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Modesto, CA Architects, General Contractors & Design Firms

Modesto, CA Home Improvement Guide


Architects and Builders
Architects; Building Designers; General Contractors; Construction Consultants; Remodeling Contractors; Home Builders

Before starting any home improvement project, a plan must be developed to turn your dream into a reality. Most likely you already have a vision for how the finished product should look. Now parameters, measurements and specifications need to be added to create a blueprint for your vision. Whether or not you plan to do a majority of the work yourself, a qualified team of properly licensed and insured help is required.

Depending on the extensiveness and complexity of the project, the required team may consist of one or more of the following: an architect, structural engineer, general contractor, sub-contractors or a design/build firm. There is no right or wrong combination of experts. The final decision should be based on the scope of the project, the amount of do-it-yourself work and available budget. Whatever combination of experts are hired for the project, make sure they can build your ultimate vision and ensure the finished product is structurally sound, follows building code and fits with the neighborhood.


Architects
Architects; Building Designers

An architect is more than someone who creates a blueprint for your project. They are trained and licensed professionals with experience in architectural design, structural design, building codes and the principles of engineering. Becoming a qualified architect requires an accredited Bachelor of Architecture degree or Master of Architecture degree. In addition, an internship of at least three years with a working architect is required before becoming eligible to take a state licensing exam. The multi-day exam covers a variety of building design, structural design, mechanical and electrical systems, construction services, etc. With this extensive amount of education and training, architects acquire a wealth of knowledge and experience that makes them a significant value to any remodeling or building project.

When Do You Need One?
The decision to hire an architect depends primarily on the size and scope of the project. For smaller, less complex remodeling projects, upgrading kitchen floors and cabinetry or remodeling a guest bathroom, a contractor can successfully handle the structural design. If you want to build out to create a gourmet kitchen or add a full second story to the house, consult an architect. An architect should be used for any major remodel requiring additional square footage, moving load bearing walls, major demolition, significant restructuring of electrical and plumbing or when building a new home.

Depending on the code requirements for your city or state, choosing to use an architect might not be an option. Many cities require plans to have an architect’s seal prior to submitting them for permit approval.

What Will It Cost?
Hiring an architect increases the cost of the project, but it may be worth it. Leveraging their extensive design experience may add modern style and design you overlooked during the original planning. Applying their knowledge of electrical and plumbing may increase overall square footage of a room or significantly reduce the amount of space needed. The cost to hire an architect ranges from 5-10% of the overall project, depending on the project. Smaller projects are charged by the hour and range from $75-$150 per hour. Costs also range based on the expertise and experience of the architect, but in the end the final result will be worth the expense.

Advantages
In addition to utilizing their extensive building and structural design knowledge, an architect also has art, historical and modern design expertise to beautify the project. They have an ability to visualize solutions to complex design problems and create something that is aesthetically pleasing. Applying their experience can change an average project into one that is worthy of being featured in a magazine.

The architect will develop a custom design for your project according to your specifications and style. The design will include all structural and aesthetic essentials as well as measurements and materials to build the project. This will become the guideline for all contractors and sub-contractors to follow. In the end, you will have a one of a kind home or room created especially for you.

An architect also becomes the project manager, handling every aspect of the project from design to finish. They are responsible for obtaining building permits, dealing with unforeseen problems and being an advocate between you and the contractors. They ensure the project plan created is compliant with building code and that the contractor builds everything to the specifications outlined.

If you don’t already have a contractor in mind, an architect can recommend one for you. This can save you from a lot of headaches and stress during the construction process.

Disadvantages
The primary disadvantage is cost. As most remodeling and home improvement projects go over budget, taking 10% at the start to cover an architect can be significant. While their expertise is extremely valuable, your budget may not be able to cover an architect.

