Jake F., Home Buyer in San Francisco, CA

What can I do to ensure my remodel goes according to plan and measures up to my expectations?

Asked by Jake F., San Francisco, CA Tue Jun 5, 2012

I want to be prepared, and make sure I know what to expect from my contractor. Are there certain questions to ask before we begin or research I should be doing on my own?

Help the community by answering this question:


Clint Shaw General Contractor’s answer
There are several things you should do BEFORE you start your project that will ensure it goes according to plan:
> Create a detailed list of what you want to do to ensure you and your contractor are on the same page about the project's details.
> Establish a high-level budget for yourself upfront, that way you and your contractor can find a way together to do your project within your budget.
> Get at least 3 bids from contractors. Don't assume the lowest bid is the best option. Some contractors bid low to get the job and then make change orders once the project begins. Often you end up paying the same, or more, in the end. Plan for unforeseen issues by setting aside a 20% contingency fund.
> Check on the contractor's license on the Contractors State License Board http://www.cslb.ca.gov
> Get references, and call them. Ask questions.
> Choose a contractor you connect with, that way when issues arise you can resolve them together.
> Get a detailed contract from your contractor, make sure they keep a punch list, and provide a change order if unforeseen issues arise.
> There is a good book called "Before You Hire a Contractor" by Steve Gonzalez. It is targeted at consumers and has lots of good advice.
> Have fun!
Clint Shaw General Contractor
2 votes Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 15, 2012
I always encourage our clients to call as many former clients on our reference list as they feel comfortable doing. Ask a contractor's former clients questions like:

What was it like working with this contractor? Are you satisfied with the quality of work completed?

Did you like working with this contractor, personally? Was he/she readily available to you to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have had during the work process? Was he/she professional in his/her contracting and interactions with you at all times? Was the contractor on the job site often for project management and quality control? How did the contractor protect your home from damage (dust, water damage, carelessness) during the work?

Did the invoices submitted to you for work performed clearly describe the work covered by the billing? Were the invoiced charges accurate and reasonable, within the contracted framework?

Were the contractor's crew workers acceptable to you during the work? Were they courteous and considerate of you and your property while performing their work?

What about the contractor's subcontracted work? Were you reasonably comfortable with the subcontractors' crew/s in your home or on your property while they working? (Were they polite, professional, courteous to you and your neighbors?)

Were there any follow-up issues about the work-product after completion? If so, how did the contractor respond to such issues?

Would you hire this contractor again?

The most successful contracting relationship between client/s and a contractor are ensured when there is a high level of TRUST. If you have done your due-diligence in contacting the references given (and feel free to ask for more than initially given, if you feel you need to); checking the contractor's CSLB license; possibly viewing previous projects completed by the contractor; and carefully reviewing the contract, itself, there should be a strong basis for this TRUST element going into the project. Having this trust in your contractor from the start will go a long way to establishing a good working relationship for your work, and for a successful "completed" outcome.

Our clients love us like family, and consistently return to us for repeat-work. If we don't feel a "trustful" atmosphere and attitude with a potential client, we generally decline to take the work.

Sometimes, if a potential client approaches us with a doubtful or suspicious attitude (toward us or contracting in general), we do all we can to allay any such negatives. But occasionally we have to remind the potential client that they have all the references on what it's like to work with US, but we don't have such information about what it's like to work for THEM. Again, a MUTUALLY trustful relationship going into the work is a good indicator of a successful outcome.

I hope this helps you. Best of luck to you on your prospective project/s!
2 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Jun 10, 2012
As a home remodeler with 20 years of experience I would give the following advise.

I. When you have contractors bidding the job give us as much information as you can. Show us pictures of similar projects you like and tell us about the style you are trying to achieve. Then choose a contractor based on an overall fit of pricing, workmanship, and references.

II. Be realistic and up front with your expectations. We do our best to make you happy and will work with you to get the best results, but our price is based on how many hours we will put into the project. If you want high end finishes we charge more because it takes us longer than basic ones.

III. Good contractors schedule and plan well. Many items take a long time to ship and if your contractor isn't on top of it your project will be delayed. This is why checking references is important. Lots of contractors can show you pretty pictures, but they don't mention that a bathroom remodel took six months longer than they quoted.

