Your Home Remodeling Contractors in Northern VA
The Remodeling & Addition Process: A Step By Step Guide
Please see separate section for our new home process
Overview of the remodeling and addition building process
Many of our clients love their neighborhood, but not their home. To most, the thought of transforming their existing and dated home into something completely different can be a daunting and mysterious process. Even with simpler projects like remodeling a kitchen or a bath, most of our clients are not sure where to start. A relatively small project can run into tens of thousands of dollars, so it is reasonable to be concerned and to want to understand the process before engaging a contractor. Most of our clients ask. “ How disruptive will the work be?” “How long will it take?” “How much will it cost or how much can we get done for our budget?”
Windy Knoll Lane
We have done both small and large remodeling and addition projects for over 30 years. We believe it is our responsibility to answer these questions and any others that our clients have. We use the same highly skilled trades and suppliers for our remodeling projects that we use to construct our custom homes. We do not use “jack-of-all-trades” workmen, because we believe that all aspects of any project should be done by experts in that particular trade. This has been our policy from the beginning and has served our clients well for over 3 decades. We recently completed a large kitchen addition and remodel and our client commented that they were surprised at how many different people it took to build their new kitchen. We pointed out that while constructing their project, we used every trade and supplier that we would use if we were building a completely new home. One of my early mentors in this business, Bill Bestimt, once said. “The construction business is a very complex choreography of a zillion very simple tasks.” With this in mind the best way to understand the process is to break it down into its individual parts. We look at the construction process as being made up of a several main elements that are tied together in various ways.
We are going to briefly touch on each of these elements and explain how they tie together. Hopefully this will give you an overview and cultivate additional questions about the process. When you are ready, we would be happy to meet with you to answer your questions and explain the process further.
The budget drives everything and everyone has a budget. The budget may be dictated by the bank or by your personal comfort level or by the reasonable fair market value of your home before the project starts and after it is done. Be prepared to discuss your budget constraints frankly with your designer and contractor early on so that the guidelines for the rest of the process can be established. You should also have some general ideas of what you hope to accomplish within your budget. In other words, you may want to redo the kitchen, add a family room and update all your bathrooms. However, your budget may not allow for all this work. By honestly sharing your budget with your design professional or builder, they can help you prioritize your needs, identify areas where construction would save costs in the future, and help you allocate your resources to the various projects to accomplish as much as possible.
We hope that when you finish this review you will understand that this exercise is for naught if the professional team does not have a budget guideline to go by. You should establish a budget ceiling and then use your team to find out how much work can fit into those limits. There is a reasonable concern that if a budget is known up front then the builder will jack up the price to meet the budget. This does not happen with the Foley team. We have stayed in business for all these years by being honest with our clients and working very hard to give them the most for their invested dollar. Besides making your own evaluation of our building Team, it is always a good idea to interview several previous clients and see what they think about their experience. When we hear from homeowners about a bad experience they had with a previous builder my first question is how much time did they spend researching the company they selected. The level of disappointment is usually directly related the time they spent doing their homework up front.
Scope of the Project
With a major remodeling/addition project, we are frequently asked this question first. “Should we just tear the home down and start over or work with what is already there?” The simple answer is. “It depends”.
A word of caution, be careful who you ask this question. We visited a client a few years ago and learned we were the 3rd established builder they had interviewed about a significant remodel to their home. After several meetings and an analysis of their goals and their budget we recommended a whole house remodel and some addition work in lieu of tearing the home down. They were surprised and confided to us that the previous 2 builders told them the only thing that made sense was to tear the home down and start over. We knew our analysis was the correct one and were suspicious as to why the other established builders had given them a completely different story. We suggested they call the 2 other builders and get references from their last 3 or 4 major remodeling clients. The owners called us the next day and said they had decided to work with us. As we had suspected, the other 2 builders could not provide remodeling references because they did not do that type of work. They only built new homes. We have vast experience at remodeling and new home construction, so we will give an honest and educated opinion as to which way we think is best for you and not what is best for us.
In most cases, once a homeowner contacts us they have several possible projects in mind. A frequently asked question is what projects will add the most to their lifestyle and at what cost? We have the experience and willingness to break down the various projects so the owners can make a decision as to what works best for them. We are experts at bathroom renovations, kitchen remodeling, all kinds of additions, and whole-house remodeling. We also do what is called “pop-tops” where a second story is added to an existing single story home. We can give you references for all of these types of projects and show you extensive before and after photos. Some of these previous projects are featured in our Remodeling Photo Gallery.
Plans for your upcoming project can be obtained in a couple of different ways. You can engage an architect or a design/build firm to create your plans and either can end up with a successful project. Prior to engaging your design professional, you should establish your budget so that the designer can take your budget into consideration as the design is done. The first question you should ask any designer you are talking to is how they are going to come up with plans and specifications that will be within your budget. It is not much fun to spend months and thousands of dollars with a designer only to find out the project is twice your budget once you bring a builder into the picture. There are no quick and obvious answers as to how much an involved project will cost, but any designer should be able to talk about some general cost ranges before any drafting work starts.
Analysis of Existing Home
Once you have decided on who is going to design your dream project, the existing structure needs to be put on paper before the fun of the design work can begin. A designer or builder can get a good feel for the existing home by walking through the home, but until the home is put on paper, or in our case in our computer aided design [CAD] program, the designer is limited in its ability to come up with the best plan that will meet the client’s needs.
We start with some rough pencil sketches and some discussion as to what might be done to get a feel for the scope of the project and “guesstimated” costs. If the client, wishes to proceed then the first thing to do is create as set of “as-builts”. This may require putting the entire home in the CAD program for a large remodel/addition or just a portion of it for a smaller one. The time and cost to do this will obviously vary depending on the scope of work being discussed. We have the capability of not only placing the existing floor plans in our CAD program, but will also include any exterior views (elevations) that will be changed by the work. Once the plans are in the CAD system, we can easily overlay different ways to change the home. On our first visit we take a number of digital photos and carefully measure the area of concern [or all] of the existing home with tape measures and electronic devices. This can take a couple of hours or most of a day depending on the scope of the project. We then recreate an initial plan of the home in our computer. On our second visit we will confirm the measurements and put in more detail like where the plumbing and electrical devices are located. We are very efficient at this and the cost to the owners is usually in the $1.00- $1.50/sq ft range for larger projects and more for smaller ones. The cost for elevation drawings old and new are between $250 t0 $400 for each elevation that will be affected by the new work. Depending on our current schedule, we usually can do all this in a couple of weeks or less for smaller projects. We do this work under an agreement we call a Professional Services Agreement [PSA] which we will explain later.
The New Plans
At this point we put the budget front and center and everything we do from here on is with that in mind. We have to price out and build what we design so we know which design elements are costly and which will get our clients a lot of bang for the buck. With a CAD program a designer is able to easily investigate different ways to change the “as-builts” to various new layouts. If your designer is still in the dark ages using pencil and paper, they have to start over each time a new idea is investigated which wastes time and your money. Copy and paste works a lot better than erase-erase.
The cost for the new design varies based on how big the project is, how many variations you are interested in pursuing and how quickly you can make up your mind on what you want. Each design project is priced based on its specific criteria. Other fees may apply depending on the project and the need for other experts. If you decide to use us to actually build your project, we credit the design fee back to you.
We take a lot of pride in what we do. It matters to us how the project will serve our clients in the long run; what it will look like when we are done; and how disruptive construction is to our clients and their neighborhood. We strongly believe that an addition or remodeling project should blend with the elements of the existing home that are to remain and with the neighborhood in general. We have all seen the ugly addition that looks like an after-thought instead of part of the original home. We have perfected the ability to blend the new with the old, and when needed, the old with the new. We study the desirable elements of the existing home and try to integrate them into the new design. In some cases we add some design elements to the existing home so it will blend with the new work. Please see our Parade of Homes section and the 2008 and 2005 entries for perfect examples of this. Our clients have told us that when friends visit and learn they have added to their home, they are always asked. “Where? We don’t see it.”
We take our responsibilities personally. After we meet our clients, study the scope of the project and budget, we try and put ourselves in our client’s shoes and ask ourselves what would we do if this was our home? If the answer is that we would not follow the path we are on, we have a serious conversation with the client to be sure they really want to do what they have told us and why. As we evaluate each aspect of the design, we ask ourselves if a particular element would be included if we were building a brand new home? If the answer is no, we discuss with the client why we think the proposed project might be out of place, function poorly, or is not cost effective and may hurt their resale value down the road. That being said, the ultimate decision is yours and we will do whatever our clients ask as long as it is not illegal, immoral or fattening.
Specifications & Selections (“The Shiny Stuff”)
Many of the technical selection items, such as what kind of lumber to use, how the drywall will be glued and screwed, etc. that are necessary to put the home together can be made by your contractor or designer. Pick a designer and builder that you trust and let them advise you in this area, particularly in the bricks and sticks areas. The finish material specifications or the “shiny stuff,” includes the plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, cabinets, counter tops, etc. In this area, many clients already have ideas. Your designer can work with you to guide you to selections that will work with your budget and the project itself. If the budget was taken into consideration at the design stage then there should be enough money left to put the finishing touches on the project that makes it all worthwhile.