Consult with an architect to see how their services might fit into your project, especially if it is a major remodel. You may be able to work with them to pick and choose a variety of their services while handling some yourself, saving money in the long run. Most firms are willing to sit down to initial consultations for free. This will help determine, at no risk, if hiring an architect is right for your project.

Finding the Right Architect
Each architect has an individual style and personality so find the one that is right for your project. As you narrow down the selection, follow these simple guidelines to help you choose.

    Create a List Obtain referrals from friends, family and co-workers who have recently completed a major remodel. Ask your realtor for additional recommendations and consult industry websites. The American Institute of Architects (www. http://www.aia.org) includes a directory to help find local architects. If you already have a contractor, ask them for a few good firms. A list of local architects can be found by visiting the Architects heading on MyYP.com.

    Narrow the Search Once you have a solid first list, start narrowing the selection to the top three or four. Consult the local arm of the American Institute of Architects to conduct research on each architect or firm. They can provide information on the type of work the firm specializes in as well as member profiles. While it is not critical that they are a member of an architectural organization, firms who support industry organizations show a dedication to their craft and continual education. The same devotion they show to their industry may also be reflected in their firm’s work.

    Call each firm and discuss your project with the Principle of the firm. Describe the specifics of the project and the desired time frame for completion. Ask for additional literature, or direction to their website, to review the firm’s qualifications and to view samples of their work.

    Schedule an Interview Schedule an in-person interview at the firm’s location with a narrowed list of three or four architects or firms. Ask to specifically work with the architect who will handle your project so you can get a feel of their style and personality. Ask them a variety of questions to help you make your selection.

    • What is the current availability of the firm or architect?
    • When could they begin the project?
    • Are they confident they could complete the project on time?
    • How many projects in the last year have they completed on time? On budget?
    • What is their fee structure?

    Ask for References Obtain reference of both clients and contractors they have worked with in the last year. Call each reference and ask them about their experience.

    • Was the project completed on time?
    • Was it completed on budget?
    • What problems arose?
    • Was the person they started with the one who also finished the project?
    • Were they satisfied with the final project?
    • Were they happy with the architect’s services?
    • Would they use them again?

    Ask for Visual References Request to see pictures of completed work, both from the firm and the references.

    • Does the style match what you are looking for?
    • Does it exceed your expectations?

    Check Complaints Online information makes it easy to verify complaints filed against an architect or firm. The Better Business Bureau, or your state’s consumer affairs office, can indicate if they are currently involved in any lawsuits or have outstanding or past complaints. Any extensive pattern is a red flag.

Alternatives
If the cost of an architect is out of reach, consider a few alternatives.

    Designers: For a simple remodel, a designer can help. They do not have the formal training of an architect but they have experience in planning and designing interior spaces. A structural engineer will review the plans developed to make sure everything is structurally sound. A designer is typically one-third the cost of an architect, but they typically do not oversee the project. Verify the licensing laws within your state before hiring a designer in lieu of an architect. Designers are not required to be licensed like an architect, so if the law requires a licensed professional, it may cost you. If the project you need requires the use of a structural engineer to sign off on the plans, the cost between a designer and architect could be a wash. Check both pricing before deciding as you may get the benefits of an architect without a lot of additional budget.

    Stock Building Plans: These are plans that have been created and drawn by architects, available for sale via magazines, websites and catalogs. They offer a variety of choices in different styles, sizes and budget ranges. Because they are stock, the design does not take into account the area where you live; so designs you like might not be ideal for the neighborhood. Also, if you want to make any changes, most likely you’ll need to take them to an architect to have it done.

    Production Home Builder: Specific housing developments have been purchased and developed by production home builders. These builders have consulted with architects and designers to create a few plans particularly for the development and region. Homeowners must choose from the selected plans and can customize some elements such as the lighting fixtures, countertops, carpeting, flooring and exterior siding. The full list of options will vary depending on the home builder. Any custom requests may be refused or be charged at a higher premium.

