Contractors, Contracts, and Costs

Finding and hiring the right people to help do the job is crucially important when it comes to remodeling work.

Contractors Contracts Costs

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Dankmar Adler—architect and partner of the great Louis Sullivan in the firm of Adler and Sullivan—once remarked that he would rather hire a crook who knew how to build than hire an honest man who didn’t. “I can police a crook,” Adler said, “but if a man doesn’t know good work, how am I to get it out of him?”

I’m not sure I agree with Adler’s reasoning. But I do know that hiring well is one of life’s key skills—and a crucially important one when it comes to remodeling work. The right contractor can make the process go smoothly with a minimum of disruption to your life, while the wrong one can cost you money, peace of mind, and leave you with an unsatisfactory result.

While the timing varies, sooner or later you’ll need to shop for a contractor.

Or, perhaps, for several subcontractors. You or your designer may invite the partici­pation of builders during the planning stages or you may decide to wait until the plans are completed. That’s a judgment call best made jointly by you and your designer. If you’re working on a strictly limited budget, earlier consultation with a contractor to get estimates may help keep the focus on cost control. On the other hand, fewer inhibitions during the design stage may lead to more creative solutions to your particular remodeling if budgetary constraints allow.

Supposing that the time has come to find a contractor… who conducts the search?

Many architects will be happy to run interference for you. They can handle the finding, hiring, and estimating. The argument for this approach runs like this: If your architect does it, he or she will save you time (if he’s minding the store, you don’t have to). He knows whom to call to get quotes on a job. He may be able to get services and attention you would not since he can offer contractors consideration for future jobs. Since his business regularly involves soliciting and reviewing bids, he should know what to look for. He’s negotiated building contracts before, and has probably spent many hours resolving disagreements—since they are inevitable, his help may be valuable. He can inspect along the way. He can help decide on the inevitable small changes that occur in the course of construction. He can serve as a valuable buffer between you and the contractor.

If this sounds ideal, talk it over with your architect (or designer, though not all designers have the training and experience to perform all these services). Under­stand, however, that you will have to pay your architect a substantial additional fee. These additional services are not free.

Supposing you decide for financial or other reasons that you won’t be hand­ing over the reins to your architect, an alternative is to leave the supervision to the general contractor, whom we will meet shortly. Or you can be your own general con­tractor. Yet another option is to hire a construction manager. But before you decide which path to take, let’s take a closer look at the other players in the construction process.