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What to expect when you hire a contractor

We get lots of calls at ODI from homeowners who don’t know how to hire a contractor or what to expect from the process. A typical call might go like this:

Caller: I saw your sign up the road and wanted to see if you guys can turn my garage into a living room?

Me: Absolutely we can! Tell me about the project.

Caller: Well it’s just something we are thinking about, taking down this wall, maybe adding on to the back, and making the garage and dining room into a great room. How much does something like that cost?

Me: Have you spoken to an architect or had any plans drawn up?

Caller: Plans?


When a Contractor bids a large scale home improvement, such as an addition, the County requires a set of professionally drawn (and sometimes engineered) architectural drawings be submitted for approval. These plans are also the basis for the Contractor’s “Scope of work” (a description of all the work to be included in the project- this should be explicitly laid out  in any Contract you sign) and pricing. A “Change Order” is an official addendum to the Contract documents;  COs detail any deviation that may be necessary to the “Scope of Work” (and/or pricing as a result) during the project itself. For example, perhaps we find that there are beautiful old wood floors hidden under your existing carpet, you may choose to have a Change Order drawn up that includes hardwood floor restoration rather than the new carpet you originally envisioned.

Pricing is based on the project as planned in the “Scope of Work” as well, so the first thing most Contractors will need from you is a set of plans to bid on.

Contracting collage promo

So….how do you get plans drawn up?

Well, you have a few options. The first is to find a design team that you love and go that route. They’ll meet with you, get an idea of what you want to do, and propose the ways they feel that you can best achieve your goals. This should start with a frank discussion of your budget- you need plans that can be constructed within your parameters.

The second option is to find a Contractor that you trust, meet with them to discuss your vision and then ask them who draws their plans for them. Most builders have relationships with draftspeople and designers, some even have an in house team. This is a perfectly viable option as well and can eliminate some of the headache that can happen if the plans need to be tweaked or if the builder needs clarification from the designer. Often the cost of drawing up the plans can be included in the overall project’s budget if you choose to use your contractor’s architect. (But you should still ask!)

Once plans, scope of work, and pricing are all agreed on, typically a contract is drawn up and the Contractor submits the required information to the County for the issuance of your Building Permit. Your yard may be marked for underground utility lines, and you’ll be asked to remove your personal belongings from the work area by a specific start date.

Some tips for a smooth experience:

Know what you can and can’t do. If you have an HOA, the time to check their guidelines is BEFORE you pay hundreds of dollars for plans they’ll never approve.

If you want to add on, check the setback requirements with your County Planning Commission. Just being prepared can save you a lot of time, frustration, and money.

Set a realistic budget, and stick to it.

Ask potential Contractors and Architects for references, and call them.

Read and understand your Contract and all the terms and conditions in it.

If you have any questions, ASK. We are just as excited about your project as you are (Really!) and we want you to LOVE the results.

If you’re comparing quotes, provide each bidder with the same “Scope of Work” and plans- that’s the only real way to get “apples to apples” bids.

If you need help or advice, feel free to give us a call. We are glad to assist!