Renovating is overwhelming.
If you’re a homeowner thinking of doing a renovation, you may have no idea where to start. You have so many decisions to make about what changes you want to make, what your budget is, and how to get started once you do decide!
I don’t want those frustrations to prevent you from getting started in the first place! That’s why the professionals in the industry are here to guide you through the process.
Now you may be thinking, “But I don’t even know which professional to hire first!”
Even that can be overwhelming. A contractor? A designer? An architect? An engineer?
As an architect in this industry I have seen many successful projects, and some painfully disappointing ones. There’s a lot of factors that contribute to that, but I have found that hiring the right professionals in the following order has helped produce great projects with happy clients.
The first professional in the lineup you’ll want to hire is the architect.
The architect’s role is not only to design you a beautiful and safe home based on your goals and constraints, but also to establish a strategy for the overall project and coordinate with all the subsequent necessary professionals. They have a broad knowledge of all the trades involved and throughout the project they take a more active role overseeing the project as your advocate while communicating between all parties. All the while, making sure the project is being carried out according to design intent and overall goals are being met and questions are being answered. [Check out our other article: What Architect’s Do]
Knowing this, one of the most crucial steps to a successful renovation is hiring a good architect from the beginning. That will go a long way in easing the entire process! Your architect will help you refine the scope of your project based on your goals and budget. They will also bring up questions or points you may have never thought of. Ultimately, your architect is your best friend in the world of design and construction.
Some people may choose to do their project without an architect, and in some small, straightforward projects that is ok. But I can tell you from personal experience…
HIRING AN ARCHITECT CAN SAVE YOU MONEY AND HEADACHE IN THE LONG RUN
- They can save you from having to do costly repairs by not designing to code
- They can recommend cost effective materials, labor, or design solutions
- They can prevent having a lot of change orders during the construction process, by having thought through the design thoroughly
- They review requests for payment from the GC and verify that the work has been done that they say has been done.
Take it from Joseph Truini, on why architects are worth the money.
Hiring a good architect is probably the most crucial step to ensuring renovation success.
SECOND: NECESSARY ENGINEERING CONSULTANTS
Next up, will be your engineers.
You need them to be able to make the dream design you received from your architect, possible in the build environment. They will specify exactly what sized support beams, columns, framing, foundations, etc., and how to put them together to make the building structurally sound. Their drawings will also lay the foundation (haha, pun intended), and provide the framework (hehe), for the contractor to build the project.
Your architect will tell you which engineering consultants you’ll need for your particular project. Here are the two most common:
If your project involves expanding into new areas of the property for an addition and you’ll need to dig up soil for new foundations, chances are you may need a geotechnical engineer to perform and analysis on the soil. By doing this, they will determine the make-up of the soil, how structurally sound it is, and will recommend a foundation design. These recommendations will guide the structural design created by the structural engineer.
If any changes are going to be made to the structural components of your house, you’ll need a structural engineer to provide drawings. Once the architect has created a proposed design layout for the house, the structural engineer will create structural framing plans and details based on those.
In general, these professionals will either be required by the city to get permits or they won’t. It will be a matter of requirement rather than desire.
Ask your architect for recommendations on these engineers when hiring. Often times, architects have engineers they work with frequently and have a good relationship with.
THIRD: GENERAL CONTRACTOR
After you have design drawings and structural drawings in place, it’s time to begin searching for a general contractor to interview and get pricing estimates from.
The architectural and structural drawings are necessary for the GC to give accurate pricing estimates. The more complete they are, the more accurate your pricing estimate will be.
Check out this article from the New York Times on How to Avoid a Renovation Nightmare.
To build the project, the general contractor takes care of hiring out and managing subcontractors to complete the work of the various trades. These include: electricians, plumbers, tile installers, painters, etc.
Some clients, depending on their desired level of involvement and/or scope of the project, choose to forgo hiring a GC and simply hire subcontractors themselves directly. If the project is very simple like a bathroom renovation, doing it this way can be sufficient. But if it’s a project in which the client has hired an architect and a structural engineer, the project is probably big enough to benefit from hiring a GC.
A counter argument
There are a few valid arguments for why you should hire a general contractor even earlier in the renovation process than I’m proposing…
- They can provide early stage cost input in order to determine what scope is possible for the given budget
- With the market being so hot these days, many contractors are booked up for many months. It helps so get on their schedule as early as possible so you can build on the timeline you’d like.
