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Remodeling Professional Guide

Here are the pros and cons for hiring professionals for your remodel.

In every remodeling, homeowners must decide what professionals they need. Do you hire a general contractor to orchestrate the whole project? Or do you hire subcontractors to do each task? Do you need an architect? Or a designer? And whom do you hire first? The right path becomes clear as you consider your needs and the skills each professional offers.

General Contractors
The terms "general contractor" and "builder" are used interchangeably. These individuals or companies are called contractors because they contract with you to build the entire project. Some use all their own employees, but more often they subcontract with experts in specialties such as concrete, plumbing, drywall, and electrical.

Contractors earn their fees by marking up what the subcontractors charge, marking up materials, charging supervision fees, and/or charging for profit and overhead.

The main advantage of using a general contractor is that the whole job will be coordinated and done by people who have a history of working together. The downside is that you'll pay for the oversight, and you usually lose the ability to hire your friends or relatives to do some of the work; most general contractors want to use their own well-tested teams.

Hiring a general contractor is a good option for busy people.

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If you decide to act as your own general contractor, you will hire subcontractors such as plumbers or drywall installers yourself. Make sure the subcontractors you hire are licensed, if licenses are required in your area.

The upside of hiring subcontractors is that you'll save the general contractor's markup. And you can choose subcontractors you know and like. The downside is that the subcontractors may not know or like one another, and there may be delays in your project as the plumber and the tile setter, for instance, squabble over who is responsible for some minor detail that holds up the whole project.

Acting as a general contractor is best for people who have a lot of time, are very organized, and want to save money.

Architects are highly educated and often members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). They can bring balance and grace to a remodel that are hard to quantify but easy to feel in a finished space. An architect-designed remodel will generally have more beauty, style, and even resale value. However, architects are expensive, charging 10-15 percent of the project's total cost.

The downside of using architects, besides the cost, is that they can be so wrapped up in their own creative expression that they lose sight of what the homeowner wants. To prevent that from happening, hire an architect who has a reputation for good communication with clients.

Consider hiring an architect if you have a large project where walls will be moved or added.

Anyone can claim to be a home designer. To get further assurance of your designer's qualifications, you should check with one of the many organizations that certify professionals. A good place to start is the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) or the Certified Professional Building Designers (CPBD). You can find designers in the Yellow Pages, at design desks at big-box home improvement stores, and on staff at general contracting companies. Fees for designers are much lower than those for architects or are included in the cost of cabinets at kitchen shops.

Whom to Hire First?
If you already know a trusted general contractor or architect, start there. If you know neither, find the best contractor in town and ask for suggestions for architects and designers. When everyone working on your project has a history of cooperation, it's more likely to be successful.

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