Renovation Realities: Finding a Contractor

I think it would be “fun” to start a blog series entitled “Renovation Realities” where I talk about the really shitty parts of renovating my home.  The focus of the series would be on the things that no one discusses (or at least my basic internet research didn’t identify) so that it would be informative for anyone else planning to take the plunge.  Obviously, everything I say is based on my own experience and likely will be pure speculation and opinion but at least we can all be entertained by my heartache.

So my initial understanding was that to start my renovation, I should find a contractor.  (I’ve since discovered that the more appropriate course of action may have been to get my plans worked out and go to the permit department which would then allow the contractors to properly bid on my job…but that’s not important now.)  To find this contractor, I got recommendations from friends who recently completed similar projects as well as friends of friends who had thoughts.  In total, I’ve met with almost six different contractors over the last month.  FYI – this is NOT fun!  I’m not going to get into too many details of each contractor primarily because I still haven’t officially decided on who I’m going to use (and I don’t want them to read the blog and get upset that I called them an asshole :)).

But I will discuss some observations I’ve made after this process:

  • Deadlines appear to be fluid.  If a contractor tells you he will get you the proposal by Monday, don’t actually expect it on Monday….he probably meant sometime during the week that starts with Monday.  And your frustration that they have missed a deadline (without any warning) is completely overreacting.  (If a contractor doesn’t give you a specific date he will get you a proposal, you should assume it will come within 2-3 weeks.)
  • The construction business is very sexist.  It is blatantly obvious that they believe as a woman I don’t know much about construction and that they can say a lot of nonsense that won’t get challenged.  I’m not expert but I’m no pansy either…so step it up contractors as I will be challenging you!

  • The construction business is very “know-it-all.”  The funniest part about this is the contractors also think they know design.  There have been many times where I want to scream “STFU! I didn’t ask you the best way to organize the kitchen in the given floorplan!”  I’m all about a professional opinion to tell me if I can move a wall but I damn sure don’t need advice from someone about the design of the room once it’s finished.
  • Bid proposals are useless without detail, detail, detail!  You need to know the unit price, profit margins, material allowances, etc. before you can adequately compare the bids.  If the contractor doesn’t want to give you that much information, there is something probably shady about them or their method.

Another important point that most people don’t realize is that each homeowner has two options: (1) hire a general contractor (GC) or (2) be your own GC and hire out the work.  With option 1, the GC would be responsible for all aspects of the renovation including securing plans, permits, materials, etc..  For the most part, the homeowner picks the materials and finishes and approves plans but otherwise, the crappy work of dealing with the subcontractors, delivery of materials, inspections, etc. will be dealt with by the GC.  With option 2, at least in California, the homeowner has the option of being the GC and hiring out the work to subcontractors.  The homeowner would be responsible for getting permits and plans from the city, as well as coordinating schedules of the different contractors to make sure that things are going smoothly.  Obviously, option 2 is much more work but also can save you 15-20% of your budget.  (I think this is a conservative estimate for how much you save because usually all-inclusive GCs tend to steer you towards more expensive materials and finishes.)  However, option 1 is the better idea for a novice renovator and someone who didn’t want to have to deal with a ton of crap from different contractors on a daily basis.

As of right now, I’m leaning towards hiring a GC to deal with the bulk of the behind-the-wall problems (electricity, plumbing, HVAC, insulation) to ensure that I’m able to take advantage of rebate programs offered by California.  Once the bulk of the work is completed that makes the home comfortable, and we’ve moved in, I may switch to just hiring out the jobs that need to be done over the next few months.  This decision will greatly impact my budget but given the extent of our renovation, I feel more comfortable ensuring that one person/company is responsible for making the house function properly.  The pretty stuff can happen later.

Of course, it’s now been 3 weeks since we closed on the house and nothing has happened so take all of my advice with a grain of salt.  Hopefully someone will knock some wall down in the next few days!

Let me know what you think.  Do you think this will be an interesting blog series?  Would you like more detail? What do you want to know more about?  I’ll do the best I can to help.

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply