Try searching for “steps to a successful remodel” and see how many sites there are to visit. It’s overwhelming, all over the map. While compiling this guide I’m making a few assumptions. You don’t have time to waste, want the framework to pursue a project, find the right person to do the work and quality is more important than budget. If this fits then you’ll find this guide helpful, if not then back to Google and search for “Steps to a miserable remodeling experience”.

Do not under estimate the value of design and be prepared to invest in it. Quality starts here. You must have a completed set of drawings and specifications in order to build a quality project on time. It’s no different then any business producing a quality product.

  • 1. Find a designer – Rely on two methods. Referrals and Research. Your project scope will determine the level of design professional you will need. These can be broken down into two categories: Projects “inside the existing four walls” and projects “outside the four walls”.
    • 1.1 Inside the four walls: Applies to minor remodels, kitchen, baths, or whole home remodels not adding square footage. Interior Designers, Kitchen and Bath Designers, and Residential Designers are typically adequate. Visit these sites and do your research: , and these are the primary associations certifying designers in California and nationwide. There may be good designers out there that are not certified but don’t waste your time unless, of course, you have a lot of it.
    • 1.2 Outside the four walls: Applies to major remodels, home additions, or new custom homes. Either way you have two options: hire a licensed architect or a residential designer. Either way can work it’s dependant on how complicated your project. Visit these sites to search for an architect: the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Also search the authority in green building in California. Not all architects are members so you may also search your state website. Residential Designers can be found within your local listing and may be adequate for your project.
    • 1.3 Off-line ways to discover a reputable design professional: Contact prominent builders in your area and tell them that you are interested in considering their company to build your project. Ask for design professional referrals that they would prefer you use. Step into your city Planning Department office and ask for a few good names that have been doing business in your city. Have your admin search your company employees for referrals.
  • 2. Qualify your candidates – Step one does not guarantee success. Asking just a few questions that drill through can help.
    • 2.1 Do they listen? It’s very common to find a designer that thinks they already have the solution before they learn about you and your family. Invite them to your home, outline your goals, and explain your preferences such as style, materials, lifestyle, etc. Ask their thoughts. Did they listen?
    • 2.2 Ask to see their portfolio. Online is OK. If they have one, great! If not show them the door.
    • 2.3 Discuss their credentials and ask “what does this mean to me?” If there are none, make a judgment call.
    • 2.4 “What are the most important things about design to you”? Listen for cliché’s like: Attention to detail, quality materials, reflecting the client’s personality, blending with the neighborhood, meeting the budget etc. etc. Ask them to elaborate on each. Listen and look for the passion and if they seem to fit.
    • 2.5 “What is your deliverable”? For Example: Completed plan sets, details, specifications, etc. Have them show you a project similar to yours. Compare to other candidates.
    • 2.6 “As a designer how are you accountable to my budget”? “What steps do you take to insure this?” At a minimum get it down in the agreement (if it matters).
    • 2.7 What tools will you provide to obtain competitive “apple-to-apple” construction estimates? This is huge.
    • 2.8 “Do you have a strong alliance with a builder?” If so get their names and CALL THEM for the real deal.
    • 2.9 “Are you the structural engineer or do you contract this out” Get their name and CALL THEM for the real deal.
    • 2.10 “Who is the person you normally deal with at the city Planning and Building Department” Get their name and CALL THEM for the real deal.
    • 2.11 Have a few builder candidates at your side to consult with as you progress through design phases. This can really help and most design professionals appreciate the insight.
  • 3. Common mistakes
    • 3.1 A well thought out plan – It’s somewhat common for a design professional to propose ideas that may not work as expected. Let your design professional know that you expect their ideas to work with all aspects and systems of the home. At each phase of design ask your builder candidates to review the plans and get their opinion on feasibility. If necessary ask your design professional to consult with specialists early in the process. For Example: Plumbing, Electrical/Lighting, Mechanical/HVAC, Energy/Solar design, etc.
    • 3.2 Interior Design – An often overlooked very important part of a quality project is consulting with an interior designer at each phase of design (more to come). Important aesthetic details can be overlooked and prevalent everyday for the rest of your life.
    • 3.3 Material and Product Specifications – A huge contributor to poor quality is compromising details, cost escalation, and schedule delay. It’s typical for homeowners and even design professional to defer these choices till the last minute, primarily because this is very tedious work and frankly just as much if not more work than designing the structure. It breaks down into two categories: House Systems and Finish Materials. With all these materials designed and specified prior to construction you make take longer to get started but you will have accurate costs, proper procurement, and an uncompromised final product. Push your design professionals to have it all nailed down.
