I have a confession: I love watching HGTV. I know, statistically, that you do, too. Neilsen ratings said 1,307,000 viewers tuned into HGTV this year. I know that it ranks ninth on the list of most watched cable channels in 2019. These numbers don’t even include episodes that were streamed on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. As someone in the design-build industry, I should do nothing but praise the behemoth channel for its infectious spread of the desire to remodel. We see gorgeous transformations with shiplap, gleaming hardwood floors, and easily removable walls to make an open concept floor-plan. What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, a lot.
I find it’s time I file a complaint. In late 2019, news broke that projects from the HGTV show “Windy City Rehab” were being halted by the city of Chicago. They violated many codes and have been barred from seeking any new permits of work. They’ve also performed work that wasn’t permitted.This was followed by complaints from home-buyers about the shoddiness of the work in a million dollar home renovated by the same HGTV couple. I was beyond frustrated. The same company that sets lofty expectations such as dirt cheap prices, expedited timelines, and no wish list compromises, is also responsible for creating a bad reputation for other design-build companies that don’t have the luxury of editing out any unhappy circumstances. HGTV continuously fails to meet the standards they sell.
And they’re not alone in defaming the name of remodelers.
It seems like everyone has heard tales of contractors running off with their client’s money before a job is finished. Or finishing the job but doing such poor work that it wasn’t worth the price. We all have a friend who experienced a remodeling nightmare, such as cabinets that fell apart one year after completion or floors being slanted because a remodel wasn’t properly supported in the process. Perhaps, it's tales of exorbitant hidden costs that keep you away.
But please, believe me when I say, we’re not all the same. I know many firms in the Chicagoland area that do amazing work. Places that want to actually help transform people’s homes with care and respect. Places that value both beauty and quality equally. Here are our suggestions on finding respectable, trustworthy contractors.
Examine Your Expectations
We all carry certain ideas on how a process should go. It’s natural. We begin to daydream about all the perfect things that could happen. We also stress about all the worst case scenarios. With remodeling, thanks to HGTV, we have many unattainable expectations. For example, the cost can often be the biggest shift. Many of the projects on HGTV can be done for a fraction of the price for a few reasons.
- They sometimes have sponsors. If a company partners with the show, some of the materials or labor can be given at a fraction of the actual price or for free.
- As mentioned before, their work isn’t always permitted, meaning they can get away with cutting corners, which may help cut costs… initially. Eventually, it can catch up to you in necessary repairs.
- They may use cheaper materials. Sometimes materials are worth the higher cost, such as cabinets, but when trying to produce a large amount of remodels at a speedy pace, the materials tend to suffer.
- The shows reflect the cost of a different geographic market. The cost of wages in Texas are far different than the cost in Chicago. Unfortunately, Chicago is one of the pricier cities to do a remodel.
- The timeline is usually unrealistic. For some shows, they only disclose the “6 weeks” that the home will be under construction, instead of the time it includes to design the space, select the materials, file for permit, AND do the construction. In my opinion, HGTV shows cut the timeline by a minimum of 50%, sometimes more.
How Much Will You Invest?
To counter this expectation, we highly recommend you do your homework. Start with you personal finances and savings. Determine what you can afford, then begin your research. Look into a variety of companies. Note that a design-build firm, like OHi, is a higher investment than a self-employed contractor. This is usually due to higher overhead for skilled craftsmen and designers, as well as insurance coverage for your home and for the company as each project is worked on, among other factors. If you have a lower budget, you may have to consider a sacrifice in high-end materials, but you can most likely find a local, singular contractor able to do the work.
Luckily, many design build firms have pricing guides to help determine what range your project may be. For example, OHi has a cost of a kitchen remodel and cost of a bathroom remodel guide to help guide your decision making process. A design-build company may not be the right fit for you. However, they’re a great choice for higher quality craftsmanship, reliable materials, insured & proven processes, and vetted employees. This conversation is a great time to remember cheaper isn’t always better.
How Long Will it Take?
Once you’ve determined your budget, and a few companies to potentially contact, it’s also important to consider your timeline for your projects. High quality work comes with a longer turnaround time. For example, a kitchen remodel with OHi can take up to 6 months. While that may seem surprising, when you consider design-time, selection, and quality craftsmanship, you realize the time adds up.
Once financial boundaries are determined, and unattainable completion expectations are thought through, you’re ready to begin your hunt for quality contractors whether it be a vetted design-build firm or a self-employed handy-man. These tips can help everyone.
We cannot stress this enough: make sure they are licensed. That should be one of your first questions you ask in regards to the construction aspect. At design-build firms, for accreditation, licensure is required, but it doesn’t hurt to check. This guideline is particularly important if you choose to work with self-employed contractors. You don’t want to be the next remodeling horror story. Not having a license means that a contractor isn’t held accountable to making sure things are to code. It also makes it easier for them to take money and then never show up to complete a job.
Since licenses are important, it’s also important to be prudent of where you look for a contractor. While there are many great companies listed on sites like Houzz and Angie’s List, you still need to be cautious. NBC Chicago found that many local contractors listed on Angie’s List weren’t actually licensed despite having a badge saying they were. Therefore, to be safe, if you’re finding your contractor through a website such as that, always ask for proof of license.
