Remodeling from here to there!

By William Mark Bostic

Square One Design Service

Here's the way I like to do business.  I draw homes and remodeling plans.  I don't actually build them or pay for them.  I'm not the best guy to actually tell you how much your project should cost.  I recommend getting the price from the guy who has to deliver the product- the contractor.  Now if we draw complete working drawings for him to look at he can give us an actual price.  But it's probably going to be too high.  We can then draw another solution or two until we get it right.  Look, let's be honest, you don't want to pay for a scenario like that and I don't want to draw the same job four times even if I do get paid for it.  But we have some design sketches, let's get some contractor input in the design phase that will help us drive our design closer to the budget you want.  Usually I get a couple of good remodeling contractors that work in your area to see your sketches and give you a ballpark price.  They will take into consideration the existing condition of your home, and try to get a feel for your expectations about materials and finish quality.  If you are bold enough to tell them your budget, which I recommend that you do, then they will be able to help guide you to your solution.  We may have to cut back on the size, or give up some bells and whistles to make it work.  A lot of guys adjust their budget up slightly after a week of soul searching.

 After you make it through this period and if you make it through this period, you now have a design solution that matches your budget, or is within 20,000 or so to your target budget.  That's as close as you need to be right now.  We will tweak the numbers and selections later and get you right on.  You have the proper design solution, all you need are the drawings now.  If the number you got from the contractor and your budget are still way off, then your design needs to be adjusted once or more times to get it right.

Time to get some actual plans.

This is the part I like best because I have converted you from a prospective job to a real job.  This is great for you because you have a design solution.  It's good for me because I get to get some money.  At the time of starting construction I know how much I need to charge you to implement plans for your design solution.  I can give you this number.  When we start final drawings I usually get half of the amount with the rest due when you get final drawings.  We might need to adjust your final drawings later, based on your selections, but I don't charge for that, later changes are included.  It usually takes a couple of weeks to get your drawings back.  Usually I go with 2 1/2 weeks to be safe. When we used to get back together with final paper drawings. I used to give you the originals or the vellums.  That used to be the way to go.  Before all this new age paperless stuff. Now I can just email them to you in the form of pdfs. They can be printed on standard construction document sizes “18x24” or “24x36” to get 1/4” scale drawings. Just like blueprints in the day. But as you will discover, not everybody needs 1/4” scale drawings. For most trades and especially for pricing, the electronic ones are better. You can send the pdfs to your contractor candidates, and they can in turn send them to all the subs for quotes. Paperlessly!  They can also print out as many copies as the need. I can go back and adjust the design anytime to fit in that larger cooktop or extra window somebody talked you into. Since lots of the permit guys take pdfs for construction documents,You could actually go and buy a permit and get started if you wanted to, but you won't be ready yet.  You're plans are ready but you've still got more work to do.

Now it's time to get specific.

Well, you've got your plans in your hand, and it's time to go shopping.  Only two things left to pick out, your builder, and well, I lied about that second thing- actually you have to select all of the finish items that go into your job.  You can either select them or rely on your builder to guess how much you want to spend on each area of your job.  In the old days your contractor was in a hurry to close your deal and get your job going.  There wasn't that big a selection process anyway, everybody got carpet for $9.50 per yard installed, vinyl installed was $7.50 per yard, and all the walls were painted except you could get wallpaper in the kitchen for $500 extra.  You could sign, and pick your colors out later and we can get started right away.  Later if you pick out something more expensive we can settle up at the end.  Really, it wasn't so bad, there weren't that many really cool things to pick from anyway.

But then the industry started to change.   Manufacturers got tired of trying to sell products to builders and architects and began to market directly to the end consumer.  They started advertising in magazines, and setting up displays at home shows, and later began touting their products on the information superhighway.  The consumer became aware of a lot of new choices. And learned about Houzz and Pinterest. At first the builders and remodelors sort of ignored the whole thing, “You want what? Nobody gets that, it's way too expensive, not really in your budget.”  Then one day they began losing jobs because they weren't responding to their customer's desires.  So, on their next job they said oh, you can pick out anything you want and if you go over budget we can just settle up at the end.  No problem.  So the customer picks out all the things that they find out about along the way and the contractor installs them.  Then at the end of the job, the contractor says, “Man, finally done, and it looks beautiful doesn't it?  And you only went over budget $60,000.  I can take a check if you want.”

