Step 1: Develop a plan and get a quote

In my experience, most homeowners only have a general idea of what they want.  "I want to finish my basement" or "I want to redo my bathroom".  The details, such as materials or locations of walls and doors,  are usually not defined.  This is perfectly fine!  We can work with you to try and define these better.  Or, more likely, our quote will just state an assumption.  For instance, the quote may state " Assumes $200 toilet to be installed".  Now, if you decide that you want an $800 toilet, the extra cost will be added.  Conversely, if you reuse the old toilet, then a $200 credit will be granted in the final bill.  Using this method allows us to quote something without having all the details figured out up front.

Once you have your plan, contact a contractor and get a quote.  It is usually a good idea to get multiple quotes.  Just ensure that all quotes cover the same scope so that you can do a fair comparison.  

Step 2: Select a Contractor and Sign a Contract

Once you decide to do the project and select a contractor, give them a call and discuss the next steps.  Most contractors will want to sign a contract defining the scope of work and responsibilities.  Usually, a contract looks a lot like the proposal with some extra legal language thrown in along with a place for signatures at the end.  Review the contract carefully before signing (ask for a copy a day or 2 ahead of the signing meeting).  Also, before signing, the contractor should walk you through each part of the contract to make sure that it is clear.  

There is usually a charge for 10%-20% of the contract value at signing (the payment schedule should be defined in the contract, no surprises).  So, be sure that your finances are in order to pay the required amount at each stage of the project.  

Step 3: Permits and Start of Work

Depending on the project, permits may or may not be required.  There are 2 kinds of permits that the city issues.  The "easy" permit is called a "Subject to Field Inspection" permit (STFI for short).  STFI permits require basic drawings so that the city can understand what you are doing.  You submit these drawings and some application forms to the permit office (usually in-person).  They review everything right there while you stand there with your fingers crossed.  They will ask questions, and small corrections are usually written by hand on the drawings.  If all is accepted, they will issue you the STFI permit right then and there.  You will have to pay a fee depending on the scope of of the project (usually anywhere from $300 - $1000).  Usually the whole process at the permit office takes about 1-2 hrs (this does not include time needed to create drawings and fill out paperwork).  For most projects, the contractor will apply for the STFI permit.  But, there is nothing preventing an adventurous homeowner from applying for the permit themselves.  

The other type of permit is called an "Addition or Alteration Construction Permit".  These permits are fairly complex and have a lot of requirements for proper documentation.  There is a detailed review with the permitting office, so it is best to leave these permit applications to the general contractor.  Most importantly, these permits take SEVERAL MONTHS to be issued.  If your project requires a construction permit, you should factor the permit waiting period into your schedule.  They are also quite expensive (several thousands dollars)

Once the permit is issued, work can begin.  It is a code violation to begin work prior to the permit being issued (even demo).  There is often a "pre-inspection" requirement to verify everything is in order prior to the start of work.  It is the responsibility of the contractor to schedule inspections.  The city inspectors are mostly good people who are there to make sure that everything is being done properly.  Think of them as a helpful "uncle Bobs", not "construction police".  

Step 4: Construction Phase

Work finally begins!  For most remodel projects, work generally proceeds in the following order

  • Demo
  • Framing*
  • Rough Electrical*/Rough plumbing*/ducting
  • Insulation*
  • Doors/windows
  • Drywall
  • Paint
  • Flooring
  • Trim
  • Finish Electrical*/Finish Plumbing*
  • Finish work (appliances, hardware, etc)

There are often payments associated with these phases of work.  Those items marked with a * usually require inspections.  

Finally, once all project work is complete, the contractor should give the homeowner a notice that work is complete and a final walk-through of the project is needed.  This is the homeowner's chance to point out any final corrections that are needed.  The contractor will make the corrections, collect final payments, and the project is now complete!