The Complete Guide to Home Remodeling in 2021

Bathroom remodeling process
January 19, 2021
Katrina Mykhailo

Before you hop on over to Google and search for “home remodeling contractor near me” you might want to make sure you even need a remodeler. Too many times we’ve talked to customers, heard their stories of what they envision their project to look like only to realize that they’re looking for restoration services as opposed to remodeling. Or renovation contracting instead of rehab construction. And why do all of these words begin with an R anyway?? Jokes aside, we decided to create this mega guide to all things remodeling and construction for the Chicago area (and most of it applies nationwide as well but please check with your local governing board for all things pertaining to permits, codes, and regulations).

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Table of Contents

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Why a Remodel?

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Remodel .vs. Renovation .vs. Restoration .vs. Rehab

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How to Plan a Home Remodel or Renovation

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Home Remodeling Project Planning Worksheet

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Scope & Reason

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Material Wish Lish

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General Contractor Requirements

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Timeline

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Hiring Criteria

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Budget

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Choosing a Contractor

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Conclusion

Why a Remodel? Reasons to Remodel or Renovate Your Home

 

There are many reasons why a homeowner or real estate investor would seek out a general contractor or construction services provider for a home improvement project. A few reasons are:

1. To increase home value for sale or refinance

  • Adding an extra room, updating the bathroom and kitchen, or finishing the basement can add tens of thousands of dollars more on your asking price.
  • Figuring out the comparable sales of homes within 0.5 miles in your neighborhood, sold in the last 90 days with similar square footage, will let you know exactly what you need to do to get a similar asking price.

2. To expand space for new family members

  • Whether it’s a new child, mother in law, or renting a private space to your kid who just got back from college, there’s plenty of times when you’ll realize you need a little more space.

3. Privacy/Security

  • Sometimes an increase in crime, unruly neighbors, or changing laws give you a reason to beef up your home security. Installing security systems, a new privacy fence, steel doors, or even landscaping to shield from unnecessary eyes through your windows are a few services homeowners would consider for this type of situation.

4. Functionality

  • Aging in Place & Special needs
    • Retired parents or grandparents might not want to be dropped off at a nursing home. Whatever the reason is, treat your elders kindly by giving them the option to remain in their forever home with a few minor updates such as expanded staircases for a wheelchair lift, adding a concrete wheelchair ramp, or expanding doorways. This would also apply to parents with special needs children and would like options to make their home more safe and accessible for their child.
  • Home business
    • Business owners and employees alike working from home have quickly come to realize the importance of their own personal workspace, because working in your living room is just too distracting sometimes. However you can convert an old bedroom, attic, or basement into your own private space solely for work.
    • Business owners, such as e-commerce distributors, might want to expand their garage height to fit more products. Others might have a duplex and would like to turn the ground unit into a storefront. As long as your zoning laws allow it, it can be done.

5. Style

  • Sometimes you’re just sick of staring at the same wallpaper year in and year out and just want something new. Maybe the neighbors knocked down a dividing wall and that new open floor plan they have is the talk of the town. Why not one up them and do something even more exciting??

6. Efficiency / Sustainability

  • There are many reasons why you might want to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Installing energy saving windows, sealing any cracks or areas that let in cold air, installing solar panels or other self-sufficient energy sources, etc. can save you thousands of dollars per year off your electric and gas bill.
  • Another reason to improve the efficiency of your home is for tax credits and low interest loans. Green energy tax breaks such as the federal solar tax credit or other renewable energy tax credits all you to deduct at least 25% of the installation off your taxes. Saving money on your taxes and energy bills, while borrowing money at minimal interest rates are reason enough for millions of Americans.

7. Insurance claims

  • Unfortunately not every reason is a good reason, sometimes you just have to. Fires, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, or a car driving through the front of the house sometimes will put you in a situation where you don’t have any other choice but to get it fixed. Luckily homeowners insurance is there to provide you with much needed funds when mayhem strikes.

