If you are new to house rehabilitation or restoration – you’re not alone. The initial question I get all the time is obvious: “What will this cost?” This is a nearly impossible question for any general contractor (GC) to answer immediately. Now, if you are doing a small renovation such as a bathroom, you may be able to get a ballpark. My specialty is gut rehab, so bear in mind that these tips are for significant renovations. So, if you are beginning the renovation process, here are some tips on how to navigate the process:
Site Visits First
Renovation is exciting! You probably have a lot of ideas to discuss. Set up a meeting with your potential architects and GCs to walk them through individually. This accomplishes two goals: 1) You get to spend some time with each candidate and evaluate their personalities and creativity and 2) You will organize your thoughts more and more each time you walk through.
Once this is complete, this will help you…
Start the Drawings
If you are doing a gut renovation, you will not be able to get bids from reputable GCs if you do not produce architectural drawings. If there is a GC who does not require architectural drawings, run away my friends… run away. First, architectural drawings ensure that all of your GC bids are comparing apples to apples, so you do not have to decipher each line item individually. Second, a good architect will represent you. When your GC comes to you during construction because the stairs on the drawings cannot be constructed due to an unforeseen issue in the existing wall, your architect will be there to talk shop so you don’t have to pretend like you understand the problem. Your architect is there to explain issues in laymen terms so you can ensure we’re all on the same page and action items are clear. Not to mention you can’t get a general permit without drawings – without a permit, you get…well, no one knows what you’re getting. That’s the problem.
Set Realistic Expectations… Sort Of
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. As a GC, no worse feeling exists than telling a homeowner that we need more money. By planning for the worst case scenario, we’re typically able to stay well within our budget. When I look at a building, I’ll assume the foundation is unstable, we’ll need every permit under the sun, and all systems – HVAC, Electrical, and Plumbing – need to be ripped out and installed new. A general rule of thumb is to set a “sky is falling” budget and add on a 25% contingency. So, if you are planning a $250,000 renovation, make sure you have at least $312,500 in the bank.
You cannot live in a property while it is being gut rehabbed. Trust me, you don’t want to be there. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s loud, people are in and out constantly – most of all, it’s dirty. There are no words to describe how dirty a construction site is after demolition. It is not a humane place to be. Also, I put a code box on each project and sub-contractors have full access to the building for their scope. Most of them show up at 7am on weekends.
I love it when my clients come in armed with information. If they look at surrounding properties and recent rehabilitations in the area, then please share the information with me! The more information I have to work with, the better. Granted, I’ll do my own research, but I love it when clients are well-informed – it not only makes the process easier, but also much more productive. That being said, I usually have to remind homeowners that no two homes are the same. There are reasons why one house may have cost $100,000 to fix, while another nearby location was double the cost.
This is very important from a homeowner’s point of view. I highly welcome and encourage my clients to ask, or even over-ask questions. We have a laundry list of things to discuss. If you have a question in the back of your mind that you may think is dumb, ask it anyway. Sometimes, we GCs take for granted what homeowners do and do not know. This is why an initial walk-through is so helpful – If a floor isn’t level, I can physically point it out. Same goes with possible water damage or structural issues. It is better to be armed with inquiries than merely shaking your head, smiling, nodding, and saying “oh yeah, I see what you’re talking about.”
These are just a few things homeowners can expect from the bidding process. While the cost is never set in stone, at least you can arm yourself with a chisel.