Home with Dean Sharp

Home with Dean Sharp

Listen to Home with Dean Sharp on Saturdays from 6 AM to 8 AM and Sundays from 9 AM to 12 PM on KFI AM 640!Full Bio


Remodels Gone Right

How to Prepare

Entering into a home renovation means for the next several weeks or months you’re about to be locked into a relationship with relative strangers for the stress-filled task of performing a lengthy surgery on your most important possession, your largest financial investment, and —perhaps most seriously—an object that is connected to all manner of psychological and emotional triggers in you. So … no problem.

Many of us are used to thinking negatively about construction.

The home-improvement industry typically receives some of the highest levels of consumer complaints of any industry.


  • Bad experiences are shared more often than good ones.
  • There are more than a few inept contractors out there.
  • There are also scam artist contractors preying on unsuspecting homeowners.
  • There are also homeowners not handling their projects correctly.

But usually—just like in a relationship that’s hit a rough spot—there’s no “villain” per se.

There is a lot of fear, ignorance, often a stunning lack of self-knowledge, and poor communication which leads to misaligned expectations and goals.

The Four Greatest Threats to a successful contracting relationship

1. Fear -Fear costs $$$ more than any other factor on a project

  • Specificity drives out fear - don’t trust allowances
  • Transparency drives out fear and builds trust

2. Ignorance

  • The homeowner should know their home.
  • The homeowner is ALWAYS the GENERAL CONTRACTOR. Learn. Don’t abdicate.
  • Good contractors want you to understand how things work.
  • Dishonest contractors take advantage of the “ignorance gap.”
  • Ask questions about every step.
    • Is that the best way to do it?
    • Is that the only way to do it?
  • Get outside advice and keep getting advice along the way.
  • Use your Designer as your advocate

3. Poor Communication

  • Stay on top of things
    • Short lists
    • Daily conversations
    • Set a daily debrief appointment and avoid calls outside of business hours.
  • Keep a project journal - Take lots of pictures/video
  • Ask your builder if they use Management Software
  • Ask to see the Gantt Chart - Critical Path
  • Underscore and verify conversations with summary emails- “So as I understand it this is what we decided today … Is that correct?”
  • Walk the job alone as often as possible
  • Be present for inspections

4. Misaligned Expectations and Goals

  • Hire a builder who clearly loves building
  • Reconfirm schedules weekly
  • Hold up your end of the schedule
  • Only pay for work completed correctly, but then pay promptly
  • (California max deposit of 10% or $1,000 — whichever is SMALLER.
  • Understand these things about your builder:
  1. They’ll hire out at least some of the work - know which parts and to whom
  2. May mark up materials and labor - pay a fair fee and buy materials direct
  3. Builders aren’t designers. I repeat … Builders aren’t designers.
  4. You’re not the only thing going on.
  5. They won’t be on site every day
  6. Sometimes delays are out of their control - domino from other jobs/subs
  7. Builders are small businesses - good contractors can hit difficult times

Early Warning Signs of a Contractor in Trouble

  1. Sudden decrease in their workforce for a project
  2. Change in demeanor
  3. Missing appointments
  4. Delayed materials deliveries
  5. Failing to pay their subcontractors or suppliers on time

Phase 1 - Design

The time of the biggest remodeling mistakes, but also the biggest breakthroughs. Don’t rush! Design matters most!

Your designer should …

… be a “deep” listener (searching for the deeper needs beneath the expressed needs).

… help you discover your “why.”

… be passionate and opinionated

… offer ideas you never would’ve considered

… ride the line between giving pushback to certain requests and yielding to your lead

… not have vested interests (materials mark-ups, etc.)

Phase 2 - Planning

  • Scope of Work
    • Only after we’ve completed the creative process can we determine the scope of work.
    • From an initial scope of work we can obtain rough estimates of costs.
    • If costs need to be adjusted then we either return to design or revise the scope of work.
    • Rinse and repeat until design, scope of work, and budget begin to align.
  • Plans
    • Once the rough budget is acceptable we then produce whatever plan documents are necessary to obtain accurate bids and/or satisfy governing agencies.
    • The goal of plans is to adequately inform and dispel fear. Unknowns create fear in bidding and fear always results in more expensive bids.
    • “Plans” can be anything from a detailed list, sketches, photorealistic renderings, basic building plans or permit-ready plans.

Phase 3 - Bidding

  • Unless we have implicit trust in a particular contractor, obtain a minimum of 3 bids for every category.
  • Enlist your design team to reconcile estimates into comparable bids (apples & apples).
  • Take note of and investigate “outliers.”
    • They may simply have different pricing
    • Or they missed something
    • Or they caught something everyone else missed.
  • References, references, references!
    • friends
    • family
    • realtors
    • Home Advisor
    • NextDoor
    • Houzz
  • Contractor State License Board
  • Proof of Liability Insurance
  • Questions for Contractors:
    • Are you a paper contractor or hands-on?
    • Who is supervising your project?
    • How big is your crew?
    • How often will you be on site?
    • How often will you be communicating with us?
    • Will you be itemizing your estimate?
    • What is your fee or percentage?
    • In addition to your stated fee do your subcontractors give you kickbacks?
    • Do you mark up materials?
    • Can we use your discount to purchase materials directly from suppliers?
    • How will the job site be left at the end of every day?
    • Will you have issues taking direction from our designer?
    • What level of residential craftsmanship are you most accustomed too?
    • How do you handle change orders?
  • Don’t ignore your subjective impressions - it’s a relationship!

Phase 4 - Contracts & Schedules

  • Deposits - California: 10% or $1000, whichever is less.
  • Preliminary Notices, Mechanics Liens, and Lien releases.
  • Change orders
  • Contractors should provide schedule estimates. Every bid should include a time estimate.
  • Phrases like “with all diligence” and “without interruption” should appear in every contract.
  • Turn-key vs. Time and Material contracts.
  • Avoiding “Allowances” - another word for “over budget.”
  • Daily clean-up and debris disposal.
  • Contractors should never be ahead of the completed work in invoicing
  • Scheduling should address your ability to living accommodations and your ability to eat, escape, rest, and decompress.
  • Scheduling should accommodate wait times for ordered items and the necessary lead times for decision making deadlines and purchases.

Phase 5 - Building

  • Review site considerations
    • water
    • power
    • toilet
    • dig alert
  • Review the daily schedule
  • Inspections - City, Designer, YOU
  • Who’s handling Final Clean Up?
  • Final payments come only after Punch List completion.

Phase 6 - User’s Manuals, Warranties and the Shakedown Cruise

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

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