Remodeling? How to Get Started

Secrets to a Smooth, Successful Project

Keep in mind…

“Be aware: Remodelers offer an entrepreneurial service, not a product.  This is not like buying a car.  You are hiring the personality, team and skill-set of a unique company.  Factor this in to your decision, and do not look blindly at price when choosing a contractor. ” ~ Dan Bawden


1.  We want to remodel our home, what do we do first?

  1. Start a binder with pocket-sections.  Label sections for “Ideas”, “appliances”,  “Plumbing fixtures” , “Tile selections” , “Flooring Selections”, “Paint colors”, “Furniture”,  “Decorative hardware”, etc depending on your project.
  2. Collect photos of products, colors and “looks” that appeal to you.  One trip to a good book store and you‘ll come home with an armful of  magazines and “SIP’s” (special interest publications about remodeling) chock full of ideas.  These are very helpful to us as project designers, and assure your finished project will fit you and give you the soul-fulfilling happiness it should.
  3. Start interviewing contractors early on.  For a list of great questions to ask contractors before anyone comes out to your home, see my article about selecting a remodeler .
  4. Find out if you are in the 100 year flood plain if you are doing a large renovation, or are adding on – even if it is a small addition.  Put your street address in this link:

2.  Does the Houston area present any specific remodeling challenges? 

  1. Unfortunately, YES!  There are new restrictions on building or remodeling if you are in the 100 year flood plain.  Ask your contractor about thee new rules before drawing any plans.  The restrictions may prevent you from being able to add on (if you are in the “floodway” or you may have to build your addition 2.5-3.0 feet higher than the rest of your house!

3.  Where do I find contractors to interview?

  1. The Houston Remodeling Guide
  2. Also look for an up-to-date list at (the Greater Houston Builders Assoc.)
  3. Limit your candidates to those with national certifications, such as “CGR ”  (Certified Graduate Remodeler) and “GMB”   (Graduate Master Builder).  If you want green building expertise on your project look for a certification called “CGP”   (Certified Green Professional).  These guys are the reputable pros you are looking for, and there are lots of us in the Houston Area.
  4. Note: If you take recommendations for friends and neighbors, you should still ask the tough questions about contractor registration, membership in the Greater Houston Builder’s Association insurance coverage, etc.
  5. Interview suggestions: Do in-depth phone interviews before having anyone come out.  Narrow your search to two qualified remodelers that you have good “chemistry” with, then have those two come out for a visit at your home.

4.   How many remodelers should I get bids from?

  1. “Old school” thinking is that you have to get “three or more bids”.
  2. People are busy these days are busy so a smarter, more efficient method is being used.
  3. Instead of walking several remodelers through your house, do a comprehensive interview on the phone first.  Narrow down the field to one or two companies you know are a professionals and are a good fit for you.  Invite them out of an on-site look.
  4. Pick one company and negotiate the project scope and cost by discussing and setting a realistic budget.
  5. Work with your remodeler as a “ partner ”.  Integrity and trust are key at this point.  If you don’t feel comfortable discussing project ideas and the costs associated, find another contractor.  The chemistry between you must be solid before you enter the remodeling process together.
  6. If you feel you must get more than one price, the only way to compare is to pay one contractor to write up a detailed “Scope of Work” with allowance costs for tile, stone, plumbing fixtures etc.  Then have both companies bid that same Scope of Work.

5.   How do I know if a remodeling company is qualified?

See the specific list of questions to ask contractors in my article about selecting a remodeler.

6.  Will I need a permit to remodel?

  1. Permitting requirements depend on the type of  project and part of town you are remodeling in.   If you aren’t sure, call the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Dept. at 713-535-7510
  2. Technically, any project you do in your home that touches plumbing or structural work (i.e. widening a doorway in a load-bearing wall) should be permitted.  However the City inspectors would be (more) overwhelmed if a permit was pulled every time a small modification was made, such as a faucet replacement.
  3. Actual practice:  The general rule of thumb in Houston call for permitting all room addition work and any “whole house” renovation work, but probably not kitchen and bath remodeling where you are removing and putting back the components where they originally were.
  4. Be aware that even sheetrock work and painting may need to be permitted if they are done as part of a weather-related flooded-home-repair scenario.  Hopefully we will never see that scenario again!

7.  How long will the process take and how will my family function for example, without a kitchen?

  1. For an average kitchen remodel, expect the time overall to take about six to eight weeks. However, you may be able to use parts of your kitchen after 3-4 weeks, maybe sooner.  Look at it as a chance to try out some new restaurants, in addition to being a “regular” at your current spots.
  2. Your contractor should give you a detailed description of the work in a written, signed estimate.  This description is called “Specifications” and without them, no one can give you a projected duration with any certainty.  Your estimate contract should contain both specifications and a projected duration.
  3. Adding work along the way will add to the duration, and everyone adds work once the exciting process of remodeling gets underway.
  4. The job will go faster if you have made all your selections.
  5. Allow extra time for custom made items that are built off-site, such as granite counters and custom cabinetry.
  6. Remodeling always takes longer than expected… so expect it!

8.  Ask: Do you carry insurance and liability and how is my project (home) and your labor insured? What is my exposure during the project?

  1. I would not allow a remodeler without general liability insurance to set foot in my home.   Remodeling does involve risks including fire, water damage, and injuries.
  2. Ask your contractor for a “certificate of insurance” with your name listed at the “loss payee” at the bottom, and (this is important) ask that it come by regular mail directly from the insurance carrier.  Some contractors will “fake” the forms so it appears you have coverage when you don’t.
  3. Professional remodeling contractors carry $1 Million in insurance coverage or more.  If the amount is less than that, be suspicious

9.  Who will be in charge of supervising the job?

  1. How a project is supervised is a critical key to how frustrating the process will be for you.
  2. On typical projects,  professional remodeling companies will have a “project manager,” foreman, or lead carpenter – one person assigned who regularly visits the job to supervise and schedule the work and make sure things are being done properly.
  3. On very larger projects that will go on for more than 6 months, ask for (and expect to pay for) a full-time on-site superintendent to coordinate the work flow.
  4. Good communication is key!  Weekly meetings, or at least weekly conference calls should be scheduled and attended by both spouses and the Project Manager to discuss the schedule, your respective duties, resolve any problems, etc.

10.   How long is the remodeling company’s work guaranteed?

  1. Texas State law no longer proscribes the length of a remodeler’s or builder’s warranties so remodeler’s offer their own custom warranties.
  2. Your contract should spell out the warranty terms, which currently are typically 1 year, labor and materials.  If you see a vague warranty or one for less than one year, ask for it to be corrected and insist on at least 1 year.