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I hear that the big handyman stores like Lowes, Home Depot, etc. now remodel kitchens and bathrooms. What are the differences between remodeling companies, and these types of stores?

In a word: service. If you know exactly what you want, and can pick it out at that store, and are prepared to stay at home supervising your remodeling project, then the installed sales (I.S. as they are called) department at the big handyman stores might be the way to go. Typically, the quality of installation, and attention to detail is not an I.S. trademark. Neither is custom or out of the ordinary work.

A lot of things ‘pop up’ during a remodeling project. Unforeseen damage or conditions are a daily occurrence. A remodeling company usually has the people to deal with these ‘things’ in a timely manner, and keep things moving. A remodeling company has greater flexibility to get the job done. Usually, the big handyman stores do not have the high quality materials that people often are wanting. In fact, manufactures will make lower quality products to sell to the big handyman stores, than those they sell to plumbers and remodelers. An apple is not always an apple when you buy from the big stores. Like most things, there are situations when a big box store might be the right way to go, and there are times when it is best to have a professional handle the COMPLETE job.

Every situation is different, but carefully compare estimates from each of these types of companies. Is it an apple to apple comparison? Usually not. Buyer Beware.

How many estimates should I get for a remodeling project?

I’m sure you have heard to always get three estimates for any work you are going to have done. Well, that depends on a lot of factors. If a contractor has been recommended by a friend, you have seen his work and are satisfied with the quality, and YOU have met and talked with the contractor and are comfortable with him, then maybe you only need to get his estimate. If you feel his price is reasonable, I would say go for it. On the other hand, if you are getting bids from contractors that you have no personal experience with, get three bids.

If the bids are within 10-15% of each other, then choose based on your comfort level with the contractor. If the three bids are really different, more investigation needs to be done. Either, a contractor forgot something and the bids are not “apples to apples” bids, or there might be something suspicious about a contractor with a “out of range” bid. Look closely, buyer beware.

I have three different estimates, and the prices vary greatly. Why?

Good question. There are a number of different factors that go into pricing a remodeling job. Check the obvious first. Make sure that every estimate has the same scope of work. If the estimates are so vague that you cannot decipher that information, go back to the contractor for clarification, IN WRITING, not just a “yea, its included” over the phone. If you cannot get satisfactory written results, eliminate that contractor from future bidding.

The level of service given by a contractor greatly affects the cost. If the contractor spends lots of time picking out materials, attending to every detail, and taking care of all the little extras, so you don’t have to, it will cost a little extra. When a contractor carries all the proper and required insurances, his prices will be higher than a ‘pick-up contractor’. Quality of work, hard to show in a written estimate, is also a factor in costs. For example, our carpenters do very high quality work (their standards are usually much higher than our customers). Rarely, does the customer ever ask to have something re-done because of quality issues. That piece of mind is worth extra money up front to most people. This facet of the cost difference is usually only confirmed by calling references or visiting jobs the contractor has done in the past.

What can I, as a homeowner, expect to do while a remodeling project is being done at my house?

The most important thing you can do is ASK QUESTIONS. If there is something that doesn’t look right, or you think you ordered one thing, and something else is being installed, ASK!!

A contractor wants to know if things are not right immediately. There are no dumb questions, remember, IT’S YOUR MONEY. Remember, there will be dust and dirt in your house. It doesn’t matter how careful the contractor is, expect it. Make it easy for the contractor to have access to your house. There will be times when he will have to leave and come back. Give him a key if possible. It will make your life easier to schedule. If you are remodeling a kitchen, eat out a lot. Most kitchen projects take 4-6 weeks. Arrange ahead of time with your contractor to have the refrigerator set up in an alternate location, away from the dust and dirt. If you are remodeling a bathroom, and it is your only bathroom, make arrangements to have the toilet reset each day it is pulled.