8. Lending Rates are low

  • Lastly, getting your home improvement project off the ground might just be about timing. In tough economic times, interest rates hit record lows to encourage people to borrow money. Being an opportunist, you might want to take advantage of that and finally get to that project you’ve been thinking about for years.

 

Planning Construction

Remodel .vs. Renovation .vs. Restoration .vs. Rehab

Now that you understand why you might want to get your home remodeled or renovated, what type of service do you need. Or more specifically – what’s the difference between remodelers, rehabbers, renovators, and restoration contractors? Here’s our simple breakdown to better understand the different types of home improvement contracting companies:

 

Home Restoration

Home Restoration is when you make repairs to an old house in an effort to bring it back to its original condition. This is most often seen with homes that have been damaged by flood, storms, or fires however it may apply to projects that include historic houses, multi-family conversions, barns, etc.. These types of construction projects consist of tasks such as:

  • Replacing original fixtures with replicas or making the repairs to bring them back to working condition
  • Cleaning, tuckpointing, painting, and setting up an old brick fireplace to run again.
  • Clearing out all burned drywall, furniture, and studs and replacing everything the way it was pre-disaster.
  • Ripping out stained, or tattered carpet to expose original wood floors which are then sanded and stained
  • Ordering custom crown moulding to match the existing.

Home Remodeling

Home Remodeling is when you aim to convert the layout of a building or re-purpose the use of a room or rooms. Home remodeling services would include jobs such as:

  • converting a garage into a bedroom
  • Finishing a basement
  • Building an additional room, or 2nd floor to a ranch style home
  • Removing the radiator heating system and Installing central a/c

Home Renovation

Home Renovation is by definition to restore or make new again by fixing the existing structure and updating the home with new material. This is the opposite of restoration since you’re hoping to modernize the home not bring it back to it’s original state. Some examples of home renovation services would be:

  • Replacing old tiles, bath fixtures, and paint of an existing bathroom with new material
  • Removing outdated windows with new high efficiency windows
  • Replacing cabinets & counter tops, flooring, and appliances in your kitchen with new material

Home Rehabilation – Partial / Full Gut Rehab

  • Home Rehabilitation is making an old, vacant, or distressed house livable through repairs and updates. Often the worse shape they are in the more needing a full gut they will require– this includes demolition and removal of all existing drywall, flooring, pipes, fixtures, and finishes to create a bare bones structure ready for all new material. Often times homeowners will want to keep an element of the existing structure in an effort to respect the historical aspects of the home. This may or may not include exterior work. Home rehabs include:
    • Partially gutting out kitchens and bathrooms of an existing apartment condo that was left in disrepair and replacing with all new cabinets, counter tops, toilets, tubs, etc.
    • Fully gutting everything in an apartment building, leaving only exposed 2x4s and exterior windows, and installing new material throughout

Now that you have a better understanding of what the different types of residential construction services homeowners can utilize, it’s time to get started on your own project!

How to Plan a Home Remodel or Renovation

Why You Should Plan Your Home Remodel First

Congratulations, you have your reason and your type of work needed, it’s time now to get your project plan put together. For the sake of the article we will only be covering remodeling and renovation – as restoration and rehab both include the same steps but a larger scope of work.

So why do you need a project plan? Isn’t that the contractors job? If only life were that easy! Unfortunately no, contractors don’t know anything about the work you need – it’s just their job to put it together for you within your budget and specifications. Having a project plan prior to starting is very important for a number of reasons:

  • You will attract higher quality contractors. When construction companies see that a prospective client has already done their research, know what they want, and when they need it done by, they’re more likely to focus their attention on you as opposed to someone else who is stringing them along.
  • You will save money. Knowing exactly what you want and how much it costs will help you avoid unethical contractors looking to take advantage of you and double or triple charge for material. Most licensed & insured companies with a public profile (website and social media) would never do that however they may charge for pick up or design consultations.
  • You will avoid (many) headaches. Your project plan is the basis of the scope of work. After going through it with a general contractor, you might realize you’ll have to compromise on certain features or spend more than your budget allows. Realizing this before you start will prevent stressful change orders or price increases down the road. Furthermore, it provides an easy template to get your estimate drawn up exactly how you want.