    Create Your Own Plans: A variety of software programs are available to help you create your own plans. They allow you to input all of the measurements and specifications in order to create it to scale. Unless you have in-depth knowledge of building codes, a structural engineer will need to review the plans. This ensures all load bearing walls are accounted for and the layout is structurally sound.

    Drafting Student: Significant budget can be saved by having a recent architectural college graduate or a drafting student create your plans. They have considerable knowledge of design and code, but lack experience. Therefore, you can retain their services for a lower price.


Contractors
General Contractors; Construction Consultants; Remodeling Contractors; Home Builders

Seriously consider hiring a contractor if the job is too big to handle yourself. A contractor is a construction professional hired to carry out a remodeling or building project from start to finish. They work with the architect or homeowner to determine the scope of the project and depending on their experience can develop plans that will obtain approval from the city.

When Do You Need One?
Most do-it-yourself projects are tackled in order to save a little money. A significant amount of money can be saved if your skill level is equal to the task. However, there are times when it is necessary to bring in a professional. Certain requirements are needed to ensure the job is done right.

    Experience: Some projects are just too large for even an experienced do-it-yourselfer.

    Time: Even if you have a strong skill set and knowledge of construction, finding the time required for major home improvement projects is difficult. Home improvement projects add pressure on your family and disrupt the quality of life. Hiring a contractor can significantly reduce the amount of time to complete the project making everyone happier.

    Tools: To get jobs done right, special tools are sometimes requires such as: tile saws, table saws, reciprocating saws, nail guns, texturing guns, routers, belt sanders or air compressors. Purchasing or renting each of these tools as you need them will get expensive and you may only use it this one time.

    Vision: While you may already have something in mind a contractor has years of experience, providing additional vision and ideas on how to expand the project. They can offer ideas you may have never thought of, or provide alternative solutions that can save you time and money.

Finding a Quality Contractor
Once you have determined that you need a contractor, do some homework to make sure you hire the right one. A quality contractor ensures the work is done skillfully, professionally and on time.

    Create a List: Establish a longer list of potential contractors by obtaining referrals from family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Those who are happy with their finished project will be happy to show it off and provide their contractor with referrals. Find a list of local contractors from associations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and professional organizations. Search the General Contractor heading at MyYP.com to start creating your list today.

    Narrow the Search: Begin narrowing the list by calling each contractor and investigating their qualifications and experience. Make sure they are properly licensed and insured. Ask them for their licensing number and check with your state’s Department of Commerce to make sure they are in good standing. The Department of Commerce can verify that their license is current and let you know if any complaints have been filed against them. The Better Business Bureau can also provide local references.

    Call References: Ask the contractor for four or five references of clients they have worked with in the last year. Call each one and ask them specific questions about the project.

    • Was it completed on time and on budget?
    • Was the contractor professional and easy to work with?
    • Was the quality what you expected?
    • Can see the finished result?
      • Again, homeowners who are happy with their results will be excited to show them off.

    Request Bids: Once the list has been narrowed to 3-5 contractor , ask to meet them in person and request a formal bid. Make sure each bid request is based on the same plan and specifications. When reviewing the bids, avoid the temptation to automatically select the lowest bid. Carefully review each bid and determine the quality of materials they use and level of skill they possess. Quality contractors have proven skills and work with skillful sub-contractors, which merits a premium price.

    Assess the Personality: In addition to the bid and skill set, asses the personality of the contractor. Make sure they are someone you can get along with and don’t mind working with for an extended period of time. During the process, it is common to speak with the contractor several times throughout the day, giving them direction and working with them to make changes or discuss the work in progress. Occasional disagreements will arise. Make sure you can work through them so it won’t hurt the finished product.

