I think it is extremely helpful for the client to think about their budget first and foremost because all contractor services are not apples to apples.
There are ways to work around any budget, but this must be known upfront so the contractor can help guide the client in the right direction. Then they have to know how involved they want to be, do they want to start the project on their own by doing the demo, and bring a contractor in for install?
Are they just doing small updates that don’t require a contractor license, that they can work with a handyman on? Do they need design help or will they be shopping for material independently?
Budget dictates a huge portion of whether they’ll end up with a handyman or contractor, and what type of contractor would be the best fit. I think those are the things that they need to know upfront before reaching out to a contractor. That’s the foundation of any type of home remodeling.
This year, with the backing of a full marketing team and a tried-and-true process in place, we have finally made the move to being selective about the clients we’ll take on. Our ideal clients want to be hands-off and have us manage everything from start to finish.
After the initial walk-through with our estimator and design and material consultation with our design team, we get to work on all the details – permitting, building approval, material ordering, drawings for installation, etc.
We keep the homeowner in the loop through daily updates on progress, what’s happening, and important decisions that need to be made. It’s beneficial to the client because all communication channels are in-house, any issues are resolved quickly, and our process cuts back on the amount of time it takes to complete a project.
We fine-tune the schedule so there aren’t days on end where you don’t see any work being done. As far as the scope of projects we work on, we do everything from a whole-home repaint or floor refinishing up to new construction. Our reach is very broad.
First and foremost, they need to ask if there’s a cost for the walkthrough and initial estimate and if the contractor is properly licensed and insured. If their project requires architectural drawings, they should know if the contractor has connections with a preferred architect or if that’s something the client would have to source on their own.
The design and material sourcing side is important so the client knows if they need to provide design and material on their own or the contractor provides this service. Also, the timeline, how quickly the contractor can start, and what a general overview of their process would look like from start to finish.
This helps the customer determine how long a certain portion of their house may be unusable, especially if it’s a kitchen or bathroom. It gives them an idea of how to structure their life during this construction phase. The customer needs to know that.
It depends first on what type of home they live in – single-family versus high rise. Different contractors operate differently. Areté will handle all of the permitting if required, which is beneficial because contractors have the connection through the city.
They typically work with a permit expediter and know the process, requirements, and which permit is needed. High rises have way more requirements when it comes to contractors who work in the building. Licensing is extremely important and needs to remain current. They want to see signed contracts, drawings, and insurance that has certain limits and additional insured.
The client should ask for a sample contract ahead of time. There is a lot of verbiage that should be reviewed during the contractor screening process. During our process, the client would typically sign the contract after they have reviewed and accepted our labor and rough material cost which is generated after the initial walk-through with our estimator.
Payment schedules are fairly consistent throughout the industry. Most companies will require a down payment upon contract signing, and then additional installments throughout the project. For us, we require 20 percent upon signing, 35 percent upon the start of demolition, 35 percent at the start of tiling, and 10 percent upon final completion.
We do have our go-to suppliers and each of our designers also has their favorites and different design styles. For windows, our go-to is Marvin. He has an amazing training center in Minnesota where he brings in suppliers from throughout the country to learn about their history, manufacturing, and what new developments are coming.
As far as cabinetry, flooring, doors, tile, and other materials, our showroom has access to so many different suppliers. It really depends on what the client is looking for and which supplier has the best options and pricing. We have trade accounts with everyone from Wayfair and West Elm to The Tile Shop and ABT Appliances. We have access to so many different suppliers that we can really do anything.
Our process is set up so the client doesn’t have to be their own project manager, which is a huge benefit of design-build. That doesn’t mean the client isn’t involved. The client is involved in all major decisions – material, design, troubleshooting, resolving any issues that arise, etc.
Once material has been selected, they can just sit back and let the work be done. With design-build, having it all in-house, you have one point of contact, so you’re not facilitating the delivery of materials, you’re not facilitating the ordering, permitting, scheduling of trades, and inspections – we handle all of it.
If the client has any questions at all, there is one point of contact instead of 15 different people to reach out to for answers. Our designers are super involved on the installation and construction side.
They are knowledgeable on material specifications and can make a selection based on a client’s vision and provide direction on what will and won’t work in their space. A design-build firm should educate their clients, execute the vision, and provide alternatives instead of saying “no.”
Working with a general contractor has a higher fee than if you’re doing a DIY or working with a handyman. But you’re getting the knowledge and experience and education out of the person who holds that GC license. It saves you the headache down the road.
Oftentimes, we get calls where the client started their project with a handyman, or a neighbor, or friend of a friend who does construction on the side. After the demo, you have zero ideas of what could be behind the walls. We get a lot of calls, as soon as the drywall comes down and the walls are open where the client realizes it’s a larger project than your neighbor or handyman can handle.
A general contractor understands building structures and has the knowledge. There is a lot of education and testing behind that license. The city of Chicago is also very strict with construction, licensing, and permitting.
Working with a GC from the start can alleviate some headaches for the homeowner because any issue that does arise (and there is always going to be an issue on every construction project) the contractor is able to handle quickly.
Every client should also receive a Home Repair Flyer before signing with a contractor. The Home Repair Flyer details their rights as a consumer, should anything go wrong.
Because our showroom operates as a separate business, there are two stages where they’re signing a contract. After the initial walk-through, once the client receives a copy of the labor and rough material estimate, if they have no adjustments, and are happy with the cost, they would then sign the construction contract.
The contract is a form of protection. It details everything from dispute resolution, payment schedule, estimated start and completion date, and materials and warranty.
It includes information on what would happen if either party terminated the contract, and under what instances you can. We also did an update to include a COVID release that both us and our clients will let each other know if there’s any risk of exposure so that we can all protect ourselves.
We also include a marketing release form so the client is notified upfront that our marketing team will be coming and going from the project, we’ll be reaching out for photos, videos, and any of the content we collect will be used on social media, or in any of our marketing materials without releasing their physical address or names.
As far as who signs, we ask that anyone who is listed on the deed, so all homeowners, are required to sign the contract.
We have several procedures in place between our showroom and on the job site. During estimates, our estimator always wears a mask inside the home and social distances whenever possible. We always gauge the client’s comfort level and make sure to ask if they are comfortable with an in-person meeting? Do you prefer something virtual? How can we accommodate?
As far as the job site, anybody who enters that property has to have a mask on, we have hand sanitizer available on-site, all of our project managers carry a thermometer to check temperatures, and we wipe down and sanitize all high touch surfaces. Since we do a lot of work in condos, the building sets restrictions on how many people at one time can be inside of a unit.
We are very conscious and follow all those restrictions. Our showroom is sanitized regularly by an outside cleaning company. In between cleanings and client meetings, our team has been trained to wipe and sanitize all surfaces. We’ve provided all of our subs and team members with masks as well.
Ultimately there is a level of trust from all parties that you will be responsible and forthcoming if there is the possibility of having been exposed. No project is worth our or the client’s health. We have been extremely fortunate in being able to control what we can to keep our team and clients healthy.
Arete’ is a premier home remodeler in Chicago and has worked on over 60% of condos in the North Shore area. Give us a call about your home or condo remodeling project at (773) 610-4551.