While there are infinitely more reasons as to why you should plan your project out before contacting contractors, there isn’t enough time to write them. So we’ll move on to the next point – how to plan your remodel.

Worker with helmet

Home Remodeling Project Planning Worksheet

Planning your home remodel sounds uber complicated but it doesn’t have to be! Just follow this guide and you’ll be well on your way. Without further ado here’s how you can plan your next home remodel without the stress of trying to figure it out on your own.

Scope & Reason

We went over this earlier but as a quick refresher this is the why you need the service. It will help construction companies understand where you are at and allow them to provide input or ideas on how to accomplish this for you.

  • Bathtubs/showers
    • Walk in shower
  • Kitchen/ bath fixtures and accessories
  • Appliances
    • Bluetooth samsung refrigerator
  • Trimwork
  • Modifications
    • Remove kitchen wall
    • Install door in drywall
    • Replace existing door with drywall
    • etc.

Home Remodel Material Wish List

Here is where you will choose material such as cabinets, flooring, backsplash, appliances, or that jacuzzi tub with LED lights that connects to your Spotify playlist. However things like budgets, space, and permits might make things a bit more difficult. Nonetheless, having your wish list drawn up makes it a lot easier to compromise on something else if your first choice is no longer available. Here’s how to make your home remodel material wish list:

  1. Use 3 columns, writing at the top of each Must Have, Need, and Want.
  2. Using visual platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest or Houzz, you can search for other projects that have been completed to get inspirational ideas for your own. For example, if you absolutely have to get rid of those 40 year old cabinets, add cabinets in the must have section. If you find a set of cabinets that you absolutely love but you can’t find the exact style, just copy the link and add it to the want section. Then search online for cabinets that you might like on websites like Home Depot, Menards, or your local cabinetry supplier and put that in the needs section. This way you are painting a picture for your contractor of what your vision is and they can help you source the best fit for your needs.
  3. Continue to do this for all the items that you’d like replaced, or newly installed, such as but not limited to:
  • Flooring
    • Tile
    • Hardwood
    • Laminate
    • LVT
    • Marble
    • Concrete
  • Paint colors
    • Sherwin williams – morning fog – satin finish – kitchen walls
    • Valspar – off white – eggshell – living room
  • Counter tops
    • White Granite
    • Laminate
  • Vanities
  • Sinks
  • Bathtubs/showers
    • Walk in shower
  • Kitchen/ bath fixtures and accessories
  • Appliances
    • Bluetooth samsung refrigerator
  • Trimwork
  • Modifications
    • Remove kitchen wall
    • Install door in drywall
    • Replace existing door with drywall
    • etc.

General Contractor Requirements

You have your reasons and your wish list, now it’s time to think of what your ideal contractor looks like. Using the questions below, as well as any of your own, write out what is important to you when choosing your service provider.

This might seem redundant or boring but you’ll be entering into a contractual obligation with someone you don’t know and if a contractor doesn’t have you sign a contract (get it?) that should be a major red flag. Vetting them can save you a tremendous amount of time and avoid catastrophe such as poor quality or uninsured work that results in damages, getting your deposit stolen, or a bait and switch. These things do happen unfortunately but with due diligence it can be avoided. Here’s what to look for when choosing your next remodeling contractor:

