Building & Remodeling How To Plan A Successful Outcome

Radcliffe Homes & Remodeling - Owner 

Photography by: Builder Remodeler Magazine


When it comes to building or remodeling, most people either know of someone, or worse yet, have themselves experienced a project gone sour. It has been my observation that 9 out of 10 disgruntled customers feel that way due to unmet expectations. The problem could have been a vague plan without enough details, an estimate that couldn’t be compared apples to apples with other bids, or a lack of documented communication for the homeowner to understand what was going into their home. In the end, the finished product did not meet the homeowner’s expectations.

An expectation must be set between homeowners and builders, through accurate detailed plans. These plans and specifications could be completed by a draftsmen, architect, interior designer or the builder, all working with you to ensure complete information. This can also be accomplished through detailed estimates which include not only costs, but the who, what, when, where, why and how much. Before a final agreement is made, a contract must be made, whether it is with a friend, family member, or new acquaintance. The bottom line is that when expectations are not clear, both parties involved will create their own perceptions and expectations of the project. 

In many cases, these expectations are not the same resulting in a less than ideal outcome – a project “gone sour”.

There are many different ideas about where to begin when planning a project. They are as varied as the individuals planning the projects. There is NO perfect answer for most things in life, and building & remodeling is no exception!

When you first come up with an idea about a project, it is always good to have a picture from a magazine or another reference to show the theme or style you would like to emulate. Or if you prefer, you can come up with your own completely original ideas. Either way, it is good to come up with a written list of your needs and wants. Even roughly designing the dimensions of rooms you would like, and what purpose the rooms will serve will help in communicating your expectations. Think about furniture, lighting, traffic patterns, and colors. No matter how organized you are, an architect or interior designer can play a vital part in creating a unique and successful project.

My experience has been that an architect or designer is vital in assisting the homeowner in creating and communicating his real expectations. General contractors are capable of helping in these same areas if you have pictures and clear expectations of what you want, or if your project seems to be cut and dry. But with most projects, there are differing opinions between spouses and simply indecisiveness at decision time. And that is where a designer is able to help you organize your priorities. Designers can take your thoughts, ideas, and pictures and turn them into a good concept drawing.

At this point, it is a good time to look at what kind of dollars you are looking at. Contact a qualified and licensed general contractor that has proven experience with the type of project you are trying to create. Many times the architect/designer will know of contractors that will best serve your needs. A general contractor should give you a good ballpark figure for realistic budgeting purposes from basic price point, to high-end expensive projects. He can do this through comparing your project to similar and recent projects he has completed. Once you have looked at possible costs in comparison with what your real budget is, you can decide what price range, size, style and quality of project you can afford or, if need be, to simply drop the idea..

So now it is back to the drawing board. You are ready to create your project plan. The goal of this plan should be to get an accurate picture and expectation of what the finished product should be. The plan should show details such as furniture, cabinet lay out, and lighting plans, all taking into consideration window placement and wall placement. A product specification makes a great tool in the bidding process especially when you are trying to sort out apples and oranges. The more planning and decisions made on the front end, the fewer change orders (which can be costly) after the fact. This planning process can sometimes drag on, but in the end it is priceless from a cost and beauty standpoint. The old saying “Plan one day for one day worked” is definitely true in this case. This plan and specification will be your guide, and bible throughout this project. You may change small details to the plan once the project is being built, but you have the greater and bigger picture always guiding you and your builder to the finished product.

The blueprint floor plan and specifications are complete. Now it is time to get an estimate. The bidding process will be much easier for the general contractor with your detailed plan and specification in front of him. This process should only take a contractor 2 – 3 weeks. You will want to confirm items such as flooring and fixtures if not already completed with the designer. Allowances can often be an issue with needs and wants in the budget. The general contractor’s estimate and proposal should include a professionally typed document that notes who will be doing the work as well as what brands, model #s, colors, wood species and sizes, how many outlets/lights, which rooms have what types of flooring, and so on. Your estimate packet should also include any brochure and literature information necessary to understand your choices and options. Always have as much in writing as possible. This helps create an expectation with your general contractor that can truly be met. Any choice that is not made in the pre-contract process could mean costly change orders later.

Once you are satisfied with your blueprint plans, specifications, and estimate there is one last step in creating correct expectations - the contractual binding agreement. Contracts are very important in creating a trust and agreement between two people or groups. They are also a necessary evil in today’s business environment. Although many contractors and owners still enter a job with an initialed vague estimate or sometimes napkin from lunch, a simple yet clear and concise contract can make you feel at ease and hopefully inform you of lien rights/waivers and other rights and responsibilities that both the contractor and homeowner have. This contract should address how to deal with change orders and extra costs and credits to the customer that can arise in the duration of the project. Note that it is always best if a change order is discussed, understood, and signed before any work is done. Payment schedules should be clear, usually a small down payment is taken to secure the job, and payments thereafter are progress completion based. A 10% retainer left for the last payment at the customer’s satisfaction is an industry standard. Warranties are another issue that can arise. As we all know, warranties are only as good as the company who gives them. The contract should specify that there is a 1 year warranty on workmanship and product defects in the state of Minnesota, and a 10 year on structural defects. Products have their own warranties that most generally only cover the product itself. Warranties are a good reason to choose a reputable, and quality oriented contractor that will still be in business when your project is finished. One last item is to choose a completion date. Remember that this date is subject to change depending on when the project begins, and how many changes occur during project completion.

I hope that when you enter your next construction or remodeling project you will strive to have the proper planning time to produce a realistic expectation with the use of a well-planned, detailed blueprint, specification, estimate, and contract. Even with these four 

documents in place, there will most likely still be issues or problems that will arise. It is not “IF” but ‘WHEN” problems will occur. Hopefully, you will have a good written plan and well-communicated expectations to make solving it easier. Remember, always “Plan the Work, and Work the Plan”. By following these steps, you can create correct expectations that will make for a “sweet success” rather than a “sour project” – for all parties. 

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