Great Expectations in Residential Remodeling (11-19-2018)

What’s the matter Bunky? Did the last project take a bad turn and now the client hates your guts? Now you’re worried about getting lit up on the internet? Or, the contractor you hired to remodel the kitchen is turning your dreams into a nightmare? My question for contractors, architects, designers and homeowners is this;  were your expectations reasonable and understood by the other people involved?

It’s not hard to find someone with a story about a remodeling project that didn’t end well. Whether it ended in disaster or mild disappointment, you still walked away with regret and, in some cases, anger. But, are you angry with the right person(s)?

Responsible contractors, architects, designers and homeowners alike begin a remodeling project with a reasonable plan, certain expectations and good intentions. However, each has a very different perspective. From the homeowner’s perspective, they see what the home will look like when the project is done and how their life will be improved. That is after all, the reason for the project.

From the contractor’s perspective they see what is there now and what needs to be done to finish project and get paid. Any deviation (change) in the plan or unforeseen problem represents delay. Delays cost time and time is money.

The architect and/or designer provided the design and some or all finish materials. They of course want to see a successful project completion. However, they may not actually have any skin in the game by the time the project starts let alone wraps up. Save for their reputation.

Considering these very different perspectives its easy to see how a project can become derailed. Rarely discussed, let alone provided for in writing before starting the project is the gap caused from these two very different perspectives. Gaps equal lack of detail. Where detail is lacking assumptions are made. You know what happens when you assume.

A respected architect and residential remodeling contractor once told me; a remodeling project is like a ten-month long pregnancy. When you get towards the last few weeks you just want it over. He was right of course.

Here are some things to consider that may help both sides achieve their goals or meet their common expectations.

  1. Do your due diligence. Check references for all the people involved in getting the project to the start point. Make phone calls, don’t rely on “on-line” reviews.
  2. Start with an actual detailed budget. A budget isn’t the amount you would like to spend. That’s a spending wish. A real budget has actual lines of expenses on it tied to specific items with actual brand names and model numbers and quantities where applicable.
  3. With an actual detailed budget, you can commit to a contract. It should be fair and reasonable and of course legally sound. This may require a legal review. If so, that should be in your budget too?
  4. Expect and budget for the unexpected. A complication does not mean someone is/was incompetent or dishonest. It happens. As a rule of thumb, complications in remodeling are more likely and more expensive the older the building is.
  5. Make sure all insurance, licenses, bonds, permits and funds are in place.
  6. Communication is key. Just because two people speak the same language it doesn’t mean they can communicate. When you ask questions in the form of the answer you want. For instance: “You will have the drywall done by Friday, right?” Or, “You will have the color picked out by tomorrow morning, right?”. In both instances you are asking a leading question. Human nature being what it is the person being asked the question may feel pressured to tell you what you want to hear. You may get the desired answer but not necessarily the outcome you want or need to stay on schedule.
  7. A daily walk-through and weekly review of the plan is a good idea. Not only a progress check but a review of the goal. Make sure everyone is focused on the same goal and what is expected of everyone involved to achieve that goal.
  8. If the homeowner feels overwhelmed by the attention required to all the details, they should discuss it with the contractor and/or pay to have the original architect or designer provide the over site and necessary attention to details required.
  9. This is reality not TV. Be realistic. You are not going to get a $100,000.00 gut rehab of a kitchen in three days for $20,000.00. The project is not going to look like the $100,000.00 kitchen seen in a magazine or web site if you are trying to get away with a $20,000.00 total expense.
  10. Finally, do your paperwork. It doesn’t end with the due diligence I recommended in point one, it begins there. Have your paperwork in order and keep it that way. That means document your meetings and reviews. Take pictures at the end of each day.

    A contractor may want to take pictures during the day to prove codes and regulations are being followed. Pictures showing good practices and procedures are being followed can be critical in an OSHA or EPA review which could happen months after a project is completed.    

    A homeowner may want the pictures to prove the project was done correctly by competent people when selling. Perspective homeowners may not want to buy a house if they think it was a “flip” or remodeled badly hiding problems and creating a money pit.

In summary, managing expectations and following the recommendations above will require more of your time. Balance that against the loss of sleep and money if things go bad. Don’t rely on local inspectors and codes to make everything right. A home built or remodeled to code just means it was done to the lowest standard allowed by law.

Good luck with your project. And don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep.  

The Ask the Kitchen Guy Blog by Jeff Kida is the property of DDS Design Services, LLC. All rights are reserved by the owner.

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