Reno of the Month: 5 red flags when hiring general contractors or home remodelers

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Undertaking your first major home remodel can be a daunting task. It’s not always easy knowing where to start and what to look out for when deciding on which home remodeling company or general contractor is right for you.

We’ve all heard the renovation nightmare stories. As a professional home remodeling company, the last thing we want is for any homeowner to end up in a situation where their remodel is dragging on and on with no end in sight, or to hear that the initial estimate given has now doubled and the total cost is growing by the day. So, this month, we’re looking at a few red flags and things to ask to help you pick the perfect remodeling partner for your project!

Red flag #1

A general contractor or home remodeling company tells you they can start construction in a few weeks. This should cause you to pause and ask why.

We’ve heard from a number of homeowners in the area recently who have told us they can’t even get remodelers and tradespeople to return phone calls. As with the housing market, the construction and home remodeling industry is still booming. There is no excuse for an unreturned email or phone call, but the reality is many companies have no bandwidth to start any new construction projects until later 2022/early 2023.

At Synergy, we can start the design process within the next six months, but construction start dates for new projects are now booking in early 2023. So, if someone comes to your home with promises of being able to start construction ‘in a few weeks’, ask questions why they have availability.

When it comes to how long it takes to complete a remodel, we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: no major home remodeling project is going to be completed within a couple of weeks (and at minimal cost) from the time you sign on the dotted line. Any company or individual who tells differently is setting you up for disappointment. Design thoughtful remodeling takes time. Design comes first, construction follows. We have a saying at Synergy “materials wait for construction, construction doesn’t wait for materials” meaning you should have made all of your design choices with most of them ordered (especially things like cabinetry and appliances which have extensive lead times — especially in recent times due to supply chain issues) before anyone comes anywhere near your home with a sledgehammer.

The point is, if you’re thinking of a home remodel, have realistic expectations about how long the process will take. Start the conversation now and don’t call in the early fall expecting to have your new kitchen by Thanksgiving!

Red flag #2 

The contractor gives you a cost on their first visit.

This one makes us crazy! We know you want to know on the first visit, but asking a professional remodeler how much a remodel costs is like asking, “How much is a car?” The make, model, engine size, alloy wheels, leather seats, heated steering wheel and that third row you really want to ferry the kids around all increase the price. The same thing applies to home remodeling. Providing a free estimate for a simple pull and replace powder room remodel or to paint your main level is one thing, but totally different for a full kitchen or other home remodel.

A number of things impact the cost of your remodel from changing the footprint (which usually requires plumbing, electrical and/or mechanical changes), to the cabinetry line you want to the level of finishes you expect. No one wants to be change ordered at every turn during the remodeling process when you have no option but to pay more to get the job done. Not every remodeler takes the same approach, but we’d rather be realistic about cost with you upfront so you know what you’re getting yourself into rather than get to the end of the project with your budget blown and costs twice what you’d been told initially.

Read more in Square Foot Pricing for a Home Remodel: What Every Homeowner Should Know.

Kitchen Remodel in Fairfax (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). At Synergy, we pride ourselves on coming in on-time, on-budget for every home remodel!

Red flag #3 The contractor hasn’t worked on a project of similar size and scope to your project before.

This one is a recipe for disaster. Before you meet any potential remodelers, poke around the contractor/remodeling company’s website and take a look at project examples to get a sense of the size and scope of a typical project they work on. Read testimonials and Google reviews — they are a great way to get a sense of what a company is all about from real clients.

A cautionary tale! One of Synergy’s project photos turned up in the marketing materials of another company who had just started out and they didn’t have a portfolio of their own. If something doesn’t seem right to you, trust your gut and ask to see photos from actual projects they have completed.

Basement Remodel in McLean (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). See more of our projects here.

Red Flag #4

You’re told you don’t need a permit for your remodel.

If a contractor tells you this, one of two things is happening. You are doing a small, simple pull-and-replace type remodel and just replacing cabinets or countertops or they are not telling you the truth. Why lie? Because permits take time and cost money. The bottom line: If you are undertaking a remodel in any part of your home that requires moving or adding mechanical, electrical, plumbing or even walls within your home, you need a permit.

Reputable companies will submit permits and get approvals on your behalf. Read more about why it’s important to permit and what the longer term consequences are if you decide not to apply for a permit here.

Kitchen Remodel in Vienna (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). Was this kitchen remodel in Vienna permitted? You bet it was — it’s one of ours!

Red Flag #5

The contractor outsources all of their work to subcontractors.

Not all remodeling contractors or remodeling companies are set up in the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they source carpenters, designers, project management and specialty trades (think plumbing, mechanical, electrical, drywall, tiling etc). Are they in-house or subcontractors?

When you work with a full service design-build firm like Synergy, there will usually be an in-house team who work on your project. The benefit of this is continuity and a single point of accountability with less likelihood of things being forgotten or dropped during handoffs. At Synergy, we have a team of carpenters, interior designers and project managers who work on your remodel but we partner with trusted speciality trades who we manage on your behalf. Read more in Life Under Construction: Who’s in Your Home?

And lastly, don’t assume the contractor is licensed and insured. Ask!

Thinking of a home remodel and not sure what’s possible or where to start? Give us a call! Our consultations are free and we’re happy to help you get started!

The preceding sponsored post was also published on FFXnow.com

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