Referrals and Reviews
If you want to forgo sites as mentioned before, or are simply overwhelmed with the results found on Google (since design-builds are often rarely listed on Angie’s List since that is more dedicated to smaller, task based jobs, rather than large scale remodeling), there is another way, perhaps the best way, to find the right contractor: through word of mouth. Chances are, you know someone who has done a remodel. These are people who wouldn’t want to mislead you by connecting you with a low-quality contractor. In fact, their referral means they are willing to stake some of the trust in their relationship with you, because if it goes poorly, they will partially be to blame. As an added benefit, if you work with who they’ve recommended, they can also help you set your expectations for that contractor.
If you, on the off chance don’t know anyone who has remodeled, or you’re still a little bit wary, you can explore the world of “digital referrals” aka online reviews. Check out the company’s Google reviews or Houzz reviews, and you’ll be able to read what others have to say about their experience with the company.
If you choose to work with a design build company, it is also important to learn where their contractors are sourced. Many have an intense vetting process that allows you to trust who they’re bringing in to work at your home. Some have a few craftsmen employed on their staff, which is the best case scenario, as this also means there is an extra level of pride attached to their work. No longer are they just representing their own names, but they’re representing their company and their team. There is a new level of accountability, as well. At OHi, we have numerous in-house craftsmen. Many of them are carpenters, and will ensure your cabinets are installed with the utmost care. As for other contractors, we’ve worked with many for years, resulting in a longstanding, trustworthy relationship that can give you peace of mind.
You may find one standout contractor or design-build firm that you are sure you want to move forward with… however, we actually recommend you approach a few different companies to receive multiple quotes. This is a dangerous thing for us to be saying, because often when you get multiple quotes, the deciding factor is often the price at the bottom of the estimate. Which makes sense, if all estimates were laid out the same. Some will have hidden costs that they’re aware of but will charge you for later, after you’ve signed up. Some estimates don’t include the cost of materials, while others may show the price for low quality materials. It can be difficult to read through and know what to look for, so our natural inclination is to just look at the final cost. However, try and talk it through before you make that the only consideration. We’ve had clients who have brought in their other estimates to compare them with ours. Our team was able and willing to discuss the differences and why some differences may exist. Sometimes, we don’t win the client. And that’s okay because we can sleep at night knowing we were as honest and helpful as possible.
Explore Their Process
Perhaps one of the most important things you should ensure happens is that your project gets a permit if you live in the suburbs (permitting is a whole other story in the city.). Ask your design-build firm and/or contractor what their permitting process looks like. If they say they don’t do permits and you live in the suburbs, walk away. The cheap work is not worth the troubles it may cause you later. This gets a little murky for projects in the city, as many contractors don’t seek out permits, and the repercussions are less. Without a permit, some villages can refuse to recognize the work when you’re selling, and if you sell, it can actually cause a major roadblock in the entire process of getting paperwork signed and closing the deal. Permits also help ensure that the plans for your project are up to code, and won’t have a major change (which would result in a major payout) when you go in for final inspections. At OHi, we always permit our projects in the suburbs. Sometimes, this can increase the timeline, but we try to prepare all of our clients for the expectation and costs of a permit from their village.
Often, this is something many homeowners don’t think about, mainly because they don’t know about it. When you’re approaching a remodel, there are a variety of tests that should be done to ensure your health safety. The most popular is a lead test. For any houses built before 1978 we are required by law to test. If it tests positive, certain precautions have to be taken, not only for your health, but for the health of our team. Another, less common test, is the asbestos test. The reason it is uncommon is that it is only tested for if there is a major tear down. Then it is required by law. However, there have been contractors known to skip this test, and the homeowner then has to pay for it later, not only in remediation costs, but in the fear of bad health.
Potentially one of the scariest aspects of working with a contractor is ensuring they’re good communicators. The reason it’s so scary is that you won’t know if they’re good or bad communicators until you’re in the heat of your project. For self-employed contractors, there is little accountability to ensure you’ll be able to reach them in a timely manner. This is particularly stressful when major decisions need to be made or you have a concern to raise. They can easily choose to ignore you. In a design-build firm, there is more accountability because you’ll be working with a team. At OHi, not only will you be assigned a project manager to oversee your entire remodel from the start of demolition to the final inspection, but you’ll also have the contact information for your designer who helped envision your space. Between the two of them, contact and communication is readily available. They’ll help keep you informed on start dates and expectations for which part of your remodel will be completed that day.
While all these things are tangibly important things to determine and check off your list, it is also important to find a contractor or design-build company that you get along with. These will be people who you will be in heavy contact with for up to six months. It may seem silly, but it’s perfectly okay to choose a contractor who meets all the above criteria over another equally acceptable contractor, based on the fact that you got along better with one over the other. Here you’re searching for matching values. For example, we are very family oriented, and try to uphold the values of integrity, quality, dependability, transparency, adaptability, and pride. Others, who value similar qualities tend to feel welcomed and like they’re apart of the family on their first visit.
If you’re interested in talking with us about potentially helping with your project, schedule an appointment or give us a call. At the end of the day, we may still watch an episode of HGTV, but we’ll do so knowing the reality and need for quality. For us, designing a home isn’t a production; it’s a commitment.