Build or Remodel?

As a remodeler and builder, over the years we have found that MANY of our clients struggled with the decision of building versus remodeling before making their final decision.  As a source to help you, below we’ve listed some of the common concerns we hear about both building and remodeling, and some answers and considerations.  If you find that any of these are your concerns, we hope we can help you in making your decision.  Regardless as to whether you build or remodel, at Whelan Builders, we would like to discuss your needs with you, and show you why you want our professional team on your side.

“Our house is nearly paid for and we don’t want a big mortgage!” We find this is very common.  Many people have lived in their homes for years and have built up a lot of equity, and don’t want a big house payment.  In this case, remodeling may be the best solution!

“We can’t find a floor plan we’re happy with!”   This is a common complaint we hear from people looking at new homes.  Very often they have a particular need for their lifestyle that they don’t see in the new homes available for sale.  In this case, a custom home may be the best way to go.  At Whelan Builders, we can put you in contact with an excellent architect to help you design the home to meet your needs while including the level of amenities you want in your home.

“We love our neighborhood, but we’re afraid of overbuilding for the area!”  This is a concern we hear from a lot of prospective clients!  We would put you in contact with a great licensed real estate broker, and frequently we are able to provide information which will assist in this decision.  Sometimes we find that the plans are, indeed, more than the neighborhood will justify, while other times we find the improvements are well within the market range of the neighborhood. In those instances that customers are struggling with this concern, we can provide information which will help you make the choice that is best for you.

“We love our house, but are running out of room!”  Again, for those who love their area neighborhood and their house, but need more room, a simple room addition or even changing the existing space can be the answer.  Often you can avoid a big mortgage, but still get the space you want….that’s what many are doing especially in today’s market!

“We’ve heard it is very expensive to remodel.”  The cost to remodel is expensive because it entails not only constructing the new area, but often includes removing old areas or fixtures, and frequently requires protection of the existing property that is NOT being remodeled.  However, the cost to remodel would still be less expensive than building an entirely new home.  When you build a new home, the entire cost is spread over the total square footage of the entire structure, while remodeling costs are spread over a smaller area (perhaps 600-800ft versus 2500ft), so the price per square foot is more expensive.  Again, you need to determine if you want to add on or improve your current property, or basically start over again and build new.

“We’ve heard horror stories from our friends who decided to remodel.”  Unfortunately, many people have horror stories about building or remodeling.  This can be avoided by carefully screening your builder or remodeler. We have pages of references that you are welcome to contact to discuss their experience with Whelan Builders.  We strive to minimize any misunderstandings and maximize the positive aspects of the experience.  We are ready to help whether you build or remodel.

“We don’t know the first thing about building or remodeling.”  Very few people we have worked with have experience with remodeling, and some have had experience with building.  We provide you with the details going into the project so you know exactly what is going to happen, you know what the costs are going to entail, and know what to expect.  We assist you with as many of the details as possible.  While we can’t make your decisions for you, we can help you along the way.

Selecting Your Builder or Remodeler

It seems everyone has heard a “horror story” from someone they know who built a new home, or remodeled their existing home and had a poor experience. While there are no guarantees that you will select the right contractor, there are steps that you can take to ensure you have done all you can to select the best contractor for your project.

When you are building or remodeling a home, you will be dealing with the contractor you select for at least a couple of weeks (for a small job) to upward of six months or more (for a custom home).  In selecting your contractor, it is imperative that you have a level of trust and confidence before you begin the job.  This is initially accomplished by several face to face meetings with the prospective contractor.  If, during the initial selection process, you start hearing that little warning bell going off in your head, take heed!  Question the prospect to try and resolve your concerns, but if you are not satisfied and it is early in the stages, move on to another contactor.

There are a series of questions that you can ask the contractor to get to know how they do business and give you self a better feel for the company in general.

How long have you been in business?  This seems like an obvious question, but many people assume that if a company is a remodeler, they have been doing so for some time.  In Illinois, it is possible to be a remodeler with very little to no experience at all, so ASK!

Do you have a list of references?  While many companies will have a list of references, very few people actually call anyone on the list!  Take the time to make some calls.  Don’t pick from the very front of the list, or the very end of the list.  Ask questions about the quality of the finished, time length to complete the job, honesty of the company, respect level of sub contractors, and importantly, would they use the same company again?

What do you consider your specialty? Ask the representative what they consider to be their field of expertise.  In today’s economy, you might find that someone who was working as a handyman yesterday is now a full scale remodeler, or that a builder is not busy and has turned remodeler.  A builder cannot necessarily remodel, just as a remodeler cannot necessarily build, but there are companies which successfully do both!  Ask what their average job is like, and what types of jobs they enjoy the most.  This will give you insight to the representative and if you have the right one to begin with.

Do you have a written proposal?  Many contractors will give you a price and a one page contract.  Beware.  Your contract should specify the work to be done on your property in great detail!  The more detail you have, the better prepared you are for knowing what to expect during your project!  If you are anticipating adding on a room, you should see foundation, roofing, framing, sheetrock, texture, paint, carpet, etc on your detailed proposal.  Without this, if at some point during the job, you or your contractor wants to do something that was not previously discussed, there is a viable question as to who should pay for the “change”.  If it is in the proposal, there are no questions.  A one page contract and specifications for a room addition is not an acceptable contract or proposal!

Do you have questions about the contract?  Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure that you understand what you are signing. The contracts are legal and binding, so do your homework, and ask questions if you do not understand!

Do you offer an allowance schedule?  Allowance schedules are a critical tool to keep you on budget.  An allowance schedule would be spelled out in the contract.  For example, your countertops at $XX.  You know before you ever start making selections that you have $XX that you can spend on your countertops. There is NO QUESTION in anyone’s mind!  With this tool of allowances for things such as countertops, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, flooring, appliances, etc., while you may feel that you are being held back in your choices, this is keeping you within your budget and you won’t be surprised later when the contractor hands you a bill for an additional $5,000 because you selected items he had not anticipated.  INSIST on an allowance schedule.  If you go over budget, you are obligated to pay that amount, but if you select items UNDER that amount, you are due to get a credit back, or you can apply that to another allowance item.

Do you have a draw schedule?  Any reputable contractor should be able to give you a draw schedule.  A draw is a payment made to the contractor at various stages of the job.  For a lengthy job, be wary if you see a draw schedule that is very heavy on the front end.  The draw schedule should be spread relatively evenly throughout the job, with the higher amounts of the draws due at foundation, flooring, and those bigger ticket items.  It should be VERY RARE for a contractor to ask you for a 50% down payment; unless they are doing a very quick job that will last no more than a week.

While none of these questions will ensure that the contractor you select will be the right one, you will have done your homework, and the chances are that you will select a good, reputable contractor that will produce a quality remodeling project.