I'm sure this is the sort of surprise that you are looking forward to in your job, right?  I don't think so.  So how do we avoid it?

Doing away with allowances.

While you are in the bid process, your prospective contractors are preparing detailed cost estimates from your final plans.  They are reading the blueprints and figuring out how much of each item your job requires.  How much footing concrete, how many bricks, how many studs, plywood sheets, rafters, and shingles your job requires.  His major subcontractors are looking over your situation to give cost estimates for plumbing, framing, electrical, heating and air systems and other work.  What he doesn't know is exactly what your selections are going to be.  He used to just guess about that and put in something called an allowance.  If you spent less, you got a credit , if you spent more you got an extra bill.  In an effort to win the job from a competitor a contractor wants his price to be as low as possible.  So of course he wants to trim the fat out of your allowances.  They may be and usually are too low to get you the stuff you want.  The only way to fix the problem is for you to replace allowance numbers with actual numbers.  You can do that buy selecting your finish products in advance and getting hard quotes to replace those allowances.  I mean you're going to pick out the stuff anyway, by doing it now, you can actually see how the choices you make impact the bottom line of your project.

The Quest.

 When I give a client his “final plans”, I joke that now it is time to begin “The Quest”.  It is time for the client to begin selecting all of the finish products in his job.  He will travel to see windows, plumbing, floor coverings, appliances, and lighting.  At the window supplier he can show his plans to the window consultant, see the products, and get a quote for the selections made.  At the others he can now do the same thing.  Now, if he gives the quotes to the contractor, those dangerous allowances can be replaced by solid numbers.  As a buyer you can usually sit with your contractor and analyze how your selections are affecting the cost of your project.  You can get input from your contractor as to whether your selections are on target with others in your price point.  You can even see how different quotes from competing window companies can affect the bottom line of your project.

You will begin to make value judgments about the selections that you make.  Is one brand of window worth more than another?  Well for some of my clients it's really not that important, while for others it really makes the job a thing of perfection.  Same for plumbing, heating and air, cabinets, and floor coverings.  You will soon find out that there is not enough in the budget for the “Cadillac” of each selection.  You will have to give up some things in order to get other things.  I was having a conversation with a window supplier about how he had the best window on the market and couldn't figure out why he wasn't selling more of them.   I told him that he probably wasn't losing sales to another window manufacturer, he was probably losing sales to the tile man, the floor man, and the appliance man.  He was stunned at first, but then realized that there was only so much money to go around.  He had to make his customers want the upper end windows more than they wanted the upper end tile, or that home theater system.  While you are going through the selection process, you will weed out the not so important while keeping the items that are hot buttons for you.  All the while, the vision of your project should solidify in your mind.  Finally things will coalesce to a point where you are getting the right amount of finish quality with the right amount of price.   You will also be amazed at how close your contractor bids will be once the product selection has been reduced to an apples to apples comparison.  I've had smaller jobs bid out within $500 of each other when each contractor was bidding the exact same thing.

Ok, about ready to start.

Probably by now you've made your selections, picked your contractor, and negotiated a price.  Now you may have made a selection or two that requires a change to your plan.  A lot of times clients decide to add or remove a window, change a door, or make adjustments to the lighting plan.  Since your remodeling plans have been done in cadd these changes are usually pretty easy.  I like for my clients to make me a list and we go over it.  In a couple of days I can make their changes and then re-pdf any of the pages that have changed.  Now you have a set of plans that will match your project more exactly.  You can send your plans to the contractor and let him make as many copies as he needs, or they can be printed as sets.  Either way you have the pdfs, and can make more sets as you need them.  And all of the sets will be the same and match your vision and budget.  That's we didn't just print six sets in the beginning, because I knew that they would adjust some as you made your selections.

Now you really are ready to start your project.

 You will have the satisfaction that you are going to be as close to your budget as possible, and reasonably assured that you are going to get everything that you want.  Your job will progress smoothly, and you will sleep more soundly at night.  Depending on the size of your job, in a few short weeks or months, you will have the home or addition of your dreams, without having to actually move away from the area that you love.