1 vote Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 14, 2012

Sounds like you've got some good advise thus far, though you can have a T&M Contract in CA, its just that you have to have a "max" put into contract. I've done both, 1. a hard bid from a set of drawings & specs that give both parties a clear description of the work or 'scope' to be preformed, and any items excluded and/or provided by owner. And, 2. a T&M contract w/ hourly rates for my company / crew & if their is sufficient info to obtain a firm sub bid include that into the mix so you are fairly clean & clear about that which you do know...otherwise its nearly impossible to give you a firm bid. It also allows you to be more creative & relaxed during the 'design phase' if you don't know what you ultimately want.
You ought to be able to expect a rough schedule that will give you dates that the messy/dusty work will be happening so you can escape the allergic reactions; that said, be sure to have your contractor include good interior floor/counter/rooms not being touched by the work 'good solid protection' from those areas being remodeled. Check there past 2-3 jobs & ask to speak to those clients. That's not to say that the past clients are always on the best terms w/ the GC, its a constant dance and toes get easily stepped on; going to a current job site to review craftsmanship, site cleanliness, the subs that they have working and their tidiness & you'll surely get a sense of how the job runs & the type of site you'll expect at your house.
Weekly billings are common today & timely payments keep the GC/Subs also there (which is often half the battle) & thus your job is being given the care needed to move along.
Setting your expectations & your spouse are equally important, don't play the 'good cop, bad cop' game with your GC or your bound to create drama. Some form of QC needs to be in effect, prior to the release of funds & for final payment & lien releases for labor/materials by the folks doing the work.
Some measure of trust needs to be built, you'll know rather quickly if the GC is being their word & how they approach client concerns / conflict resolution is paramount.

All the best of luck!
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri Jun 8, 2012
Here's a CSLB article on T&M contracts, with _their_ title: Time and Material Contracts Not Legal for Home Improvement. They explain the reasons in addition to total price, that T&M isn't legal in California. Many contractors continue to do T&M, and sometimes with success and with happy customers, even though the CSLB is clear about it.
Flag Sat Jun 9, 2012
1) Contractors aren't mind-readers, and we can't make sure a remodel measures up to your expectations if we don't know what your expectations are and how we will measure success. The clearer and more complete are your plans, specifications, and other requirements, the clearer will be our performance requirements, and the more accurately we can bid your job. Any requirements that you have in addition to your architect's plans and specs need to be part of the contract, else they don't mean anything.
2) Pick a good contractor. Take a few simple steps to avoid the bad ones. Check references. Though many great contractors don't have any on-line presence, you can often find license information and reviews on Yelp that will help weed out the worst contractors.
3) Search on-line for "cslb guides and pamphlets" to get all sorts of useful information for homeowners about contractors, including what a contract should look like. I see you're here in S.F. Time and materials contracts aren't legal here in California, so that will help you avoid one of the main causes of remodeling debacles.
4) Only sign a contract that is "detailed enough". It's difficult to express exactly where the line lies, but the general idea is that the contract should specify specific finishes and materials in considerable detail, sufficient to ensure the quality that you are paying for. It's difficult for homeowners who are new to this process to know where the line lies; get a friend who's done it before to help you evaluate quotes. Contracting is a very competitive business these days, and most reputable contractors have the ability to provide very detailed quotes in order to win your business. Keep in mind that the contract specifications are the basis for the quoted price, and the expected quality, of the job. If it's not in the contract, it's not in the price, either. Contractors build great reputations by exceeding the quality specified in the contract, but only by some limited amount, else we are in money-losing territory.
5) Remain very involved in your project, from beginning to end. You might drive your contractor a little nuts, but it's your property and you have every right to ask your questions. Chances are, if something looks wrong to you, it is wrong. Remain respectful of your contractor's knowledge and experience, though.
6) Live up to your side of the deal. Pay on time, make decisions quickly and stick to them.
7) Expect to get what you pay for. You won't get great quality from a cut-rate contractor, and great contractors won't promise you great quality for a cut-rate price.
8) Trust your instincts - Many homeowners, in 20-20 hindsight, recall the warning signs from early in the process.
If you're careful, and you remain closely involved, and you trust your instincts, your project should go well.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 7, 2012
Well said Robert!
Flag Thu Jun 7, 2012
There is a saying the the construction industry: "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Depending on the scope of the project, I usually encourage my prospective clients to have drawings created by either an architect or designer, spend time looking through home improvement and design books and magazines, and even take a day to browse through local showrooms. By doing this, homeowners will be able to communicate more effectively with their contractor in terms of their desired final product.

Choosing the right contractor is also extremely important, and you will be entrusting them with one of your biggest investments- your home. Though you'll want a builder who's personality sets you at ease, making sure they have the skill to complete the job to your satisfaction cannot be forgotten. All builders are not the same. Check their website for an online portfolio, find reviews through Yelp and Google, and last but not least, check references!

Once you've made your contractor choice, make sure all parts of the project are included in the contract, with clear understanding of specific products, what is to be supplied by the builder and what is to be supplied by the owner, and all other conditions such as work hours, care of pets, etc.

If you've done this preplanning, have your drawings, chosen the right contractor for you, executed a well-written contract, the building part should be easy!

Best of luck!

