Friday, October 11, 2013

The ABCs of Home Improvement Projects: Educational Point B

In school we learned our ABCs to speak the English language successfully. Succinctly moving in a logical way from A to B to C and through the remaining alphabet taught us how to write and speak words. Armed with knowledge, the means to communicate verbally and to write well is the goal. Home improvement projects follow a similar pattern and if you skip a step, it can be challenging to recover.

If you missed first Starting At Point A, where I reviewed three steps 1) Get inspired, 2) Do Your Research, and 3) What's The Magic Number, click here to start from the beginning. Otherwise, we are moving forward in The ABCs of Home Improvement Projects: Education Point B.

Educational Point B

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A decision to take the next steps is necessary to complete a home improvement or repair and now time sounds like a nasty little word that slows down the process. It is true that organizing the right people, discussing the facts about the your project, and connecting takes time and patience before physically starting a project. Did you ever rush to get out of the supermarket only to find there was one really important item missed during the shop?

Getting The Details In Point B

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Step 1:  Call-in or go-to the experts! 

Armed with inspiration and pricing knowledge, it's now time to call-in or go-to an expert.  The best resource for hiring an expert comes through the referral of a friend, family member, Realtor, or other professionals who work within the industry.  By clicking on the following professionals trained in designing home related projects, you can read about their roles in the field of home design:  Architect, Interior Designer, Interior Decorator, Kitchen & Bath Expert.  Keep in mind, professionals may combine two or more related fields of interest and they may or may not belong to a specific associated membership program but still carry the credentials and/or work experience related to their field of expertise.

Homeowners looking to complete there own projects may opt to go to a product specific showrooms and work with an on-sight designer and/or decorator.  The good news is that often their services are included in your shopping experience.  Do consider that showroom professionals are paid to sell their companies products.  As a homeowner, you may need to visit several showrooms to gain differing product specification in order to make an informed decision (e.g. kitchen cabinets, tile, plumbing fixtures). As long as you don't mind the leg work and time involved in research, then a DIY project is up your alley.  Otherwise, paying a professional to research, design, and present options that are available to Trade Professionals may be the direction a busy homeowners should go and it is ultimately worth the price of services rendered.

Last, but not least, many professionals are listed on a variety of home improvement sites.  Angie's List, Home Advisor, Houzz, Interior Design Pro are a few and many of the sites qualify the business for you.  Plus your local county clerk's office (e.g. Westchester County, NY) will offer a list of Licensed and Insured Plumbers, Electricians, and Contractors for your local area.  Bottom line, do a bit of checking by getting a referral, a reference or two, or do the research for a qualified professional.


Step 2:  Gather Your Estimates

Many professionals offer a free estimate, initial consultation, or paid consultation to assist in creating your dream.  Gathering information for a budget is critical before you start reaching out.  

When you call-in the experts, the purpose of your meeting is to not only gather information on their qualifications, but also to determine if you like the company, the professional, and their work.  Some projects may be as short as a day or two, while others may involve up to a year or two to complete.  You better be able to connect with the individual and like their work.  Otherwise, it may be a painful process rather than good experience where you enjoy the company of a knowledgeable trade professional.
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Start your meeting by discussing your project needs and inspirations.  Be prepared to talk about your family's motivation for starting the project (e.g. expecting a baby, a parent is coming to live, or the children are now finished college).  These details expand on the design by revealing the emotional and functional purposes of the home improvement project.  Next, a review of the space, project, or architectural plans may be in order.  Measurements, pictures, or additional questions will likely arise in order to receive an accurate price and determine if the professional relationship is a good fit.  It may take a day or up to a week or two to get an estimate on services, products, or the combination of both.  Be sure to ask when you can expect to receive the estimate and get a minimum of two to three estimates for price comparison, time-lines, and the scope of work required for your project.  

Step 3:  Make An Informed Decision 

The estimates are in...but, what does it all mean?  Finding remodeling costs for a project may be a little daunting, but the hourly rate, cost-plus, percentage of projects, etc. seem to all have their own set of rules.  Depending on the trade or profession, their pricing language is thrown around without a way to measure the most cost-effective approach - or, so it seems. 

The price for services can be separate (i.e., hourly rate), included in the overall project (e.g., by the square foot, flat rate or project fee) or added to the trade pricing of thee product for ordering, tracking, and processing (e.g., cost plus materials).  If you are purchasing the materials and providing it to the professional to install, then an hourly rate or by the project fee would be the way to go.  Otherwise, utilizing a trade professionals access to vendors and manufactures will result in reduced pricing for materials that could cover the fees of their services (e.g. interior decorator or designer) with the added benefit of a new kitchen, bath, or whole home interior design.

As I mentioned in Starting At Point A, an in-house designer rate may be included with the purchase of furniture, cabinetry, tile, etc.  But, if a design is required (e.g. kitchen or bath), and the professional must develop the floor plan before the product can be purchased (e.g. cabinetry, furniture, etc.), a non-refundable design retainer may be required.  Design Retainers are a commitment for services that result in an overall concept, can be applied towards the overall budget, or simply for services rendered.  It is important to clarify this with the store, employee, or professional.

Here are a few links to visit for pricing structures: 

Next week, the final installment of The ABCs of Home Improvement Projects:  Follow Through Point C.
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