  1. Area of service: Do you want someone close by in case you need them to come to your home quickly in the event of an emergency? Or you’d prefer someone more reputable even if they have to travel a bit longer.
  2. Licenses: What licenses are needed for the trades required? Are you looking for someone to just get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible? Or do you want someone who is licensed to protect yourself in the event of fraud or damages?
  3. Insurance & compliance: What is the value of your home? In the event of a fire, or other catastrophe, what would you need to make sure you have assurance that you will be covered? Most General Liability insurance coverage limits are $250k, $500k, $1 Mil, $2 Mil, or more. You want to make sure that your contractor is insured, how much for, and if it is currently active.
  4. Availability: Do you need someone right away? If it is urgent, such as storm damage or other restoration work, you might have to settle for the first person who can make it. But do not let the fact that you need someone immediately allow you to let your guard down and allow someone who is uninsured or unlicensed do the work – it might cause an even bigger issue down the road!
  5. Portfolio: Ask to see pictures of previous work. This will give you an idea of what the remodelers can do for you and what they can’t. However, sometimes as construction companies are starting to grow they might realize that they’ve only been doing restoration work but would like to get into remodeling work. Be open and give them a chance if it feels like it might be a better fit than someone who specializes in remodeling but doesn’t fit well with your personality. Trust your gut feeling and use their references if you need to get a better understanding of the type of business they operate.
  6. References & Reviews: Do your due diligence on the remodeling companies you’ve chosen. Do they ask you if you’d like references? Or do they avoid the question when you bring it up? Do they have more bad reviews online than good ones? Or is it just 1 or 2 bad reviews from a disgruntled client? Ask them about the bad reviews and let them explain their side of the story.

Set up a time for a phone or in-person interview, 30 minutes at least, on a day that you know you will be available and attentive. This shows the project manager or estimator you’re meeting that you’re serious, professional, and not just shopping for prices. They will respect your time, prioritize you higher, and treat your job more seriously. It also allows them to interview you as well and see if it would be a good fit for them. They’ll be more upfront with you as far as whether or not they can complete the work and if they can’t they’ll give you a reference to someone who will. Most contractors will never refer someone unless they know for certain they would be able to deliver on all of your expectations or risk hurting their own reputation.

Timeline

Your timeline is when you need absolutely need to have the project completed by. This might be the day you move in. Or maybe you’ve already moved in and you need the work to be completed as quickly as possible because your family and neighbors will start to complain from the dust, noise, and traffic. It could even be the day you and your realtor agreed to start showing the home if you’re looking to sell it. Having a timeline will allow you to give your general contractor clear expectations of how long they have to finish your project. They might tell you your timeline isn’t reasonable because permits in Chicago take 40-80 days to pull, but if permits are pulled by the end of the week it would give us a better opportunity to reach that deadline. Work with the renovators that you chose to work out a reasonable start and finish date. Now if multiple construction firms have told you that your timeline is impossible but someone you met at Home Depot says they can do it, don’t throw money at them – they might not understand the full scope of work. That’s how construction projects end up half finished.

Lastly, if you’re flexible with the start and finish date, this could open more doors for you in giving you the ability to schedule later in the season and possibly even discounts for booking early!

Hiring Criteria

Here is where you will choose your top 3-5 hiring criteria. What is most important to you? Is it someone who has availability in the next 3-7 days? References from other homeowners or businesses? Quality of past work and similar scope of work? Price? Resources such as suppliers or specialty trades for that custom aluminum back splash you wanted?

Whatever it is this how you will rank your contractors after interviewing them. This gives you a visual representation of everyone you’ve met and allows you to rank them from highest to lowest. At the very least if your 1st option doesn’t pan out you have your 2nd option ready to go – no need to try and guess.

Notebook with "Budget" written on it

Budget

More often than not, homeowners do not feel comfortable disclosing their budget out of fear that they might give the contractor more than he/she would have asked for. However this is rarely the case, unless you are dealing with an unlicensed and uninsured contractor with no overhead or expenses. These types of remodeling contractors possess a high risk of fraud, creating damages, or even theft from laborers they most likely did not vet through a background check. Before you allow a remodeling company into your home, do your research and confirm that they are indeed a licensed, insured, limited liability company or registered sole proprietor.

Construction services providers who are legitimate will most likely already know what you will need to spend to get the job done and will come in higher than you had budgeted. Doing your research prior to meeting contractors will tell you who is skilled enough to know the price of the job by looking at it and is asking you the proper questions. From there, it’s compromising on certain features such as LVT instead of marble floors or builder grade baseboards instead of the custom hardwood options. We work this out with our clients until we reach a middle point where both the client and the contractor feels that the price is fair for both parties.