A good way to start the specification process is for the designer or builder to block out the various finishing areas and then have the client decide what they want in those particular areas one by one. A reasonable quantity, quality, and price of each selection are then allocated to each of the areas to make sure you preserve enough money in the budget to complete all areas envisioned. You can help with this stage by creating a simple file with ideas taken from homes you have seen, magazines, visits to stores, the internet etc. File the photos by category (kitchen, plumbing, trim, etc.) Do not wear yourself out by trying to make your final decisions at the initial stage of design. We help our clients to get a reasonable “education” on each of the finishing areas and their costs so that the budget is sufficient for the project. For instance, in the area of appliances, the thousands of appliances available can confuse any purchaser. In our initial budget process, we would have a brief discussion as to the quality of appliances you think you are looking for and then we offer suggestions that fit into that category and your budget. With over 30 years of experience, we guide our clients to a quick “ball-park” selection which will lead to a reliable line-item in the budget to take care of appliances. We will suggest a refrigerator, dishwasher, disposal, oven, cook top, etc. which should meet the level of quality that you have stated you want. We will then put prices on each of these appliances for you and show you a total that we will suggest be included as a line item (allowance) in the budget to cover appliances. We sometimes recommend bumping the allowance 10% to 15% to allow for some latitude in the selection should you decide to upgrade later. We pass through the great prices we get from our purchasing group to help you get the best prices on your selections.
Once the entire budget is put together, you can revisit each of the selection areas to refine the selection so that the product can be ordered and delivered within the construction schedule. The overruns, when they come, are generally caused by the client changing their mind on what they wanted.
How “green” you want your home is really part of the design and specification process, but merits a special comment. Green Building in remodeling is more complicated than in new construction as the bones of the home already exist. This limits what can be done to the old portion of the home, but often there are still ways to make minor improvements through the addition of insulation, upgrading HVAC systems, changing the windows and doors, etc. The green movement is an important one and is currently supported by our government through the availability of certain tax credits. Before you begin your remodeling project or build your new home, we encourage you to check with your tax consultant to learn more about these credits.
The Professional Services Agreement (PSA)
The PSA is an administrative vehicle we have used successfully for over 30 years to get our potential clients to a point where they know what their project is going to look like, what finishing products will be included, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Under this agreement, we design the project, define the specifications and determine the costs and the client has not commited to us that we are the builder. We find this is also a very good way for us to get to know our clients and our clients to get to know us. In most instances, at the completion of our work we do enter into a contract to construct the project. On the few rare instances when we did not, we simply shook hands and went our separate ways with no further obligations to one another.
We do charge a nominal fee for work as discussed in our New Plans section. If we end up actually building the project we have designed, we credit a lot of the PSA costs toward the total cost of the project.
Financing is often the last item thought about, but it should be first. Financing a remodeling project is a specialty field in the lending business and each lender has its own process. We have a list of lenders with whom we have worked with for a number of years who are experienced at financing a remodel or addition. We have no ownership interest in any of these lenders or approval authority. We do hope that our long time relationship with them will prove beneficial to our clients. Our recommended lenders will discuss your project with you, your current finances and borrowing ability and let you know approximately how much you can finance before you start the design process. The final loan commitment will be predicated on the final contract, drawings, appraisal, and other financial factors.
Most of our remodeling clients already have a lender that holds the mortgage on their home. Many times this is the first source they think of to finance the new work. Unfortunately, many lenders are great at financing existing homes but do not understand remodeling. We often hear from our clients that when they contacted their lender to see how much they might finance the lender told them before they would discuss the possible lending limits the client would first have to bring in a complete set of plans and a construction contract. From what we have discussed you now know this is backwards because you now can appreciate how important it is to have a handle on the budget before the projects gets into design.
Scheduling in a remodeling project is even more critical than in new home construction. In most projects, the homeowner remains in the home so a poorly thought out or an inefficiently run project ending up with an overly-long schedule can be frustrating. To avoid unnecessary delays, the schedule should be seriously considered even at the design stage. We have seen major remodeling projects where the design required that the first thing the builder do is to remove the kitchen. Our first question is what is the family going to do for dinner for 6-8 months? There are ways to design projects so the disruption is kept to a minimum. For example with a kitchen remodel and expansion, we design so the addition portion is essentially complete before we punch through to the existing kitchen thus minimizing the disruption. If we are removing an old laundry we try to get the new one up and running or establish a temporary one before we remove the old one.