- You begin building a relationship with them prior to the actual construction process.
While it is advantageous in some ways to hire a GC early on, one thing to keep in mind is that they won’t be able to provide accurate pricing until they have detailed drawings to estimate from. Therefore, the architect and the engineers will come into play eventually anyways.
CAN I DIY?
The DIY trend is certainly on the rise these days, but the more complex a project gets, the more likely you’ll end up missing something or making a costly mistake. For that reason, I would strongly suggest hiring the pros for larger renovations.
According to a home improvement study conducted by Nerd Wallet, 68% of homeowners say the cost of hiring a professional for home improvements is worth it over doing it themselves.
Just the other day I had a client call me in a nervous panic after he had his city inspection. He had attempted to complete a kitchen renovation himself and completely missed a code compliance issue.
He had to rip one section up a whole section of the kitchen….cabinets, countertops, and all…to REDO IT!
THIS MISTAKE COST HIM $3000, not to mention, a ton of extra time!
If he had a contractor completing the work for him, they would have completed the work to code the first time. Or even if they had missed it (we all make mistakes sometimes) they would have done the work to correct it on their dime.
So regardless of when you decide to bring a contractor on board, definitely hire one if you feel out of your comfort zone with the renovation work.
FOURTH: INTERIOR DESIGNER
Suggesting an interior designer after a GC is a bit controversial, but here’s why I think it’s the best order to go with for renovations with a focus on maximizing time and budget.
Keeping in mind that you want rough pricing early in the process, you’ll most likely be bringing a GC into the picture before all the finishes and fixtures are selected. And there is often time to make a lot of those decisions after initial construction has begun. Many times with residential projects, their work overlaps on the timelines. In an ideal world, every finish, fixture, and fitting would be specified by the architect and interior designer prior to the GC giving pricing and beginning work, but that almost never happens in home renovation project.
If having a completely transformed and well thought out space is important to you — hiring an interior designer will certainly take the design detail to the next level. They are experts in making a space come alive with the right finishes, furnishings, and decor. They are familiar with how and where to source the items and coordinating that with the design and construction process.
And technology certainly has been making interior design services more accessible to the average homeowner through online services. A few of these include:
With that being said, some architects are very talented in this area as well. If you don’t want to splurge on an interior designer, make sure you search for an architect who is comfortable with helping design and specify these items.
Now I know you may be thinking, “I want to do things differently for my project.” And that’s ok.
Here are a couple scenarios that different from the traditional order I’ve outlined above.
Some people choose to go with hiring a firm that can both design and build the project. There are advantages and disadvantages to going this route, but that’s for another article.
Make sure to check out their fee structures in comparison to hiring and architect + contractor.
I would argue here that because these firms are offering all the services, as opposed to specializing, they may not be exceptionally good at any one of those things. Again, it all comes down to your goals and priorities for the project.
THE JOB IS SO SIMPLE, SO YOU JUST HIRE A CONTRACTOR(S)
If you’re not changing any walls, or maybe you only need a plumbing or electrical permit and the rest is mostly finishes work….you probably don’t need an architect or any engineers.
I would still advise that it’s best to hire a design pro in these cases, simply for their expertise and guidance on the design. If that’s the case, you should still hire the design professional first and then hire the trade contractors to implement the work and they will take care of the permits necessary.
Or if you already know the design you want, simply hire the trade contractors and tell them what to do. Just keep in mind you may miss some things that a design pro’s eye would see.
YOU LOVE THE WORK OF A PARTICULAR DESIGNER SO YOU CHOSE THEM FIRST
You may see the beautiful work of a particular interior designer and will want to hire them immediately because you want them to help you create a beautiful space. This is fine! It’s ok to do that. Having someone who has a true vision for your space involved right from the start is great, no matter who it is.
Once they’ve helped you with a design, you can then hire the other various professionals in the proper order to help you get the construction drawings, permits and help get it built. And the designer coordinate with them along the way.
Seriously, renovating doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as you think.
There’s not one right way to go about it.
But this is the way I recommend to maximize success.
Many people start down the renovation path from many different angles, and that’s ok. The good news is that people in this industry are all connected and can help recommend pros in all the different fields to guide you on next steps.
So now that you know who to hire and when, there’s no excuse for not getting started with that reno!
Get started with an architect and get that long overdue project rolling!
What’s holding you back from getting started? Let me know in the comments below!