all images courtesy of Sweeten and the Sweeten blog
A remodeling project gone wrong is a nightmare situation for any designer or homeowner… and it happens way more often than it should! You know the story: Work goes on longer than expected. Jobs aren’t done properly. Shortcuts are taken. Costs are higher than they should be. We live our lives in our homes, but too frequently, less research goes into hiring a contractor than buying a new car or choosing a hairdresser. Luckily, today on the blog we have Sweeten. Recently called “The Renovation Game-Changer” by Domino magazine, Sweeten prides itself on making the best match of renovator and general contractor—and its services are free. Today we were fortunate enough to be able to sit down with the Sweeten team and discuss what to look for and what to expect when hiring a contractor. Here’s what they had to say.
“What are a contractor’s key responsibilities?”
What it boils down to is superior project management and communication skills. Contractors should be getting things done and making your life easy—not a headache. Here’s the checklist of responsibilities any good contractor will be able to fulfill:
- Obtain proper licensing, insurance and additional documents required by city, state and specific to building needs.
- Review site conditions and all relevant documents and drawings in order to fully understand the project and generate a bid or proposal.
- Specify the final scope of work, schedule and eventually a contract.
- Define the payment and deliverables schedule.
- Request and follow advice from the architects, engineers or design team.
- Manage and coordinate general aspects of a project, like site requirements.
- Provide skilled labor, tools, equipment and various services.
- Coordinate subcontractors and other trades required by the scope of work and oversee the quality of their work.
- Maintain schedule and communication with clients to track deliverables and payment.
- Review project completion with client and final payment.
“What should your expectations be when working with a contractor?”
When you first meet with a potential contractor, you should partner together to make decisions about the scope of the work, materials, timeline, and how you two will be communicating. Contractors have lots of skills, but mind-reading is not one of them. How often do you expect them to check in with you? What is the payment schedule going to look like? Be clear, be direct, and be decisive. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you want. At the same time, it’s important to be open to a contractor’s ideas and suggestions; they’re the professional with a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding construction. And perhaps most importantly, make sure you have everything in writing.
It’s very important to trust your contractor and trust the process. So do your due diligence and ask for references and actually call them to make sure they are happy with the contractor’s work. Ask your contractor to see similar completed work. And make sure some of the previous work and references aren’t too new. It’s easy for new projects to look great. Research how an older project has held up over time.
“How do you know when you need to hire a contractor?”
When considering your scope for a renovation and whether you need a general contractor versus a handyman or DIY, a good place to start is by weighing the level of labor your project will require: are you hanging things on walls or actually breaking into them? Are you re-grouting tiles or replacing them? Smaller projects to make repairs or patch over errors are handyman ready, whereas larger-scale projects that may implicate your electric or plumbing will naturally require a permit or inspection, in which case a contractor with a state Home Improvement License will be obligatory.
For first-time renovators, labor intensity may be hard to navigate. If you live in a building with a co-op or condo board, your alteration agreement may have parameters that will give you guidelines for whom to hire. In other situations, checking out your state’s Department of Building will give you a sense of what types of projects will require a permit. The most important thing to remember is that cutting corners with unlicensed workers may not be worth the risk.
“How much should you be paying? What are the real cost expectations?”
In the NYC Metro area, you can expect a kitchen renovation to start at 20K, a bathroom renovation to start at 15K, and a gut of a total apartment to start at a minimum of $100/per square foot. The details around your particular project and space will increase or reduce cost. Here are a few items that you should prepare to pay extra for:
- If you are looking for an extra layer of design assistance on top of what your contractor can provide in terms of space planning, or would like more hands-on direction with decorating (selecting materials, fixtures and finishes, artwork) by hiring a design professional
- If your project necessitates use of an architect, stamped drawings, and filing and pulling permits
- If your project requires opening up walls and your electrical or plumbing need to be updated to meet current codes
- Changes that affect egress (external entrances or exits, like doors and windows), use (changing a dry space to a wet space, or vice versa), or occupancy (combining apartments, adding or removing number of bedrooms on record), as these need to be on record and approved by the building department, as well as the fire department.
“What are the top three things to look for when hiring a contractor?”
(1) Are they communicative? Make sure that you can trust your contractor to be communicative and responsive throughout the entire renovation process, ensuring that both parties are on the same page—especially in terms of timeline.
(2) Do they fit with your personality and style? First impressions do matter! Not only is it important to make sure your contractor can successfully carry out your vision stylistically, but make sure you hired someone that you like and want to work with.
(3) Does my contractor have recent, reliable references? It is important that you are able to view recent references of similar projects that your contractor has completed. You should be aware of satisfaction levels of their past clients.
“How do you find a contractor to work with?”
When reviewing contractors, start by looking for someone with experience in your neighborhood or with your particular type of project. This can help you narrow down the field from thousands of general contractors to just a handful of experienced professionals. That’s what Sweeten does, matching our clients to a selection of contractors determined by location, budget, scope and style of that type of job.
Once you’ve done that, make sure to look for someone who is able to provide quality references and photos. When we consider GCs who have applied to join the Sweeten network, we ensure that they have completed transformational renovations and happy customers who are willing to rave about the completed work even years later. This indicates that the contractor’s work has held up over the years. Don’t be afraid to ask a contractor to see some of their completed projects in person or to speak to their past clients!
Sweeten is a free renovation matchmaking service that connects New York Metro and Philadelphia homeowners with the best general contractors, providing personal support until project completion. Post your project on the site at sweeten.com or read more real-life renovation stories on the Sweeten blog.