One of the first questions that we are often asked is "What are your square-foot construction prices?" Professionals and laymen alike like the idea of "Square-foot pricing" because of its simplicity. If the SF cost is $200 and the project is a 100 square-foot addition, the cost is $20,000. The truth is, the cost of a construction project is determined in the details. For example, if an addition is a simple attached room off the side of the house with a couple of windows and a single door, then possibly the $200/SF is a realistic construction price. However, if the addition requires relocation of a hot water heater and the electrical service disconnect, then the project may have just increased to $25,000, but the square footage hasn't changed. Furthermore, change the addition to a bathroom and we might've ascended to the $40,000 range. We've had clients spend as much as $70,000 on a 50 SF bathroom addition—it’s all in the details.
Bring us in early -
Generally speaking, if you’re comparing "apples to apples", most contractors will come in at around the same price. This is because we’re all using the same subcontractors and vendors, and operate under similar constraints (wages, insurance rates, office costs, etc.). When there’s a significant difference between contractor prices, it’s often because of some misunderstanding or ambiguity in the project plans or specifications. It’s not uncommon for Change Orders to quickly dwindle away these apparent savings. If there’s to be any significant savings, it will be found in the details of the project. How is something to be built? Which details are costly and which offer good value? These are the types of issues that we can help with, and the best results are realized when we begin collaborating with the client and architect early on in the design process.
Allow for upgrades -
It’s been our experience that our happiest clients are those that allowed for “upgrades” in their budget. We’ve been at this a while now and have literally thousands of projects under our belt, and in all those projects, we’ve yet to meet a client that didn’t want to refine the original vision once work began. The possibilities for upgrades are endless, as are the tastes of the clients, but the one constant is that the clients who set aside enough in their budget to allow for this were the happiest by far. We typically recommend that work begin with a projected cost of no more than 80% of the client’s final budget.
Psychology of a remodel -
Most of us take for granted that our home is our sanctuary. Home is a retreat from work, stress, and day to day hassles. Most remodeling projects are spawned not from utilitarian need, but out of the desire for a more pleasant home environment. Therefore, it's important to address not only the metamorphosis of your refuge, but the impact that construction remodeling will have on your nervous system. First, while we take every reasonable step to minimize your discomfort during the remodeling process, there will be unavoidable disruptions. Construction is a loud, messy business. You're asking us to come into your home, deconstruct a portion of it, and put it back together again. Unfortunately, there's no other way around the whole dust, pounding, strangers-in-your-home intrusion you'll face. Our advice to you is to keep focused on the goal. The discomfort will be over before you know it. Be patient.
Second, there is a metamorphosis that often occurs during the construction project. While a new addition or remodel is emerging from its cocoon, it is common for the owner to want to add in special touches. Architectural Digest and Better Homes magazines pop out of the woodwork. The primary vision expands to include more details and possibly higher-grade materials. This is normal, and even those of us in the profession aren't immune to the desire to improve upon a project that we've come to see as our own. It doesn't help matters that even when starting out with the most detailed set of plans, it's still difficult to truly “see” the end result. Most people can't visualize the elements of the construction project until they start to physically fall into place. Often as the project starts to become three-dimensional, the desire to change the initial vision occurs. However, there are two important considerations to keep in mind when it comes to raising the bar on your project. Generally, it's more expensive to make a detail change in the middle of a project than to build that detail in from the start. Most changes result in prolonging the project, sometimes substantially so, which naturally extends the client’s discomfort as well. As an industry, the most common complaints are: “It took longer and cost more than expected.” Our experience has been that most cost increases and construction delays are driven by client changes that are requested after construction has started. Therefore, we encourage you to scrutinize the details of your project on a room by room basis before the construction begins. We'll be more than happy to help you analyze the fine points beforehand.
Expectations, or perhaps differences in expectations, lead to most conflicts between construction professionals and clients. Most client concerns revolve around finish details. Unfortunately, clients are often not aware of their own sensitivities until the particular work in question is accomplished and they realize that it's not what they had expected. We do our best to discuss the details that most commonly concern clients, but each of us brings with us our own idiosyncrasies into a project. It's important that you examine your likes and dislikes, and make us aware of your particular finish concerns before the work begins.
Experience has taught us that no matter how well we plan, unexpected issues will arise with every project. We may open up a wall for a new doorway and discover electrical wiring or plumbing pipes in the way. What begins as a relatively minor carpentry job, expands to include plumbing and electrical work as well. Almost every project involves the use of contingencies or "just in case" because there are too many unknowns lying just beneath the surface. Generally, not all of the "Contingencies" line item will be used, but each job is different. With new construction projects, we tend to run into fewer issues. With remodels however, contingencies represent a higher percentage of the overall project. On rare occasions, the total cost of contingencies can exceed the allowance provided in the bid. It's important to understand that unlike researched and marketed products that are purchased ready to use from a store, the uniqueness of a construction project dictates that some of the "bugs" will be worked out as it progresses. Each project produces its own surprises and challenges. The "Contingencies" line item of our contract is our best guess as to the obstacles that may be imposed upon us during the construction process. It's important to note however, that this isn't a line that we use to cover those instances where the work has simply taken longer than expected. Invoicing to the "Contingencies" line item is typically managed through Change Orders and the particular situation will be clearly defined so that you understand the details.
Few clients make all of the decisions necessary to generate a "hard" budget number up front. Following are some examples of items that can impact the final material and labor costs and that are often undecided early on in the project: tile, flooring, countertops, cabinets, doors, windows, hardware, interior trim, and paint colors. For budgetary purposes we use "allowance" line items to signify these. Once the details of these line items are determined, Change Orders are used to adjust the contract amount to reflect the final decisions.
Change Orders -
Change Orders are the documents we use to record changes in the definition of work already set in the contract. A description of the work, how it will impact the schedule, and how much it will increase or decrease the cost of the project are included. There are two types of change orders. The first type involves a change in the scope of work. This is typically client driven, and although it can be used to reduce the scope of work, more often than not we find it used for client "upgrades." The second type of change order is related to contingencies. Whenever we run into a surprise, we generate a change order to record the details.
It is important to recognize that all construction projects are "custom." While the individual tasks that make up the project have been performed before, the unique combination of details ensures a learning curve with every new project. Mistakes will occur; they are a normal part of the construction process. Groundwork is the best way to minimize surprises, but no amount of preparation will eliminate them entirely. Fortunately, our workers, foremen, and project managers discover most issues before they become a problem. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to bring them to our attention.