Designing and completing your own project is always satisfying. But sometimes, time and experience are at a premium and you need outside help. When you do, make sure you know how to manage the project so it is completed the way you want it, on time and within budget.
1. Start before you think you’re starting. Avoid delays caused by waiting for a new sink to arrive or a back-ordered style of tile; buy key products and materials early, so they’re onsite when you need them. You should pick out the paint, hardware and tiles well in advance of the actual start of the project. Save money by taking advantage of contractor discounts on appliances and accessories, and watch out for sales or promotions.
2. Know your contractor(s). Check their references and ask questions of potential contractors. Are they licensed? Insured? How long have they been in business? Check the Better Business Bureau. Have there been any complaints against them? Were they resolved? Don’t be intimidated by contractors. You are the client, and you need the job completed to your satisfaction. If they’re slow, uncompromising or offer poor workmanship, challenge them and get what you’re paying for. Also, make sure you understand the basics of tiling, electrical, plumbing and drywalling. You don’t have to be an expert, but make sure you know what good workmanship looks like. Understand the local building codes and, above all, get the work inspected before paying the bill.
3. Establish and stick to your budget. Make sure your contract is clear and inclusive. Don’t rely on general statements about the cost of labour or materials. Have everything written out specifically so you won’t be disappointed later. Beware of up-charges. Some contractors may tell you the job has become more complicated or they underestimated materials. Make sure it is clear from the beginning how these situations will be managed.
4. Establish clear and reasonable timelines. Build delays into your schedule so you won’t be disappointed. Then, if everything goes according to plan, you will be pleased you were done early. Bonus!
5. Manage the subtrades. This task is your biggest challenge. Stay on top of who’s coming and when. Be prepared to act quickly if someone fails to show or is behind on work. One contractor who can provide several services will make your job of coordinating much easier.
6. Expect the unexpected. Sometimes, what you want out of a project will differ from a contractor’s vision. Don’t presume they always understand what you want. If things are going differently than planned, be prepared to act fast to solve the issue. On a recent renovation, I hired a tiler to do the front foyer. I told him to lay the tile according to the manufacturer’s prescribed random pattern. Later, when I inspected, I found he had done it randomly, but nothing like what I wanted. I spent the evening ripping out the tiles and cleaning them so he could redo the job the next day.
7. Communicate often and clearly. Make your expectations known—check on the progress of the job regularly. Watch the work closely, but don’t get in the way. Daily meetings to discuss progress and timing will keep the project on course.
8. Minimize the impact. With any renovation, dirt and dust will be bothersome. Plastic is your best friend. Cover everything and keep it covered. Make sure the contractor cleans up the site daily. If doing a kitchen or bathroom renovation, design and install a temporary kitchen or bathroom nearby, so you can function while the job progresses.
9. Be flexible but know your “must haves.” You must design the basic project at the start, but be prepared to modify it. One guarantee is that as the job progresses, things will change and you will have to make compromises. Have a clear idea of what must be part of the finished product and what you might give up.
10. Make sure you’re a priority. Contractors often have several clients on the go at the same time. Make sure you know what other commitments they have and ensure they understand your timelines and priorities. If things start to lag, remind them of your drop-dead completion date. And, it doesn’t hurt to bring your contractor the odd cup of joe…to help things along.