DEAR DESIGNER: I am going to act as my own general contractor on a small remodel project in my home. How can I be sure to keep the job in budget? — Curtis.
DEAR CURTIS: Preparation and communication are the keys to keeping any project within budget. By doing your due diligence at the beginning of your remodel, you can set up the best possible scenario to stay on task.
It’s important not only to have an overall budget in mind, but to have every part of the job listed so you will have a clear view of where the funds need to be distributed. This also will help you determine if your budget is realistic. It can be surprising how much a simple remodel can cost when you add up all the little things.
Typing out specific guidelines in advance will help you visualize, organize and communicate your wishes. Handing a list of detailed specifications to each subcontractor also ensures that all the trades are bidding on the same information. Merely telling them what you want can lead to misinterpretations. And when your instructions are not written down, it’s easy to leave out important items that can come back to bust your budget. The best way to get accurate quotes from your subs (slang for subcontractors: tradesmen who are skilled in one trade, like plumbers, electricians and painters. Each tradesman is a subcontractor to the general contractor) is to clearly spell out the perimeters of the job.
Be upfront with your subcontractors when you are getting more than one bid. Contractors are used to bidding for jobs. They are not offended when you are acting responsibly by getting more than one estimate. Giving the contractor this information helps to ensure he is giving you his best possible price.
When it comes to budget, play your cards close to your chest. Years ago, I mistakenly told a subcontractor (lets say it was a tile installer) my overall budget for a remodel. Tile installation was a very small portion of the total amount. Because he didn’t know all the other aspects of the job, his bid came in much higher than it should have, thinking I had lots of money to spend.
On the flip side of that coin, there are times when it can be beneficial to share your budget. If you are hiring a general contractor to oversee a project, he can help you distribute the funds to get the most for your money. Another time to be open with budget information is if all the bids for a particular trade come in higher than anticipated. Then, call your favorite tradesman and tell him what you have to spend and what you need done for that amount. Sometimes he will come to your aid.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask your potential subs what they will do when faced with an unknown. For example, if a plumber finds out the pipes behind the existing wall need to be replaced, will there be an extra charge? Many times it’s these unknown factors that can throw a budget off track. Most subcontractors, understandably, will have extra charges for unforeseen problems. Some will charge an hourly rate; this rate needs to be noted in his contract. If you are unsure about the prices quoted when the unexpected happens, call in a second opinion.
Be sure each subcontractor has a written contract that details the work he plans to do. If it’s not in writing, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment if disagreements arise in the middle of your project.
Finally, if you are not a detail-oriented person and don’t want to organize the itemized bid sheets, you can hire a designer to take care of that portion of the job. The time, money and potential problems you will avoid, normally saves you far more than the designer’s fee. Also, designers are skillful at helping you set a realistic budget and distributing the funds so you have a quality job that also looks great.
Acting as your own general contractor can be a rewarding experience. The effort you put into preplanning will yield more than monetary rewards.
Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at deardesigner@projectdesigninteriors. com or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at www.projectdesign interiors.com.