What’s Your Role in All This?

From on March 03, 2009 in General Remodel

Yesterday, we got advice from a successful contractor with decades of experience in the business. Jeff Vasek, President of GroVak Inc., contributed a guest post on contractor communication, project management, and scheduling—all vital tools to get a job done smoothly and on time. The next question you might ask is, what’s a homeowner’s role in all of this, if any? Here’s your answer in Part 2 of Jeff’s post:

grovakkitchen.jpgFirst and foremost, choose a reputable and reliable contractor. You’ve heard it over and over—“research your general contractor before you sign a contract”. But it’s true! Talk to other clients. Find out if they were satisfied with his timeliness and reliability. Ask how often they communicated with their contractor, and who initiated the communication. If they were always “chasing” their contractor, chances are that you will, too.

Use the initial bidding process to screen your contractor. If the contractor gives you a timeframe when he’s going to get back to you with a bid, then misses his deadline, it’s likely that he’ll miss his construction deadlines as well.

Set expectations up front. Take the time at the beginning to carefully formulate your project. Define the scope of the project in detail. Tell your contractor what you want, and what you don’t want. This will require more up-front planning on your part, but will help you both be more effective and efficient.

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Tell your contractor what your timeframe and expectations are, then ask him how long the project should take. Your expectation may be very different from your contractor’s. After all, he’s probably remodeled many more bathrooms than you have. Ask him why the project will take that long, what (if anything) can be done to shorten the project, and what “gotcha’s” could prevent the project from being completed on time. Then do your part to avoid or reduce the gotcha’s.

Make the big decisions early—the earlier the better. It’s often tempting to make additional changes to a project when it’s underway. “The walls are already open,” is a phrase we often hear. But these changes usually involve delays in the project—not to mention more expense. The project will flow more smoothly if all of the design decisions are made before the project starts.

Do your homework and choose your “finishes” in a timely fashion. As I said earlier, there are hundreds of decisions that have to be made in the course of a major remodel, from the type of the kitchen cabinets to the style of the toilet paper holder! These decisions have to be made throughout the course of the project. Spend the time doing your homework, and make decisions within the timeframe set out for you.

Some of the decisions are minor, and others are major. But no matter the importance of the decision, it will be harder to make if you’re up against a deadline. Ask your contractor for a list of all the “finishes” you’re going to have to choose, and work on them ahead of time—even before the project starts. The more decisions you make early, the less stressful the project will be.

Ask your contractor for deadlines and to help you prioritize action items. It doesn’t help your project if you spend a weekend researching garbage disposals, only to discover that the contractor needed a decision by Monday on what granite you wanted for your countertops! The project schedule should help you with this prioritization as well.

It’s possible that your decision about the handle (called trim) for your shower is driving which valve goes “in the wall.” Your project can’t move forward until this decision is made. So make decisions and inform your contractor as quickly as possible.

Be prepared to meet with your contractor on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If possible there should be an agenda for these meetings, so that you are sure to cover the critical items. Come to each meeting with your completed action items, as well as lists of questions and/or concerns you have. Do whatever you can (and encourage your contractor to do what he can) to keep the meetings brief and to the point.

Life often gets in the way of a remodeling project. Getting the kids to soccer practice may be a more urgent priority than choosing flooring. But both are important. And delaying the flooring decision could well have consequences for your project. Set aside time in your daily/weekly routine to make project decisions. Your contractor can only be expected to make your project a priority if you make it a priority!

Remodeling is a large undertaking, perhaps one of the largest you will ever experience. It’s no wonder that the project, if poorly managed or inadequately prioritized, can take much longer than expected. Find a contractor who’s well-versed in project management and an effective communicator. And do your part to keep the project moving forward. These simple guidelines could keep your project from becoming one of those nightmare projects that other people talk about!

Photo credit: Kitchen and bath remodels by Grovak Inc.

—Guest post by Jeff Vasek of Grovak Inc.