managing projects

What’s the best way to choose a home improvement team?

Home improvement projects rarely involve only one type of professional. A bathroom remodel, for example, might require the skills of a designer, an architect, a plumber, an electrician, and a green expert. Ideally, each expert applies their unique style and ability to create a beautiful and functional final product.

To attack these complex jobs, many homeowners will hire a general contractor, who then assembles the necessary professionals to get the job done. But homeowners may want to use specific people for different aspects of the job. We’re curious as to how these home improvement teams are best formed.

Why We’re Asking:

Using multiple professionals is intimidating for many homeowners and forces a juggling act of recommendations, specialties, scheduling and budgets. Coordinating such an effort is a full-time job and one that most homeowners don’t have time for.

Our experts come from a wide variety of work environments and have collectively completed thousands of projects, so we’re confident they’ll point us in the right direction.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What’s the best way to choose a home improvement team?

Should homeowners always go with a general contractor?
Are there benefits and drawbacks to that approach?
What are the advantages of hiring a custom team of professionals?
If you do have a custom team, is it necessary to put one person in charge? Is one method more expensive than the other?

Check back next week for advice on how to assemble your own crack team of home improvement experts!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Steve Robinson @ Axios Architecture 05/25/12

    It is important to keep this simple. Too many cooks (experts) in the kitchen can make a big mess! Start with an architect…and seriously consider hiring a contractor early in the design process. It is essential the architect and contractor be able to work together well. Architects and contractors both have a lot of technical knowledge, but are also generalists. Let them do the research and make recommendations to you as the homeowner…and have them explain WHY they are making their recommendation. Use this team of two to be your advocate in the marketplace, sift through the options and sweat the details. Deciding on both the architect and contractor are often the two most important decisions you make because they will help you make every other decision. Good luck!

  • Nancy Dalton @ Baywolf Dalton 05/25/12

    As a design/build general contractor we assemble a team based on the design and labor necessary for the specific project. There are very few homeowners that have the expertise or the time. You will also be assembling a team that has never worked together and this brings with it many other factors.

    We’ve spent years assembling the right team of professionals for our projects. I think it is in the client’s best interests to have someone in the leadership role. The project needs definition; design with labor and materials specifications along with other specialty trades that may be required. Without a defined project with a budget and a group working together without a leader; either a general contractor/design build; or an architect the project risks a lack of accountability and either too much overlap or areas that are missed in the planning all together.

    We had provided design / build services for many members of her family, want to contract with us for design, cabinetry and the installation for her “new construction” home. Four years after the home was complete, I was working with her on some furniture for the house. She told me that all four of her shower pans were leaking and that she had contacted her home owner’s insurance company. She learned that since she managed the work and paid the sub-contractors; she was the general contractor and was not insured for these defects. The tile contractor’s phone was disconnected and nowhere to be found. The repairs cost her $28,000.00. Homeowners need to understand they are accepting the responsibility for the labor, defects and materials used, and they are not going to be able to make claims for any defective work if they cannot reach the sub- contractor, have their insurance documents and make a claim during their states defined warranty period for that work. They may also be at risk financially if someone is injured on the job.

    I would urge any homeowner to meet with design / build general contractors and architects to discuss their project, the process and project management. Who is responsible for what and how do we stay on budget. Look at the quality of the finished projects. Remodeling and new construction have levels of complexities depending on the size and scope. Find a good professional and understand the process; keep looking and asking questions until you have found a good fit for your project.

  • Sam Lazarus @ ServiceMaster By Best 05/25/12

    Single trade items can and are easy to oversee. When multiple trades are involved, such as in a kitchen or bath remodel where a plumber, electrical, trim carpentry, possibly drywall installer, flooring installer, painter etc may be necessary, it is not a small feat to get all to work to your best interests. When there are multiple contractors, in my opinion, it is wise to have a GC over see the project. This does increase the overall cost, but can simplify the process.

    We oversee many vendors when restoring homes and businesses at ServiceMaster by Best in Wichita KS and it is certainly easier to work with single trade contractors when there is a relationship that is established. We have taken the lead and been in-charge and other times we have been part of a larger team to meet the needs of the client.

  • Jason Todd @ GreenHome America 05/25/12

    How many energy geeks does it take to screw in a CFL?

    When it comes to comfort improvements for your home, really making a difference often requires more effort than, adding some weather-stripping to a door, or an extra layer of insulation in the attic. These are good things, but may not make much of an impact. It’s best to look at the whole picture.

    Hiring a professional energy advisor is a critical part of improving a home, since their assessment can become your road map to success. Determining what is wrong with a house can be revealed in a matter of hours, with the right equipment and a strong understanding of how homes work, or should work.

    Still, understanding common household problems are only part of the battle. Knowing we are sick does not make us healthy. We often have to do something about it. Drink lots of fluids, rest, vitamin C. Or it might be more than that. We might need a prescription or even surgery from a specialist.

    Comfort improvements can be complicated and that is why the installer or installers of the measures are just as important as the advisor. We are talking about air sealing that others didn’t see as critical or helpful, insulation that others thought was enough that really isn’t, moisture issues, indoor air quality and complicated HVAC systems.

    Clearly it works best when these advisors and installers work together and communicate well. At GreenHomes America we do it all under one roof, which helps things go smoothly. At the very least a homeowner would do best to stick with one contractor that understands all aspects of a comfort project and even if they didn’t assess your home, understands the assessment process as well.

    It is possible to have a separate HVAC, insulation, window, or siding contractor….but what is lost is the common goal, fixing the problems in your home. Each one will tell you their work is what you need, and is where comfort and savings really lie. And there is the lie, or the fib. Each part is important but more important is how they interact together.

    Houses are complicated; having one contractor who understands that, follow through, is where the real savings as well as the truth are revealed.

