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Design to Build On

One experience that makes me unique in the remodeling and design community is my time designing homes as an employee of Winans Construction Inc, a Design Build company out of Oakland, CA. Past National NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) President and SFBA NARI (San Francisco Bay Area) chapter presidents, Paul Winans & his very organized wife Nina have since retired remodeling homes, but their legacy lives on as they continue to come along side professional contractors via  and Remodelers Advantage, training them how to serve their clients with the highest integrity. 

Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Why is this unusual? Most Architects and Designers have very little hands-on experience with the designs they create. Now while I wasn't hammering nails or pouring concrete, I was present and available for answering questions about oddities that might come up such as framing being in the way that prevents the recessed light fixture or the shower valve and controls to be installed correctly. I was there to look for fine details and relationships, in tile placement and alignment for example. Keeping the completed project in mind so that in the end there were fewer items on the "final punch list" and no major do-over installation work to allow the homeowners to move back in on time.

Now as an independent kitchen and bath designer through Design Set Match I'm not a general contractor, but I do continue to offer the detailed focus that is necessary for a successful remodel. I like to work with general contractors who truly follow a team approach, who keep a detailed schedule of the project and who plan everything out as much as possible before starting construction. 

The team approach starts with Schematic Design. The Schematic Design phase gives me an opportunity to get to know you and your home better and I often connect homeowners with a couple of general contractors who truly care and value the new design you've work so hard come up with. I will have measured and drawn your existing rooms and created a couple of remodeled alternate options in my computer. During that time, I encourage my clients to connect with contractors, and as I’ve mentioned before in my article “Do I Really Need Three Bids?” have initial conversations and possibly get a ballpark cost (not a bid). Use this time to interview and narrow down your choices for whom you might want to work with.  If you have already selected your contractor that's great! I'd like to invite them to our appointment to review the schematic designs. 

El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

In the Design Process and Construction Preparation phases, our next steps will include selecting the materials you will actually use in your kitchen or bathroom.  While the contractor generally isn't involved much here, I will be providing them with a detailed list of materials, quotes and data/specification sheets so we can discuss possible concerns early. I like to go to your home to walk through the project with the contractor and their trade contractors. Occasionally there is a concern for the electrical load on the existing wiring and coordinating with PG&E, or reusing fresh water plumbing supply lines and the plumber may recommend bringing a new supply line from the main at the street. Having these conversations now sets up expectations and reduces stressful and costly unforeseen circumstances after construction has started. This also provides your contractor with accurate information so they can provide you with a fixed price contract, as I've recommended before in "Decisions and Consequences". All to often homeowners are suckered by the "lowest bid" only to realize that the “allowances” the contractor provided were far from realistic and end up costing thousands more than what they had expected.

During construction the contractor is "in charge" of managing their team, but I schedule site visits to see and help understand specific aspects. Much as I did while working on the Winans Construction team, I act as a guide who focuses on the end of the project while answering homeowner and contractor questions regarding framing, electrical, plumbing and tile layout. Unfortunately this can break down when contractors are not organized with their schedules, are poor communicators and don't return phone calls or emails in a timely manner. I try to eliminate this as much as possible by reaching out to them often and working with them earlier in the process rather than later so that we have built a relationship on trust and mutual respect especially if we haven't worked together before. 

My goal is not to push any contractor under a bus, nor is it to be pushed. It is to create a beautiful new space for you to live in happily for years. Pointing fingers and passing blame is not my objective. Let's work together to design and build your home in away that is satisfying to everyone on the team especially you.

 


Do I Really Need Three Bids?

The short answer is no, however the Contractors State Liscense Board (CSLB) says"Yes". Discrepancy? Not really. 

Alameda Victorian kitchen

Alameda Victorian kitchen

What the CSLB is trying to do is help protect you, the consumer. Too often homeowners like yourself decide to use the first "nice guy" contractor they meet to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms. Unfortunately an overwhelming number, seniors and younger generations alike, are taken advantage of by unlicensed, expired or even shared license contractors who take excessive time in completing the remodel and usually increase the cost by nickel and diming "unforeseen" circumstances that they really should've been aware of and all too often these "nice guys" disappear never to be found or finish the work you've already paid them to do. The CSLB isn't recommending that you do this practice of getting bids just so you can find the lowest bidder. In fact it's the mere opposite. Doing the bidding process will illuminate for you who has listened and payed attention to your needs, home, budget and other details vs who it trying to be the lowest bidder. Typically the lowest bidder has not made a clear detailed description of the work they will be doing for you, how long it will take and fixed costs, sometimes they even have asingle page contract that generically says "remodel kitchen".

So why do I disagree with the CSLB regarding bids? Honestly it's because you can vett the good contractors out more easily. Start with a conversation. Ask your interior designer or architect for recommended professionals they have relationships with. Ask them why they think the contractors they are recomending might be right for you. During the Schematic Design Process, I often recommend a couple of contractors for the homeowners to meet. Occasionally I haven't worked with them before in a home, but I've built a relationship with them through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and I've had great feedback about them and their work from colleges and past clients. More often than not I have worked with them on some remarkably transforming spaces. 

Main things I look for and recommend you look for too:

Lafayette Cottage Traditional Kitchen

Lafayette Cottage Traditional Kitchen

Trust

  • How do I feel in there presence
  • How do the things they say about their business model and process align with my core values? 
  • What is my basic gut feeling? It's okay to say it's not a good fit based on this alone.

 

Practical

  • What will they be like to work with as a designer and as a homeowner? 
  • Do they speak contractor over my head terminology or can they explain things in a way that I can easily understand? 
    • One of my pet-peeves is when experts in their field are my advisors, such as accountants and insurance professionals, and speak over my head in a lingo that is only specific to their career knowledge base.

 

Value

  • Pricing style:
    • Do they give a bid right after their first conversation with you based on random allowances?
      • How realistic could that really be?
    • Or do they offer a small contract to assess your home and provide a detailed construction contract with a fixed price?
      • In my experience this is the best path for a successful remodel.
  • Communication:
    • Does their construction contract provide a detailed list spelling out every fixture, faucet, work being done to re-wire and where etc?
    • Do they provide a construction schedule with their agreement outlining everything from where materials are ordered to when construction is expected to be completed?
    • Do they respond to emails and phone calls etc in a timely manner (generally 2 business days if they're not computer savy)? 
  • Finished product: 
    • Have you seen their recent work online or another portfolio?
    • Will they invite you to not only meet a past client but also see their project if you ask?
    • Did they pay attention to details or do you notice odd things that seem unfinished?

While there is nothing "wrong" with getting bids, we've seen how that can have a major negative impact in projects like the new San Francisco Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco and the gigantic cost overruns! The most important thing to remember is that this is your home, who do you want to invite into your most private spaces?