchase price.

• Ability to schedule the workflow in an efficient manner.

• Ability to track costs and make frequent budget comparisons so adjustments can be made if costs exceed planning estimates.

• Regular job inspections to ensure all work is done according to codes and to professional standards.

In the profession of remodeling, the individual you select must be experienced. Even though working in a particular profession for any length of time does not ensure quality, the absence of experience should leave you to question the candidates’ capabilities to deal with situations that might occur after you crack open a wall. Also, given that in today’s building environment, there are many areas where a specialist should be consulted. It is important to engage a professional remodeler who can assume the role of team leader and resource coordinator. Temperament is important to get all of the independent suppliers and contractors to work together.

You should verify that your remodeler is licensed when one is required. New Mexico requires a contractor’s license for remodelers and Texas does not have a license requirement. All professionals should be insured and bonded plus carry workers compensation insurance for employees on their payroll. Sub contractors should also be bonded and insured. You should ask for evidence of insurance. In the absence of insurance, the homeowner assumes liability for injury to staff and damage to the home.

Ask for a written agreement that clearly spells out responsibilities, liabilities and levels of warranties for the work. A professional remodeler will warranty their work that is not typically covered under a product manufacturer’s warranty. The agreement should define the payment process for sub contractors. If the general contractor fails to pay the subs, the homeowner is liable and likely subject to a mechanic’s lien against your home. Always document this type of transaction. A lot of your money is involved in your remodeling project and you need to use sound business practices.

In selecting remodelers, ask several key questions. How long have they been in business? What is their background in developing skills as a remodeler? Do they have regular sub contractors that they employ or do they bid out their electrical, plumbing and HVAC work? Always ask if they belong to the Better Business Bureau and check their record with the bureau to see if there is any history of customer complaints. Ask them if they belong to any professional industry organizations such as NARI (National Association of Remodeling Industry) or the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders).

Ask for five referrals of work they have completed that is similar in nature to your remodeling project over the past several years. Take the time to contact each of the references they provide. You wouldn’t have major surgery without checking the credentials of the surgeon. In a way, your house is having major surgery. Ask whether they personally will be on the job daily or will they assign a supervisor. Spend time talking with them about your concepts for remodeling. Determine if they are really listening to you and develop a sense you can work well with them over a several month period or longer.

Once you have narrowed the field of candidates, add in the X-factor – what is their commitment to their profession. Do they keep learning? Are they committed to the integrity of the industry? We have all heard stories about contractors who have failed to satisfactorily complete their contracts. There are several organizations that provide remodelers and homebuilders the ability to stay educated on their profession and share ideas and information. The first is NARI, the National Association of Remodeling Industry. El Paso has an active and well-supported chapter. Las Cruces Remodelers should belong to the Building Industry Association of Southern New Mexico. Ask how active they are in the associations, and do they or did they hold office and chair committees. This level of commitment shows that your candidate cares about their industry and this should translate to caring about the outcome of your remodeling project.

Once you have selected your finalists, ask them how they determine their pricing of the project. You should be purchasing the appliances and other big-ticket items directly with your remodeler’s counseling. The actual demolition, reconstruction and installation work is driven by time to do the work and the materials selected. A cost estimate is just that – an estimate. The situations that arise that were unknown until the work has begun affect the overall cost of the job. The decisions about lighting fixtures, tile, counter surfaces and cabinetry also affect the overall cost, but these are your decisions for ensuring a satisfactory outcome.

Do not put the remodeler finalists in a position of low profit or no profit by asking for firm bids, and then selecting a remodeler with a bid at the low end. You get what you pay for and if the bid is low, somewhere along the line corners might be cut and you will be adversely affected. The better method is to partner with your selected remodeler, develop your plan and then cost out what you want. If you are over budget, then that is the time to speak with your selected professional remodeler and make adjustments on materials or scope of work. Remember, the appliances and materials come from common wholesale suppliers. Prices may very, but not widely. The time to complete a specific task may vary a little between contractors and their staff. In short, beware of low bids. The key is finding a remodeler committed to the ethics of the profession and to you as the customer. ///
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