  • Andrew Schrage @ Money Crashers 05/25/12

    Before determining the best way to assemble a home improvement team, make sure you have a clear, detailed vision of what you want out of your home improvement project. Sketches, diagrams, and design samples make it easier for your team to deliver to you exactly what you want.

    Research is the key when determining whether to go with a general contractor or a team. When considering general contractors, ask for credentials, referrals, and even photos of previous work. Find out which subcontractors, if any, will be used, and ask the same of them. If you shop around, you can generally obtain the best price by hiring a general contractor. However, if your home improvement project is particularly complex, you may want to assemble your own team. This involves a great deal of research and vetting of contractors.

    No matter who you hire, you should always attempt to negotiate the price. In today’s slumping economy, general contractors and subcontractors are all looking for more work. Use this to your advantage to get the best deal.

  • Grand View Builders 05/23/12

    May is National Home Remodeling Month so what an appropriate time to post this query! As many people want to finish up their summer home improvement projects before they host their backyard cookouts, it’s wise to make the most of your time and money.

    A team is a good idea for a larger scale project but for a home improvement job one general contractor is a great idea and should get the job done. Having to find one person to work on tile, one to work on windows and one to do cabinet trim can take days, if not weeks. As long as you pick one from a reputable source, their knowledge and relationships in the local home improvement field can save you valuable time and money during the home improvement process.

    The experts at the Grand View Builders design center are experts who can help you customize the interior features of your home in one place with the help of a trusted expert!

  • Howard Oven @ H.O. Electric 05/23/12

    As general contractors may be a good way to go, the homeowner doesnt have complete control of the situation. The benifits are that general contractors will manage the entire project and have workers in and out as needed. The homeowner does not know who is entering their home and what they (the homeowner) wants done. A custom team will all work together and figure out what the home owner wants. Each team member can work with the homeowner and compare notes with the others on their team to have a wonderful outcome. The general contractor option may be cheaper than having a professional team come in but the professional team may be easier to work with.

  • Nettie Owens @ Sappari Solutions 05/22/12

    It depends on the project, the size and the scope. If you are a highly organized person who has a lot of connects to the contractors that you would like to use then you may be able to coordinate your project yourself.

    There are also several service providers that would make good project managers. A good, reputable general contractor could put you in touch with all the right people and have their own team. You may be able to swap out some of the recommended providers for your own choices. An architect or interior designer could also do this job and may have a wider breadth of professionals to choose from depending on the type of project. You may also find a designer in your niche market that has more specific expertise and contacts your general contractor may not have.

    You may also consider using a professional organizer if the space has to be prepared (by decluttering) before a project begins. Professional Organizers are notoriously great project managers. An organizer would be a great person to coordinate the service providers if you are attempting to complete the project on your own. They can manage the schedule and tasks to be completed.

  • Pablo Solomon 05/22/12

    Projects usually boil down to time and money. So weigh things out. If you have more time than money act as your own general contractor. Make certain that you have a clear idea of what you want done,good plans and understand what constitutes quality. A professional chooses his/her team to get things done on the following–experience, reliability, quality of workmanship, price to quality ratio, reputation, are properly insured and availability. With enough research you can find good people to do the job. However, be certain that you understand the proper sequence in which to do things and the building permits and inspections that are necessary for each step.

    There are some great books available on how to be your own general contractor–some even have sample contracts and other forms you will need.

  • Tanya Stock @ VidaVerde 05/22/12

    Before any project commences a Home Owner should simply do what businesses do – hire a consultant. That individual has no bid in place, no intent to do the job or offer any expertise other than support and assist the Home Owner. Consultants come in many shapes and sizes and professions. They can be a GC, an Architect, an Interior Designer, A Green Consultant, there are Construction Consultants as well. That individual can answer questions, provide guidance and support as well as assist in finding the “team” the Home Owner will need. They also can act as Project Managers for them as needed. Simply hiring a one off is no longer necessary nor a good idea. Having a profession with experience in the long range big picture can truly be of assist to Home Owners attempting to navigate the Home Improvement waters.

  • Greg Chick @ Ramonas Plumber 05/21/12

    Back in the 80’s in Sedona, AZ, there was a group of professionals building close to net zero and Passive Solar Homes. ADT was a team player, an Architectural firm and we had a team of experts. Plumbers (My group) and all the rest. This was totally smart, we all knew the rules, who needed what, who didn’t like what, everyone knew that Randy needed a perfect frame within 1/16 of an inch for entire building. We all were in competition to be better than the other we had to look at each other as if there was a big mirror on every inch of the project. One job was so clean we wore socks inside for setting trim. (no shoes) Not a single bent nail, no spills, at anytime everything was as it needed to de. Total respect was the required behavior or you were off the job. Pride and profits all Sustainability and Green stuff before the word green. The world is a better place in these buildings and lessons were learned, but excellence was a given. I whole heartedly think that a team effort is best and if you cant find one, build one based on this premiss, Perfection is needed, excellence will be tolerated. This will be a team project. Peer pressure works well and a General who is actually on the job most every day and most of the day. This means being 30 min. late to a task is out of the question and if working in the night is needed it is done with out issues from anyone. For God’s sake stand up straight and have some pride.

  • Kraig Kalashian 05/21/12

    Of course I’m going to say ‘consult with a Design professional first’. While there are many good contractors out there, you might represent one project to them. Design professionals typically have teams of contractors that they use on each project so having that kind of leverage is very valuable when it comes getting the right job at the right price. In addition, most homeowners are not familiar with how much things typically cost. A good design professional (such an Architect or Interior Designer) can act as your representative to make sure you are getting a fair price and good response from your contractors. Keep in mind that good contractors are typically busy so it helps to have an ‘in’.

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