How long a remodel project will take is a direct function of how big the project is, how much of the existing home has to be modified, how complex the critical elements are and what access the crews have to the project. If most of the project is an addition, then we can keep the disruption to the existing home to a minimum and, since it is most like new construction, the work usually goes faster than internal remodeling of an area of the same size. As we draw the construction details, we keep the schedule in mind. If we can block off the portion of the home where the work is being done in some way, the homeowners can use the unaffected areas until we have to connect the two areas.
We try to accommodate our clients schedule as much as possible, but in doing so a project can take longer. If our crews cannot start work until after 9:00 am when folks go off to work or the owners want us to be quiet during their child’s nap time then the schedule [and cost] will be impacted, sometimes significantly. In some cases, it just does not make sense for the clients to stay in the home at all or perhaps they should vacate just during particularly invasive stages of construction. Trying to work around a family and pets when the work at hand is noisy, dusty, and dangerous is not in anyone’s best interests. We have a frank discussion about this with our clients before the contract is signed.
Many customers are not aware of what is in the warranty they are getting until the end of the project. We think that is the wrong approach. We provide our clients with the warranty as part of our contract so they know before work begins what to expect. A warranty, however, is only a piece of paper and is only as good as the builder who is behind it. Many of the warranty heartaches that we hear about in the industry are the direct function of the owner who is only looking for the cheapest price and ends up choosing an inexperienced contractor who has a poor track record of delivering a quality product and an even worse track record of honoring their commitments to fix the legitimate complaints of their customers. When you do your due-diligence in checking out the contractors you are interviewing, ask pervious clients about how the contractor honored their obligations after the project was done. This is the honorable thing to do and just makes good business sense.
The contract documents serve as the road map for the construction process once the budget is agreed upon and the design is complete. You should expect the contract to be one sided in favor of the builder. This is because the owner is usually a neophyte at this process, but the builder should be an expert in his trade. The contractor should be able to provide references that show they will do what they contract to do, at the agreed upon price and on schedule. Remodeling clients, on the other hand, are usually new to all this and have no such references to provide the contractor. The builder should be in charge of all aspects of the project and should be held responsible for all aspects of the project. We pride ourselves in having a contract that we have refined over the last 30 years that is clear, concise, and fair to all parties. Once we finalize our contract with you we encourage you to take it to your attorney and get their opinion. In many cases, our customer’s attorneys advise their clients that if we are as professional in our construction as we are in our contract presentation then they have made the right decision in a contractor. When you come to Foley Construction, do not ask for our “boiler plate” contract, because we do not have one. Every remodeling project is different so we have to customize our basic contract for each client which we do after the design, specifications and price have been agree upon.
Remodeling contracts in the Washington area are usually in one of two formats, “cost-plus” and “turn-key”. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
There are several forms of cost plus contracts. The cost plus contract is where the owner pays for all the costs associated with the project plus an agreed upon percentage mark-up to the contractor. The advantage for the client is that they get to see all the numbers and they know just what the contractor is making. The disadvantage is that the client is taking the risk of the project going over budget. In a cost-plus scenario there is no incentive for the contractor to fight hard for the lowest price for comparable work. Vendors and subcontractors tell us they like when the owner chooses a cost-plus format because the many contractors that build under cost-plus contracts all the time are much more willing to take the first price offered. For the homeowner, the experience and quality of character of the contractor in this format is probably as important as any part of the project. The owner should be confident that the contractor they select will strive to try and get a lower cost even if it means the contractor will make less money. We are amazed to hear from other builders at how many normally sensible homeowners agree to start a project in a cost-plus format without the project being bid out completely and with only a general idea of what the budget is. We believe this is a formula for a disaster. You should also discuss with your lender if they will entertain a cost-plus format on a larger project. Some will not finance a cost-plus project unless they know the contractor and trust his integrity and cost control.
Very simply, a turn-key contract is where the contractor and owner agree on a set of plans, specifications and a price and the contractor is responsible for bringing the project in on time and on budget. This is the format we have used successfully for years and is the one our clients, their lenders and their lawyers are most comfortable.
Hopefully this outline has made you more comfortable with the overall remodeling process. Your best key to a successful remodeling project is to do your homework and check references of every contractor you talk to extensively so you choose a good, competent, experienced company that can guarantee your dreams will become a reality in a cost effective, timely and enjoyable fashion.
Overview of the Remodeling/Addition Process is copyright by (WMFCC 2009). This document may not be used or duplicated, in whole or in part, without the expressed written permission of W.M. Foley Construction Corp. ©W.M. Foley Construction Corp.