Sometimes the remodeling industry seems like the Wild, Wild West. It’s crazy out here!
The cast of characters is huge! You’ve got your builders and general contractors and remodeling contractors and architects and designers and engineers and plumbers and roofers and tile setters and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. Oh wait. Well, anyway, it can be very confusing.
And that’s why consultants were invented. They are experienced in a certain field (remodeling in this case), can be a source of wisdom detached from any of the above, and can help and guide you through a project.
I know what you’re thinking: The industry is already populated with so many characters, and now you add another? How does that help?
Good question! And to find out what these “building consultant” characters are up to, I asked renovation consultant Gary Belk a few questions. Here’s what he said:
Kathy’s Remodeling Blog: Why would someone remodeling a house hire a consultant first rather than an architect or contractor?
Gary Belk: Getting unbiased advise about the feasibility of your project and budget should be the first step. In my experience contractors and architects are reluctant to be the one to tell the client that their expectations about time and money are way off base. As a consultant it is my job to help the client understand and if needed, be the one to deliver the “unpleasant” facts. My clients pay me to give them an honest assessment. My main function at this point is to make sure their expectations are in line with the amount of money they want to spend. I also help clients decide what professionals are needed for the project and help assemble the right team. How does a homeowner choose the right professionals or even know what professionals to hire? A good consultant is a bit like a matchmaker and knows the right professionals for the client and the particular job.
KRB: How does a consultancy work? What is the process?
GB: While the process varies depending on your particular needs, a renovation consultant will typically put together an action-plan that includes a budget for the project and a prioritized list of needs and wishes, while helping the client understand what to expect before, during, and after, the home renovation. The consultant may or may not also become part of the renovation team, with the role of ensuring that communication, quality, and scheduling are maintained. By acting as an agent for the client, the consultant will be their eyes and ears on site, allowing the client to continue to live their regular life.
While all renovations are different here is the usual process I follow:
1. Assess existing conditions
2. Develop project scope
3. Complete a Move vs. Remodel analysis to help you determine if you should move or do a home renovation
4. Develop a realistic budget
5. Assist in choosing design professionals
6. Material selection and specification
7. Produce the request for bid or proposal documents
8. Review bids/proposals
9. Recommend construction professionals
10. Manage the remodeling contractor
11. Monitoring quality control
12. Managing the project schedule
13. Management of weekly project meetings
14. Monitoring payment schedule and payments
15. Meditation disputes
16. Management of punch list completion
KRB: How much does it cost to hire a remodeling consultant? Do you work by the hour? Or a flat fee?
GB: I believe the interests of the consultant and the client are best aligned by negotiating an hourly fee for service, rather than, say, a percentage of the project”s cost. (For one thing, that makes sure the consultant is not motivated to inflate that cost unnecessarily).
For smaller jobs, such as a move or remodel evaluation, a pre-buying inspection, etc., charges typically range between $95 and $300/hour. For longer engagements the hourly rate will be reduced. I use a retainer agreement based on an hourly rate with a built-in not-to-exceed cap.
KRB: What do you think is the biggest mistake homeowners make when remodeling their homes?
GB: Using the lowest price professionals they can find, to grind out what appears to be a bargain.
In fact, the market is pretty effective when it comes to labor for home remodeling professionals, and like it or not, the difference in price is usually reflected in a difference in craftsmanship and service.
What’s more, a building professional’s “likability” and ability to listen and respond to the client’s needs is really just as important as their estimate. Homeowners should try to work with contractors that provide transparent pricing, and will talk openly about their profit margin and the costs of the project. In a relationship that is going to need to last for many months, trust and and honesty is vital.
KRB: What final words of wisdom do you have for homeowners to achieve a successful remodel?
GB: When you begin thinking about remodeling your home, try to get an expert, but unbiased opinion about your plans. Talk to a remodeling consultant or a Realtor, for example, who knows the market in the area where you live.
1. Ask them about the return on your invest you can expect
2. Ask them to provide you with a move or remodel analysis
3. Ask them for recommendations to home remodeling professionals.
As well as hiring a remodeling contractor, I also believe it imperative to have design advice as well. Nothing helps a project run more smoothly, and ensure that the end product meets your requirements and expectations, than a complete set of plans and specifications.