    • 3.4 Obtaining Comparable Estimates – A gigantic issue for nearly every homeowner. Builders estimating method, plan interpretation, comparable allowances for materials and work, on and on. Quite frankly this is where the homeowner tries to intervene when in reality they should do the opposite. One must rely 100% on their design professional team to mitigate this issue. There are just a few things that will govern the cost and construction of the project. 1) Plans 2) Specifications 3) Site conditions 4) Estimating Criteria (more to come). That’s it. You should be able to be at your site, hand the prospective builder a set of plans, specifications, and estimating criteria all prepared by your team and tell him to base everything off this information. Sounds simple but many projects are equipped without the thoroughness required. You’ll pay sooner or later.
    • 3.5 Getting in the middle – A frequent issue with homeowners whom un-knowingly sabotage a project. The more responsibilities you take on the more liability you accept and therefore the less liability your design team or builder accepts. This often happens to save a buck and more often ends up costing more by the end. Be very selective on your “middle man” role. Let your team do the work.
  • 4. Find a Contractor – Rely on a few methods. Your Design Professional, Research and Referrals. Pay special attention to your candidate’s capabilities and credentials.
    • 4.1 Ideally you have linked up with a few candidates early on during the design phases. Even if you must pay a consultation fee it’s worth it. This will give you time to interact with them.
    • 4.2 Research: (National Association of Home Builders), (National Association of Remodeling Industry),, or and search for companies in your area. Don’t expect all companies to belong to all or any of these associations but it does some early qualifying.
    • 4.3 Look for credentials such as: CGR (Certified Graduate Remodeler) through the NAHB, CR (Certified Remodeler) through NARI, and CGBP (Certified Green Building Professional) through Build it Green, the authority on Green Building in California.
  • 5. Qualify the candidates – There are fundamental steps that a professional builder or remodeler should take in order to obtain your business and manage the project successfully. Gauge you results on how each fulfill the criteria and be willing to accept that the less they have the higher the risk you will inherit. It may seem like micro-managing in some areas but once you approve the contract you’re married. Here is what to ask and look out for.
    • 5.1 Review projects that the builder has completed that are similar to scope and size to yours. Ask to look at plans, specifications provided by builder and pictures.
    • 5.2 Refrain from only depending on a reference list of past clients and ask to speak with projects mentioned above. This narrows the reference qualifications.
    • 5.3 Ask to see a project and contact the clients for projects currently under construction or recently completed.
    • 5.4 Request to review the construction schedule for the referral projects. Professional companies use industry specific software incorporating Gant charts.
    • 5.5 When reviewing the estimate and contract insure that it references the items as listed in 3.4. Review exclusion clause carefully. You have invested in these details and must close the loop at this point.
    • 5.6 Ask “what is not included” or “what is my responsibility to provide and/or pay for.” Compare this to other candidates.
    • 5.7 Before selecting a company, ask to see a detailed construction schedule for your project which should include weekly details and progress payments. Look for dates critical path items such as special order materials are being ordered. This will demonstrate due diligence and substantiate scheduling capabilities.
    • 5.8 Research license and insurance status for builder at state web site. Confirm that they hold liability and workmen’s compensation insurance. Once the company is selected have the builder provide certificates of insurance with you named as additionally insured and a list of all subcontractors whom will be on your property.
  • 6. Common Mistakes
    • 6.1 Rushing through the design process and paying the price due to lack of details, information, materials provided on time resulting in change orders, and schedule delays during construction.
    • 6.2 Accepting the lowest cost estimate while overlooking key candidate qualifications and hoping for the best. It’s human nature to convince yourself that you have made the right decisions. Be prepared to accept liability and cost escalation as you may be held hostage.
    • 6.3 Not providing materials to project in time that remains your responsibility. Good Examples: Lighting and Plumbing Fixtures, Appliances and decorative hardware.
    • 6.4 Becoming too involved by excluding certain trade contractors outside the contract and then not performing on time or of acceptable quality.
    • 6.5 Attempting to act as your own contractor.

This guide was developed by Bill Reid as a tool for busy professionals to productively get started on their remodel project. For further information or consultation services please contact Bill Reid at

More to come

ü Understanding the design phases

ü Estimating criteria for comparing construction costs.

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