If you have trouble researching your budget, take a look at your reasons for doing the work. Is this an investment property or a home you’re selling? Figure out how much more value your project will add to the home. For example, let’s say you own a 3 bed/2 bath home valued at $300,000. You’re looking to finish the basement and add a room and bathroom, you might expect to spend $20-40,000. But based on the comparable sales in your area, homes with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms with a finished basement are selling for $380,000. By investing $20-40k, you look to gain 40-60k more – more than doubling your investment. However, if homes with those specs are selling for $340k, you have a higher risk of breaking even or losing money in the event of damages, unexpected change orders, etc.  Thinking from this standpoint will help you be more prepared with what you need to do.

Another thing to think about is how you plan to pay for your project. Are you going to be financing it? Are you already paying a mortgage? Take into consideration interest rates, taxes, permit fees, etc. when factoring your decision.

What about tax breaks, grants, or city funded home improvement loans? Sometimes there are programs out there just waiting to be utilized. Take advantage of them and help offset costs out of your pocket.

Finally, what is the quality of material you need? Is your home in a gated subdivision with million dollar homes on your block? Or is it your first rental property in a class C/D neighborhood? It helps to know that types of material that are available. They normally are broken up into 4 “grades”:

Builder Grade: This is your low end budget material normally used in rental properties or large multi-unit developments. Most often this is used for gut rehabs and renovations.

Quality Grade: This is your lower middle range material that you might find at a local home improvement, big box retailer, or supplier. Most moderately priced single family homes use this grade. Used in remodels and/or renovations mostly.

Custom Grade: This is your higher end material used in class A/B neighborhoods and would include things such as custom cabinetry, trim, doors, countertops, etc. Here is where you will find your restoration contractors and condo / luxury builders.

Ultra Custom: This is the highest end material grade available on the market. This is for your ultra luxury homes and penthouses, it is the most expensive custom material and unless you have a massive budget, the majority of homeowners would never need these products.

Taking your budget into consideration as well as what your goals are can help you fine tune all the details of your project with complete accuracy. If your budget is over what your remodeling service is asking for, upgrade your material and increase the curb appeal of your home. If it’s your first rental property, going with builder grade material for the first few years can help save money until your portfolio is booming and you can revisit the property for a remodel in a few years.

Whatever it is you decide, ultimately taking the time to iron out all the details of your project’s budget before reaching out to contractors will save you the most time, money, and risk – ensuring that you and your renovation services provider are happy and can continue to work together for years to come.

Choosing a contractor

You’ve done your research, found your inspirational designs or hired a designer, scheduled and met with your contractors, and finally have estimates to work with. So what’s next?

Well it’s time to put everything together. Creating a scoring system that works for you and your spouse / decision making partner and rank your contractors based on all the information provided. There’s so many different ways to score your potential construction company of choice but you must make sure to include the following criteria (among your own of course):

Availability – Who can get you in the soonest? Is that your priority?

References – Who has the best references? Are these references similar to the project you are bidding out?

Photos of work – Who’s work looks the best? Is it work that is similar to what you need?

Complimentary services – Do you need to find an architect, designer, or engineer on your own or can they provide it all for you in one place? Is that important to you?

Architecture

Design

Millwork/custom furniture

Responsiveness/communication – Who is easy to get ahold of? Who communicates well, and provides your estimate when they say they will? This is very important and not to be overlooked.

Professionalism – Did they provide an estimate with their insurance and license or did they “forget that”? Are they well spoken and answer all your questions without avoiding any? Did they provide you with the homeowner’s contractor informational packet required by the State of Illinois?

Budget – Is their price within your budget? Is it similar to other contractors? Why do the estimates vary – did someone forget something in the scope of work? Prices should be fairly similar between remodeling companies – a significant difference higher or lower can either be missed line items or a major red flag. Break down the contracts and see exactly what each provider is giving you.

 

Conclusion

There you have it the complete guide for planning your next home improvement project. When you’re ready to move forward with the contractor of your choice, make sure you have a contract, bond, licenses, insurance, and anything else you need to ensure that your liability is minimal and that all parties are on the same page. Check out our next article to see what happens after you choose your contractor!

 

Part 2 Coming soon…

 

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