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From plans to estimates: walk-thrus with the contractor and preparation for the renovation

Normally, the process would go like this:  the architect would produce preliminary drawings based on our discussions. We would go back and forth with revisions until we agree on a final floor plan. Then the architect would draw up the blueprints and put the project out to tender.

That is not exactly what we’re going to do.   In our case, he has recommended a couple of contractors who have done work for him in the past. He claimed that in his experience, a larger company would tend to overbid on a project like ours because it looks like much more work than it really is. The guys he recommends charge by the hour (as opposed to the job) and do excellent work.

Given that our experience with the contractor who worked on the second floor was less than positive, I am a more than a little nervous. However, a real estate agent recommended that contractor and an architect recommends these contractors.  You can guess which recommendation would carry more weight.

And we will still benefit from the architect’s oversight.   He will ensure that the project progresses smoothly and help keep material costs reasonable.

First walk-thru with the contractor

One of the contractors accompanied the architect to our house on Friday, February 27 to see what the job entailed.  First impressions are good.  The contractor took notes while touring the house but he refused to give a ballpark estimate on the spot before taking time to crunch the numbers over the weekend.

The contractor said that they were finishing one job and starting another the next week but we would be next in line after that.  The estimated time to complete the structural repairs plus the bedroom, bathroom and laundry room is approximately four weeks, but that doesn’t include the kitchen which we would like to do at the same time.

On a need-to-know basis

Early in our discussions with the architect, we talked about adding more work to the renovation. We intend to eventually remodel the kitchen and tentatively planned to do it when we have the addition rebuilt. However, it makes more sense to include the kitchen with this phase of construction. There are a couple of reasons for this.

  • First, there will probably be some material savings.  One has to assume that costs will increase year over year.  In the long run, as long as we are paying cash, it will be less expensive to do it sooner.
  • Second, all major renovations will be completed in the old part of the house, leaving only the addition for the future.
  • Third, the inspector may frown on the current state of the kitchen which has already had a bit of demolition done to it, so we might as well be preemptive about it and bring it up to code .
  • Fourth, I am simply sick of our kitchen as it is now.   The amount of counter space is misleading because of the layout. The cabinets are awkward and are deficient in usable storage. The hideous particle board cabinet doors (some with raw edges),  are painted a dark green (which is not very washable) and are different thicknesses (some are half inch, others are 3/4 inch).  And the electrical…. don’t get me started on the electrical. The kitchen needs to go. It’s just a question of when.
old kitchen
“While you’re at it…” the old kitchen has to go.

The architect decided that it would be best to wait before adding the kitchen to the project rather than risk overwhelming the contractors at this point.  Those were his words.  “Let’s not overwhelm them.”  His plan is to add the kitchen once they complete some of the other structural repairs and renovations so everything is more manageable.

Even when we add the kitchen to the project, the renovations should be completed by the middle of May, in time for the annual in-law invasion.

The estimate

The architect contacted me on Wednesday (March 4) once he received the estimate from the contractor. I had a ball park guess in my own head going into this and I was pleasantly surprised when the contractor’s estimate came in with my number at the high end.  I am not naive– I know that the cost will be higher.  And of course,  this estimate does not include the kitchen.   But at this point, the numbers are where I expected them to be and that’s a good thing.

Second walk-thru and first “while-you’re-at-it”

The contractor and architect both returned on Friday (March 6) for another look at the house and to discuss any design tweaks.  It was then that the reality hit.  We are going to be without a bathroom for a while during the demolition and construction.

I assumed that we would either shack up at a motel during the bathroom-less period, or else rent a porta-john and take sponge baths in the kitchen sink, but the architect and contractor came up with a better solution.  So now we are getting a new bathroom in the basement.  Nothing fancy, mind you.  Just a basic tub and shower, toilet and sink.  It was something we were planning to do anyway, sometime in the future.  It’s going to add a couple thousand dollars to the project (before we even started!) but it does add value to the house. We will at least get some return on that investment.  The motel or porta-john rental would just be money down the drain (no pun intended).

The contractor told us that they would be starting our project on Wednesday March 11.

The shopping spree begins

That’s when the reality hit.  We essentially designed the bathroom round a beautiful hydro-jet tub and shower combination that requires 2-4 weeks for delivery and we haven’t ordered it yet.  We went to the member’s only showroom (that shall remain nameless) on Saturday to place the order, but learned that we  would not be able to place the order until Tuesday.  Not good.

And it turns out that the on-line information was somewhat misleading and our original vision would be a budget-buster.  The shower doors are unique to this tub, and almost as expensive.  The other cool options that we were considering, like shower body jets and steam shower options were simply cost-prohibitive.  So we had to make some adjustments and scale down our wish list.

A trip to Home Depot was more successful.  We selected the tub, toilet, sink and faucets without much difficulty.  My wife and I are lucky to have similar tastes, so there was virtually no disagreements.

On Sunday, we returned to Home Depot a second time.  We compared the bathroom fixtures there to those available at that other showroom.   As it turns out, we found something we both liked at Home Depot.  We will spend about $500 less than we otherwise would have for something neither one of us was crazy about.

Getting the house ready

On Monday March 9, I began moved some stuff out of the basement into a storage unit, to give the contractors room for their materials and tools for the basement bathroom.  We also packed up a lot of stuff for donation, which is generally a good thing.   However, I couldn’t help feeling a little depressed.

A few of the items were toys that my daughter had outgrown.  While I’m happy to get rid of the clutter, I realize that her childhood is passing quickly.  I also donated a few of my suits.  My suits have a tendency to, um, shrink.  For some reason I was still holding onto a few of them going back about 25 years (and about 75 pounds).

We sure could use another week to get things in order, both for ourselves and for the contractor.  We’ve been waiting for so long to start this project that we have been caught off guard by how fast things are moving now that they are set in motion.

Let the chaos begin!

This blog post has been modified.  It contains content from 5 posts published between March 1 and March 11, 2009. Revised 2018



  1. David Klein

    I agree with the architect 100%. That would be a first for me. Working on a time and materials terms is usually in the favor of the homeowner, but gives the contractor less risk. It is very hard to bid a remodel because there are too many things that pop up or you can’t see until you get into it. Therefore I would have to bid it high enough to cover the unexpected. With a bid you pay for things that might not come up. Time and materials you only pay for the things that do come up. Still if you can get the contractor to agree to a “time and materials not to exceed $0.00″ contract, that is always a good idea. I do this for my customers whether they ask or not. It gives the homeowners a little comfort.

    • Thumb&Hammer

      The one possible issue I see with the “time and materials not to exceed $…” clause is that some contractors may take advantage of that and run the bill up to the maximum. The way around that of course is to set the threshold lower than it really is and prepare to go over if necessary. For example, just because I can afford $10,000 doesn’t mean I want to pay 10,000. I obviously want to pay as little as possible while getting a quality job. The advantage to having an architect / project manager is that he will be auditing the bills and we can make adjustment along the way to either stay within budget or make upgrades if we can afford to. As far as things popping up, we are budgeting for a complete gut and remodel. I don’t think there will be any more surprises than what I’ve already uncovered. Stay tuned.

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