If we could just imagine our best dream home and blink it into being, life might be wonderful, but a significant segment of our workforce would need to learn another occupation. In the natural order of things, the planning stage of a renovation, often rushed, is just the start of a process, long or short, that can result in a home full of frustration or a work of joy, depending on how the details are approached.
Houses can be like a model airplane, a kit purchased at the drug store with a set of directions and snapped together as easily as following steps one through ten. Renovation of a home, in comparison, is a much more complicated and amorphous process, custom fit to the needs, taste and budget of the owners, but characterized also by the skills, personalities and preferences of the people hired to accomplish it. Truly a work of art, a remodel reflects the energy of all involved.
Because of the stress, complications and inconvenience, many homeowners accept what is or choose to move to what works, avoiding the potential disruption and mayhem that a remodel may produce. Others, by inclination or necessity, undergo a renovation to create a home as close to their dreams as they can manage.
No matter how beautifully conceived and well-planned a project might be, it inevitably changes for many reasons during the process. Inclusion early on of the builder who ultimately constructs the dream out of the nails, paint and trim is well-advised.
Act with Discernment
Once armed with a set of plans and pages of specifications, conventional wisdom recommends to put the project out to bid and pick the best apple out of a few. The bid process, however, even if between pre-qualified contractors, might ensure the cheapest price, but rarely identifies the best fit.
Prejudice openly admitted, as both a builder and client, I have countless experiences of how the dollars saved in the rosey bid-process are often quickly overwhelmed, even in the easiest of projects, by the thorny issues of misunderstandings, miscalculations and miscommunications. Translation from paper to reality is difficult enough to accomplish in the best of circumstances without the added insult of adversarial interests that arise out of agreements written on stone foundations.
The most important ingredient to a successful project is the chemistry between the participants.
Do the Work
Pre-judgments about the dented truck and paint-stained clothes might show less about indebtedness and miss out on the man who actually uses his hammer more than his pen. A successful look in this business may be more of an image than actuality. Some prefer to have recourse to an office and staff that never get dirty, while others want to shake the hand of the one who will do the work.
While websites offer the freshest look and most information about a builder, the Yellow Page ad still demonstrates a professionalism that does not come cheaply. Names on the side of trucks and attractive signs on job sites shows an attention to detail that might reflect the care that could go into your home.
Ask neighbors, family and friends for referrals to begin the search and follow up privately with a phone call or even a visit to see the homes suggested by the prospective builder. Naturally, they will want to show off only their best jobs, but asking them to talk about projects that did not go so well offers the chance to gauge their honesty, flexibility and, most importantly, their comfort level in dealing with the tough stuff.
Trust your Heart
Just as a renovation requires room to move, rip and tear with well-placed protections like dust barriers and drop cloths, so does the relationship between builder and client. For the time being, the home will be invaded by carpenters as busy as ants and a lot noisier. Precious dollars are going to fly out the door and new windows like so much saw dust in the wind. A contract with fixed prices and specific details is a good place to start the conversation, but is ultimately only as good as the contractor hired to complete it.
Often defined as the way to separate apples from oranges, the bid process fails to address the differences between Granny Smith and Macintosh. No historical information can predict the particular circumstances of the impending project. Even the very best might still trip and stumble in the months ahead for hidden reasons in his personal life.
In actuality, there is no magic formula to guarantee the perfect project. At the time of decision, it is vital to set all the information aside and take a close look at the invisible messages that intuition contributes. An art that is inherently flawed nearly by definition, it is vital for home owners to align themselves in a relationship of trust, respect and even partnership, something that is often discovered only in the leap of faith from heart to heart.