It’s a fact that as the seasons change, we get the itch to start sprucing up our homes. Whether you’re updating a kitchen that dates back to the disco era, or jazzing up a master bathroom that’s more blah than spa, now is the time to invest in improvements.
“Updating and/or adding living space to your home will increase value and comfort, giving you the benefits of a newer home without the need to relocate,” says Terry Keenan, president of HP Builders, a West Chester company specializing in luxury renovations and construction management. “Investing in your home now will yield benefits in the long term.”
In light of the sluggish economy, it’s understandable that many might be on the fence about tackling new home renovation projects. “Business has slowed down,” says Mark Fox, co-founder of Gardner/Fox Associates, a full-service construction firm in Bryn Mawr. “People are planning their renovations, but they’re being tentative.”
The housing market has slowed, so there are plenty of builders and contract-ors looking for work. “It’s an excellent time to do a project now because contractors are being competitive,” Fox says. “People can save anywhere from 5 to 15 percent on the total cost of a project.”
Deciding whether to take on a renovation is the first of many crucial decisions you’ll have to make. The second is who to hire. There are essentially two types of remodelers: design/build firms, which have both contractors and architects on staff, and general contractors, who usually work with an independent architect and handle only the construction portion of a project.
Managing all the nuances of a home renovation project, from fielding bids to monitoring the work through completion, can be a full-time job. And time is a luxury most of us don’t have.
“The best way for any consumer to take advantage of the current construction sale possibilities is to have a qualified construction manager or management company handle the bidding process,” says Keenan. “Construction managers can help with large or small projects, and enable the owner to have a professional partner in their project. The construction manager will make sure qualified tradesmen are hired, and that the work is done properly at a fair price.”
Keenan has heard many a horror story from homeowners who contracted a price for a renovation, only to endure changes along the way that greatly inflated the final cost. “A construction management professional represents the client’s best interests by making sure quality workmen are hired and quality material is used,” he points out. “A good residential construction management professional will know who and who not to allow into the bidding process, thereby ensuring quality work.”
A common mistake homeowners make is choosing the company with the lowest bid. “If the price sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” says Fox.
Gardner/Fox has been called upon several times to finish the work of other contractors who underbid the job and couldn’t afford to complete it. “It always costs a lot more to finish someone else’s job,” he says.
You get what you pay for. So seriously consider tossing out the lowest bid.
In these tight economic times, Main Line homeowners are definitely more money-conscious—even when it comes to renovation and remodeling projects.
“About four years ago, we were simply order-takers,” says Jim Benoit, a partner of Benoit & Czarnecki Design/Construction in Newtown Square. “Now, we’re back to being a consultant or a coach to clients, where we’re guiding them through the whole process.”
And most need all the help they can get in keeping to their budgets. “On the larger projects, people do have a specific budget and are willing to make certain concessions to stay within it,” Benoit says. “A couple of years ago, if people said they wanted to do this, that and the other, and they had $400,000, it wasn’t unusual for the budget to go up. Now, people are sticking to their guns.”
That said, almost anything is possible with a renovation project—if you have the money, of course. “Our job is to show clients the possibilities within their budget and how much extras are going to cost,” says Fox.
Once the project is underway, it’s the contractor’s responsibility to tell the client the true price of making changes. “As the project progresses, it’s natural for the homeowner to ask, ‘Can we do this or add that?’” says Keenan. “But they have to be aware that every change affects the budget.”
When choosing a company for your renovation project, talk to friends and neighbors about their experiences. “We’re remodelers and renovators,” says Benoit. “There’s a lot of guys out there now who are laid off and are looking for work, but where are those guys going to be three, four, five years from now if something comes up with your home?”
Choose a reputable company with an established history—one that will stand behind its work. Ask to visit recently completed projects and speak to the homeowners. Fox also recommends looking in on a job that’s currently underway and talking to the clients about their experience. “Make sure they’re doing the caliber of work that you want done with your project,” he says.
Most construction firms will work with homeowners on dividing projects into phases. “People will have us come in and do the plans for what they ultimately want to do over a five-year period, and divide that into more bite-size pieces—like putting on a two-story addition to a home and finishing just the first level,” says Benoit.
Whatever the cost or the complexity, the end result should be a homeowner’s dream come true.
“Our job is to get the job to what you want it to be,” says Keenan.
• Benoit & Czarnecki Design/Construction, 14 Clover Lane, Newtown Square; (610) 353-4644, benczar.com
• Gardner/Fox Associates, 919 Glenbrook Ave., Bryn Mawr; (610) 525-8305, gardnerfox.com
• HP Builders, West Chester, (484) 905-5445, hpbuilders.net
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry recommends asking these questions before making any hiring decisions for a renovation project.
1. How long have they been in business?
2. Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
3. Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
4. Do they carry workers’ compensation and liability insurance? Always verify this information by calling the agency. A copy of an insurance certificate does prove that the policy is current. If licensing is required in your state, also ask if the contractor is licensed and call to verify compliance.
5. What is their approach to the project?
6. How many similar projects have they completed in the past year? Ask for a list of references from those projects.
7. What percentage of their business is repeat or referral business? Ask for a list of business referrals or suppliers.
8. Are they members of a national trade association?
9. Have they been certified in remodeling, or had any special training or education? Designations to look for: Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC) and Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR).
Kitchens. Walk-in pantries—in lieu of walls of cabinets—are popular. A mudroom area off the kitchen (with adequate space for storing families’ belongings) is another must.
Laundry Rooms. Bedrooms aren’t the only rooms homeowners want on the second floor. “That’s where they put away the clothes, so that’s where they want the laundry room,” says HP Builders’ Terry Keenan.
Entertainment Rooms. “Depending on the size of the lower level,” says Benoit & Czarnecki’s Jim Benoit, “people are asking for a media room, an exercise room and a kitchen area.” Wine cellars and bars are also popular.
Bedrooms. Homeowners want their master suites to be a refuge. Makeovers often include seating areas and expanded closets.
Bathrooms. Expectations are always high for the master bathroom—large showers, soaking tubs and, if space permits, his-and-her vanities.
The Back Yard. Popular amenities include outdoor kitchens (complete with a bar), pools and comfortable, weather-resistant furniture situated around fire pits or fireplaces.