5 Key Steps Before you Build or Renovate your Home

Define What You Want To Do

Before you talk with a contractor, sit down (husband and wife, everyone concerned) and write down, as best you can (it won’t be perfect), a description of what you want to do. For small projects involving appliance repairs or the installation of a small piece of equipment, this will be quite simple. Even then, do it: getting your thoughts together before you talk to someone is perhaps the most valuable step in this entire process. For a bigger project involving renovation or expansion, be as specific as you can. Don’t worry what it looks like, how it sounds – just get down your thoughts.

Answer questions like:

  • What is it you are going to do?
  • Why are you going to do it?
  • How big does it need to be?
  • Generally what should it look like?
  • What should it match?
  • How is the inside going to be treated?
  • How is the outside going to be treated?
  • What goes on the roof?
  • What goes on the sides?
  • What goes on the floors?
  • What goes on the walls?
  • What is your budget?
  • How soon can you start?

Where possible, if you have seen pictures in magazines of something similar, attach these right to your notes. You would do well to even spend some time in the library reviewing the “Home and Garden” variety magazines. Some articles may be superficial but they will provide ideas to start you off on the right foot.

Discuss the Project with Contractors 

Locate at least three contractors who work in your area. The best way is by talking with neighbors who have had work done. There are other sources, including building supply outlets, attorneys, appraisers, architects, engineers, and banks. Take some time (evenings and weekends are probably the best for most contractors) to talk with each contractor about your project. At this point you are talking, not making commitments, not asking for prices, just simply discussing the project. Ask them questions about what they think, and what ideas they might have. Spend an hour or more working with contractors simply discussing the project.

Define Every Detail of the Project

Now that you have discussed the project with the contractors, go back on your own (and with your family), and go through step #1 again. Be as specific as you possibly can, define everything that is important to you in the project.

Here are just some questions to ask.

  • What is the budget? (How much are you willing to spend on the total project?)
  • What is the schedule? (By when do you want the project done?)
  • What hours of the day are you willing to have work going on in your house?
  • Do you expect the project to be cleaned up every night?
  • Is there painting to be done by the contractor (or will you do that)?
  • Do you want a special interior trim?
  • Should it match the existing?
  • What kind of landscaping is involved?
  • Is a special kind of window important to you?
  • What kind of lighting?
  • How many electrical outlets?
  • Is there heating required? Cooling? Special environmental considerations?
  • What other costs will be involved besides what you have to spend on the contractor, such as finish painting, interior decorating, etc.?
  • What will you need to do to prepare the project for the contractor to start, such as moving furniture, choosing materials, etc.?
  • What kind of carpeting or flooring is required?
  • Is there a particular kind of shelving or cabinet that is important to you?
  • Are there any plumbing fixtures involved? If so, what kind do you want? what color? What kind of faucets and hardware?
  • What sort of doors do you want? Hollow core? Solid core? Should there be special locks on the doors? What kind of hardware is important to you for the doors?
  • Are the interior walls to be insulated for sound dampening?
  • Do you want any outside electrical fixtures or lighting?

Don’t stop until you have exhausted every possible thought that you and your family can come up with in terms of the things that are important to you in this project, and, again, wherever possible, include pictures, sketches, and any other thing that comes to mind which will help to define the project. Don’t worry about what it looks like, just get your thoughts down to express as well as possible what is of concern to you.

Consult with an Engineer or Architect

Most projects will benefit from a few hours of consultation with an engineer or an architect who can help you focus your thoughts. You can look online with search terms like Building Inspection Services, Consulting Engineers, and Architects. To select a consultant to work with, you should consider the following:

  • Call the consultant you are considering, describe your project and the fact that you would like to spend a couple of hours talking with them about it. Be clear that their assistance would be limited to just that few hours of discussion.
  • Ask them if they have specific experience in residential construction.
  • Ask them if they are willing to spend just a couple of hours discussing your project without becoming an ongoing consultant (who may expect large fees)
  • Ask them what their qualifications are, how much experience they have and if they are a registered engineer or architect in your state.
  • Ask for at least three references of people who have worked with them in similar situations. When you do get references, check them out! Find out as much as you can about who you are going to be working with.

When you first sit down with a consultant, you should expect him or her to listen. If they start by telling you all the things that you should do, they’re not the ones you want to work with. The best consultant is one who will spend a good deal of time listening to you first to understand fully your needs, to help you clarify your own ideas, and then to suggest the best directions for you to pursue. At this time, make no commitments beyond a couple of hours worth of discussion. Remember, you are the one running the show. What you are doing is simply taking advantage of the resources available to you in order to best achieve your goals.

Check References

Obtain references (at least three from each) from the three contractors you spoke with, customers who have had similar work done within the last year. Also, get two references from each contractor for work he or she completed three to five years ago. Check the references, and be thorough in your questions. Ask the individuals who have been provided as references if they were comfortable working with the contractor, if the work was done neatly and completed on time, if the final cost was what they expected, if the quality was what they expected.