About Contractors: Hire a Pro…in the Know

Home improvement can be an enjoyable experience—if you choose the right professionals

owners with contractorIt's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make: who to hire to complete your big home-renewal project waiting in the wings.

In this economy, every dollar counts, and who you hire—for that kitchen remodel, new roofing, addition, or whole-house renovation—will affect the overall value of your home and the quality of life under your roof.

"People might be asking for help on smaller projects, and they are interested in interior remodels, but they're still making improvements," says Bay Area architect John Klopf of Klopf Architecture with an eye on California's current economic climate. "Some people are contacting us now who have some funds available from an investment or a bond, and they're waiting less on financing."

When you hire a home-improvement professional, you are buying a service. The level of service the professional provides will determine the quality of the finished product and your overall happiness with the result. Finding the right contractor for home improvement might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be.

Thorough research up front can mean the difference between a successful project and one that causes disappointments and financial woes that could linger long after a project is completed.

Types of Professionals

There are several options when it comes to hiring professionals for a remodeling project. Who you hire should depend on the scope and budget of the project.

The Architect. Major remodeling projects require construction drawings for the purposes of defining a contract and procuring permits. If you're making major structural changes to your home, you may want to seek the assistance of an architect who's familiar with remodeling projects and not just new construction. Architects are required to be licensed by the state and have formal education and experience.

"Generally, remodeling and expansion should be done in keeping with the style of the house," says Catherine Munson, a real estate broker who specializes in Eichlers with Lucas Valley Properties in Novato. "We don't want it to be obvious that it's an addition. A good architect will ensure that it's done beautifully, keeping in mind things like light and placement of windows."

Also, an engineer may be required to calculate loads, and most architects know who can perform these services.

The Designer. Another option to obtain those construction drawings is to hire a certified or licensed designer. Designers are a good choice if you're redoing a small space or reconfiguring a kitchen, bathroom, or interior floor plan. Choose one with targeted experience and certifications in the area of the home you're working on.

The General Contractor. A general contractor's principle role lies in the overall management and execution of building projects, from start to finish. Contractors usually do not provide in-house design services, but nonetheless they may have excellent architect referrals at their fingertips. The contractor orders materials, facilitates permitting processes, and ensures crews and subcontractors are scheduled on time and in the proper sequence. The homeowner pays the general contractor, based on a percentage of the total project cost, at regular intervals throughout the project.

"In this economy, people may be willing to spend more of their own personal time on a remodel than they used to, but I would always recommend hiring a general contractor," Klopf says. "You are really buying yourself less stress and helping to keep the project on schedule. The homeowner may be a professional in their field, and they should let the building professionals be the pro in the remodel."

three professionals

On the other hand, for their $280,000 whole-house remodel four years ago, Linda and Mario Siguenza, Eichler owners in the San Mateo Highlands, worked with an architect and a construction company, but Mario acted as his own general contractor.

"We could have spent $60,000 to $70,000 more by getting a general contractor and not having to worry about it," Siguenza points out, "but it was a great experience, and we were able to economize." Siguenza said the move helped him stick to the family's remodeling budget by allowing him to negotiate fees directly with subcontractors and making practical line-item choices.

"We skimped on some things, and we put that money into updating the home's infrastructure, like electrical and plumbing," he explains.

"Would I do it again this way? I don't know. It was definitely harrowing, but we got everything we wanted at a substantially good price and on time."

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