Tyson Schroeder, Partner
Conscious Construction
1 vote Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 7, 2012
Jeffrey Goffo, (Sole proprietor of Jeffrey Goffo Construction, San Francisco, CA)

As a contractor myself, I ask people to thoroughly due their due diligence in checking contractor's referrals and going to see some work completed. I've even asked past clients to allow potential clients to come to their homes to see the work and discuss the experience.
Starting with a very specific, detailed contract helps also. I prefer the line item descriptive form contract as it allows clients to see costs and have an exact number as to cost for a specific line item. Some contract are drawn up on and Excel spreadsheet with single headings, no description of work and a number at the end?
This can open the door to change orders as there is no detail.
Try to communicate daily and get a timeline of the work schedule and date of completion in the contract. Good luck. Jeff Goffo 415-821-0407
1 vote Thank Flag Link Wed Jun 6, 2012

You have received some very good answers. Having done a lot of remodels personally and being a 203K consultant for renovation lending, I would offer the advice to be patient and flexible throughout the process. There are ALWAYS going to be hiccups/changes in the process of a remodel...the delivery from Lowe's is going to be a day late....,it's going to rain the day the roofers were supposed to start....there is going to something behind a wall that your contractor could not have known about...

Go with the flow...you will enjoy the process, and the outcome, much better. Best of luck to you!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 21, 2012
To meet your expectation you need to hire the right guy .

There are companies out there what could perform the remodeling project and I beleive my company is one of them.
Please visit our site at : http://www.TEQCEASTBAY.com

Thank you,

Tibor Ambrus
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 7, 2012
Check previous clients and work completed. Get 3-5 references and ask them how the job went and if they would recommend the contractor in question. Ask for general liability insurance and workmans compensation insurance certificates and check their license at the Contractor's state license board on-line. Good luck!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Thu Jun 7, 2012
I suggest you visit other jobs the contractor has done and only choose a contract that comes highly recommended from a trusted source. Alot can happen after the relationship starts, like less qualified subcontractors taking over for the person you hired. Fee free to visit my website for some recommendations.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jun 6, 2012
Hi Jake,

As a Realtor and licensed General Contractor, I have some insight remodel projects. One of the best ways to avoid hidden costs and cost overruns is to have the scope of work laid out in a contract in great detail. The less clear the scope, the more likely you will be hit with change orders. Do you know your contractor? Have you checked his license with e State Contractors License Board? Have references? Do you have a contract? Fixed bid or time and materials?

I would recommend having a lawyer look at your contract if the job is big enough. It will cost a couple hours of his time but could save you countless dollars down the road. I have been involved in many larger projects where the home owner hired an Owner's Rep to represent them in dealing with the contractor. The Owner's Rep is an advocate for the owner, watching out for his interest and money. The Rep is familiar with all facets of the construction project, from different materials to scheduling to payments. Even if you don't hire one for the duration of the job, it might be worthwhile to talk to one in the beginning. I can give you some names if you need.

Good communication with your contractor is very important. It is inevitable that issues will arise that you and the contractor did not plan for. That is the nature of remodeling. But staying involved, regular meetings and frequent site visits will pay off immensely.

Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions.

Good luck!

Kevin Cullen
Web Reference: http://www.kjcullen.com
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jun 5, 2012
Congratulations, you took on a job. What I do is coordinate with the general contract daily about work that has been completed, what's tomorrow's schedule will include, balancing the costs paid to the estimates on your contract, stop by the job site every few days to make sure the work that he reported as done and paid for is actually in place or the materials are on site, and pray.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jun 5, 2012
One safeguard is to pay the Contractor gradually, as the work is being completed:
you can inspect and observe before you give him each installment.

The primary place that you can be "cheated" is on materials:
you will need to know the difference between grades of lumber and what constitues a qualty kitchen cabinet. You need to know the diff between a sheet rock nail, and 6 penny nail.

If you check the references of your Contractor, you should be Okay, they want your referral and a letter of recommendation.

Good luck and may God bless
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jun 5, 2012
Could be I know too much but there is no way you can ensure the outcome unless you do it yourself. When I was a carpenter's apprentice back in the 1970s the first lesson I was taught was that I needed to be able to cover my mistakes.
Working as a project manager for a civil engineer and contractor who made his money off finding errors made by others and fixing them I got to see some crazy stuff and I had the responsibility of making sure that our crews did the job right.
The only way you can really do what you ask is to build the body of knowledge needed to oversee what is going on and be there watching all the time. That will drive the contractor nuts and run up the price considerably. Really the best you can hope for is that your expectations have been communicated and that you will pay for good work and make them redo any bad work. Being clear and having really good communication is the key. Next is trust that the contractor is watching the crews actually doing the work.
Absolutely do not rely on the building inspectors. They are indemnified from responsibility by law and can miss all kinds of mistakes.
You can also hire an architect to oversee the project and be your point person responsible for translating your vision into reality. This is probably the best course if you don't have my experience or like me decide that you'd rather pay someone else to take the headache.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Jun 5, 2012
Jed Lane, Real Estate Pro in San Francisco, CA
Search Advice
Ask our community a question
Email me when…

Learn more

Copyright © 2016 Trulia, Inc. All rights reserved.   |  
Have a question? Visit our Help Center to find the answer