It is Summer and it is the busiest time to start outdoor projects and to hire a contractor. To compound the busy season this year the universe has decided to sprinkle in some home quarantine and voila, most contractors have a minimum of a three week lead time right now in the Denver metro area. It's a great time to start planning that kitchen remodel, indoor upgrades, or to schedule that chimney cleaning to get ahead of the Fall, October busy season.
Now that you have decided you want a new fence, deck, re-landscaped backyard, paint the exterior, etc. What are the next steps?
Hire a Licensed & Insured Contractor
First where do you look and find these contractors? Google search for contractors near year, post for recommendations on Next Door and Facebook, or maybe you like to use Angies List or Home Advisor? Whomever you go with, you not only want to check the reviews but you want to make sure they are licensed /certified and insured. Ask them for a copy of their general liability and E & O (errors & emissions) insurance. This is a standard practice in commercial construction and should be in residential as well.
Here is an example of a project I am working on. I would like to have a new five foot wood gate installed in my backyard. It's a small job, so I posted a request for recommendations on Next Door. I reached out to several of the recommendations and only one contractor responded. It was two weeks before he could come out and take a look at the project. He came out, provided an estimated base price of $200-
$500. I requested the estimate in writing etc. which he sent via a text message. Needless to say, I did not hire him and I have put the project back out to bid. Finding the right contractor can be extremely frustrating sometimes but they are out there. Trust your gut. If you're not comfortable, it is okay. Wait until you find the contractor that works for you.
Get the Scope of work in writing
It is extremely important to have the estimate in writing. This will help to make sure there is a clear expectation between what you are requesting and what the contractor is to deliver.
We'll use the five foot wood gate for example. Take a look at the two examples below and you will see a big difference in the expectation. If the contractor is not willing to tell you where they're getting the materials or how much they cost, that is the first RED FLAG.
I recently worked with a client as a consultant that hired a general contractor to remodel two bathrooms, a den, and a basement for a quoted amount of $24k. She thought she was getting a great deal until she was hit with a $24k change order. She did everything mentioned except verify the estimate. The GC quoted laminate tile vs. ceramic bathroom tile and a tile fireplace vs. quartz. Before you sign it, verify it is what you're asking for.
Estimate Example #1
1) Five foot wood gate = $200-$500
Estimate Example #2
Customer Name: Michael Kelly
Project Address: 1234 Blue Spruce Lane, Denver, CO
Project Discription: Installation and labor to install a five foot wide cedar gate, includes hardware, post drilling, concrete, set, and two coats of seal. Requires a 20% deposit prior to start and the remaining 80% upon project completion. Due to unforeseen ground conditions, roots etc., there may be additional labor costs. If this is the case the project will be placed on hold until a change order is approved in writing by the property owner.
Labor $150 (Additional 2hrs will be added if there is root intrusion, at $25 per hr. Max of 2hrs prior to additional approval)
Material $148.95 + Taxes @ $0.0831 - $12.38 = $161.33
Equipment Fee - $40
10% Material Markup $20.13 (Pickup & Delivery Included)
Grand Total = $371.46
Note: Current lead time for project start, is 4wks from receipt of the signed contract.
Sign Here -
Contractor License #
Take Pictures, document
Hope for the best but always plan to CYA (Cover your A**). A great way to do that is to document and take pictures. Take pictures before the contractor starts, now setup a project file in the cloud so you can access it from anywhere. I love google photos and google sheets web based free service. Take progress photos and completion photos.
You and your contractor have a conversation onsite. Follow that conversation up with an email, see example below. You can even include a google calendar reminder for both you and the contractor. If they don't show per the agreed time/date, reply to the email below requested an update. Then pick up the phone and call the general contractor or project manager.
It was great to see you yesterday and I love the extra detail you're putting into the project. Just to confirm per our conversation, the concrete installer will return next Tuesday, July 28th at 10 a.m.?
Also, can you provide an updated projected project completion date?
NO one wants to be presented or hear the words change order. It doesn't matter if it is residential or a large commercial project, the term change order is always a fun conversation. It is a good practice to receive bi-weekly or monthly progress updates, as well as budget updates from your contractors. I'm a fan of the google sheet project ghant charts and several other web based software platforms.
What is a change order?
A change order can be defined as work that is added to or deleted from the original plan/scope of work of a contract, proposal. And 95% of the time it is an additional fee and or increase to the original budget. Again, if you're changing the scope from a rolled laminate floor to a custom ceramic tile from Italy it is going to cost you significantly more.
There are exceptions in every situation. We'd all love to have Superman's vision and be able to see through walls but that technology doesn't exist. If your contractor opens up a wall and finds a leak or something else that was unforeseen, it's a valid change order. In the case of a water leak, it is a blessing in disguise. Water is the devil to any structural envelope and can slowly cause thousands of dollars in damage.
Completion Review & Oversight
The final walk through and punch list walk. This is when you walk the completed project with your general contractor or project manager.
If you're not a facility and or construction project manager, I highly recommend that at a bare minimum you hire a consultant to review your bid package, have a phased construction scope verification, and have a certified inspector or consultant inspect the final project before that walk final walk through. On a $24k project it is less than 5% of the total project cost but can save you time. If that is too much for your budget, hire an inspector to review and inspect the final project.
Here is my shameless plug! Prior to becoming a twice certified inspector, I was in construction and facility management for two decades. I have remodeled large retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants, apartments, large corporate offices, and storage facilities. Most recently I have been helping to ensure that projects are completed per the agreed upon scope of work in the residential sector. Remodeling can be overwhelming if you're not prepared, give us a call and we'll be happy to help give you peace of mind.