Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or Hire a Pro?
Will your kitchen remodel be a do-it-yourselfer (DIY) project? Or will you hire a professional contractor? Construction and installation will be large line items in your budget. Determine early on if you will use a pro, or if you have the time, skills and tools to take on some or all of the labor. This decision will affect both timeline and budget for your kitchen remodel.Most homeowners fall somewhere in between DIY and Pro. A novice DIY-er can take on tear out, demolition, painting and clean up. Another might have the resources (including relatives, friends and the tools) to install cabinets, but will hire a professional finish carpenter to install crown molding.
Even natural DIY types sometimes find themselves facing a project and asking: Should I handle this myself or hire a Pro? You’re a rare person if you have all the skills and tools to be a carpenter, electrician, plumber, flooring/tile installer, and finish carpenter. You will also need the skills of a general contractor to plan and schedule all the steps of a kitchen installation. Remember that the kitchen is the most complex room in your home to remodel. If you’re considering DIY know that it will save you money but will more than likely add time.
DIY Self Reality Check
Before you commit to being a DIY answer (honestly) the questions below before you commit to your kitchen remodel. Being a DIY can be challenging but rewarding.
Q. Do you like to research projects?
Q. Do you have the time and what is your time worth?
Q. Do you have the installation skills?
Q. Do you have the tools to complete your remodel?
Q. Do you enjoy physical labor and like getting dirty?
Q. Do have the patience to complete a kitchen remodel?
Q. Do you have the planning skills to stay on track?
If you’ve determined that you need to hire a Pro you still need to do your research. Rushing to hire the first, or cheapest, Pro will be a bad plan. Concentrate on General Contractors (GC) or Pros that specialize in kitchen installation remodels. Homeowners are sometimes surprised by how much advance notice they need to give a contractor to schedule a project. Reliable, reputable Pros, often run their businesses largely from referrals, tend to be especially busy and may be booked many weeks in advance.
Finding a Pro
A large part of your planning will be selecting a professional contractor that will work with you, your schedule and family. You want to have trust in your Pro.
A great way to find a Pro who specializes in kitchen remodels is word of mouth. Ask your family and friends for referrals. There are other great options to such as Angie’s List, Zillow, Porch.com, and professional organizations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Before you commit to a contractor, check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau. See below for more detailed information.
More than likely as a DIY you will do a combination of the work yourself and hiring specific professionals. This is not to say that you don’t have skills to hook up your plumbing but are you comfortable working with gas or electrical? There are many things that you can do as a non-expert to help reduce your construction & install costs. Work your circle of friends – maybe your brother-in-law is an electrician or your friend knows a plumber? These can be great resources that can help you avoid major issues and reduce costs.
Selecting a Pro
No matter who you select as a Pro, even if it’s Uncle Fred, you need to ask questions. You want a Pro that has knowledge, experience and a good reputation. A professional contractor is much more than an installer. They will be your project manager and need to have great planning and communication skills to keep stress and conflicts to a minimum. Keep in mind that no project is completed without problems. A good Pro (and customer) helps resolve problems and not make them worse.
Important Questions to ask a Pro
Start your selection process with the questions listed below. You need to literally interview Pros to help you determine if they have the right skills and that your personalities will get along. Your relationship with your Pro will be essential to a great remodel because of the amount of time they will spend in your home.
Q. What’s your business history?
Knowing a Pro’s history is important to make sure that they are a legitimate and reputable business.
• How long have you been in business?
• Are you certified, licensed, bonded, and insured? (Read our blog post on these terms.)
• What percentage of your business is repeat or referrals?
• Are you a member of a national trade association?
• Do have a list of references from your past 3-4 projects, including a present project?
Q. Do you provide a detailed written contract?
Misunderstandings happen, especially with complex projects such as a kitchen. But a detailed contract helps you and the contractor know what is expected from each other. The contract should be very specific and point out, step by step, what will be completed and an estimated date when the remodel will be completed.
Below are some items that a contract should include:
• Name, address, and phones for all parties including vendors and sub-contractors
• Details list of work to be completed
• List of products along with price and model numbers
• Who will be responsible for pulling permits?
• Where deliveries will be stored
• Who will be purchasing items?
• What time the workers will begin and end each day
• Project start and completion date along with payment schedule
• All work carried out by sub-contractors
• Project completion goals, example; When is project 50% complete
Q. What is your process for change orders?
Change orders are part of every kitchen project. It is not possible for yourself or the Pro to account for every single detail for the initial signed contract. There has never been a perfect kitchen remodel. And Murphy’s Law applies 100% to kitchen remodeling, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. Make sure that each change order is agreed to by everyone and clearly notes the change, price, time and any adjustments that need to be made.
Q. How much will it cost?
If a contractor asks for 100% of the project cost up front move on to the next candidate. A high upfront payment is a first sign that a contractor is not reputable. A good rule of thumb is one third up front, one third when the project is 50% complete (specified in your contract) and one third upon completion. The contractor will need funds to start your project to cover the initial costs of demolition and building materials.
Q. Do you provide itemized pricing?
A quality contractor should provide you a price estimate that is itemized with cost of labor, demolition, materials, electrical, plumbing, permits, and more. Keep in mind that this will be an estimate and should have flexibility. Having an itemized list is helpful because there may be an unforeseen cost that neither you nor the contractor could predict. An itemized list helps when if midway through the project you come across an unforeseen expense. Your budget may not have enough flexibility and have to cut an expense. A good example is that you decide to put in a less expensive countertop than the one originally discussed, you need to know the exact cost of the first countertop. Without it, you have no way of knowing how much of a credit you should receive.
Q. Who will be working at the site?
Your contractor may or may not be the only person working on site – they may not do any of the actual work. It is very common, especially with GCs, that they supervise your project and are responsible for multiple job sites. The bottom line is that you need to know who the sub-contractors are. Ask your Contractor for a list of the subs that will be used – many times they will be doing the actual remodel.
Points to Consider:
- When you finalize your decision try to ensure that you, the contractor and the sub-contractors will get along. A kitchen remodel can take 1-3 weeks, with long days and multiple trips. Don’t make your selection solely based on cost or because of a recommendation.
- Because a kitchen remodel can take an extended amount of time you may develop a close relationship with your contractor. But keep in mind that you have entered into a business transaction for a large project and getting ‘personal’ can get in the way.
- Give your contractors space when they are working. One of the hardest things about being a remodel contractor is that they are working in your home. Do not continually, talk, ask questions, watch or ‘supervise’ their work. Do you want your contractor to come to your work and stand behind you and ask you questions?
- Your remodel is not the Pro’s only project. Many contractors have multiple projects going on. Sometimes other projects will take precedent over yours especially when problems arise. Also products and materials can be ordered incorrectly, damaged or missing. This may require rescheduling the electrician or plumber who can’t back to your project for a few days. A quality Pro can manage multiple projects.
- Make sure your contractor cleans up after the day is done. A kitchen remodel affects more than just the kitchen. Your house will be disrupted. A good contractor will sweep, vacuum, and put away their tools and materials after each day’s work.
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