    Sign a Contract: Once you have found the contractor, make sure you have a detailed contract in place prior to starting. The contract should include specifics as to who will handle the demolition, trash collection and clean-up. Also specify the type of materials that will be used. If substitutions need to be made, make sure the contract states you need to approve any changes. This will help avoid any surprises you may have to live with, or pay to have it changed, because it was not outlined in the contract. Include payment dates and work to ensure the contractor has what they need upfront to start the project. If an upfront deposit is required, pay no more than 10% of the entire project or $1,500, whichever is lower. This gives the contractor what they need to get started and keeps them motivated to continue with the project. Money is the only leverage you have to keep your contractor coming back and ensure the project is finished. Develop a payment schedule that is fair to both sides and ensures equal protection. Discussing this upfront will save headaches later and provide protection for both parties.

General Contractor vs. Sub-Contractor
A variety of contractors will work on any project prior to completion. Learn some specifics about the roles of each contractor and when it is best to use them or do it yourself.

    General Contractor: A general contractor is a lot like a wedding planner. The wedding planning could be handled by the bride, but hiring a wedding planner utilizes their extensive knowledge and experience to plan a dream wedding and hire the expert vendors who can help create it. A wedding planning will not make the cake but they will hire the right baker to deliver the bride’s vision on budget and on time. The same is true for a general contractor. A general contractor organizes the project, oversees the work and hires the right team to make it happen. They handle the project from start to finish ensuring the final product is the vision you expected and are responsible for the final outcome. If things are not done correctly, they work with the sub-contractors to make sure it is fixed.

    A quality general contractor will provide peace of mind because of their extensive knowledge of the construction industry and building codes. They are licensed professionals who ensure proper procedures are followed and appropriate building methods are maintained. Relying on their expertise will eliminate stress and allow you to fully enjoy the experience and the final outcome.

    Sub-Contractors: Sub-contractors are specialists who are hired by the general contractor to handle certain aspects of the job. A sub-contractor may specialize in plumbing, electrical, framing, carpentry, roofing, tile, concrete, dry wall, etc. They are brought in for a limited amount of time to handle one particular piece of the project. The general contractor oversees their work, ensuring it is done on time, within quality standards, and handles all hiring and payment of sub-contractors.

    Some general contractors have a full-time staff and therefore limit the amount of sub-contractors they work with. Regardless of how many sub-contractors are used, the general contractor is responsible for the entire project and manages the necessary staff to get it done.

    Being Your Own General Contractor: A significant amount of money can be saved by serving as your own general contractor. However, before you take on this type of task, determine whether you have the skill set, time and patience to tackle this type of project. Unless you are free to oversee sub-contractors on a daily basis or make several phone calls a day to keep things moving, you might want to leave this to a general contractor.

    General contractors often provide a stronger motivation for sub-contractors as they are hoping to secure another job after this one. For owners who play general contractor, this motivation is sometimes missing as they see this as a one time job. It may be worth the peace of mind, and time you’ll save, if you leave it to the professionals.

Handling the Relationship
Once you have chosen a contractor, follow a few simple guidelines to maintain a strong relationship.

    Stick to a Decision: Don’t waffle with your decisions. Once you have made one, stick to it. Take the time to carefully think through your choice and then stay firm with it once it is made. Excessive changes once the project has started can become costly. Contractors will lose patience fast if they have to undo quality work just to change a color, re-do a finish treatment or reposition cabinets.

    Be on Time: Respect the contractor by being on time to appointments. Showing respect for their time will result in them returning the gesture.

    Pay on Time: Maintain an outlined payment schedule and make sure all payments are paid on time. Nothing frustrates a contractor more than withholding, or being late, on payments. If the work is running smooth, continue paying on time.

    Show a little Appreciation: Reward those working on the project with occasional pizza, doughnuts or sandwiches. It is a small gesture but it will be appreciated and keep things running smoothly.

    Dealing with Problems: Avoid common problems upfront by including them in the contract. Specify outcomes should the general contractor or sub-contractors not show up or if a deadline is missed. Work with them to determine what is fair to protect both sides.


Design-Build Firms

An alternative to hiring a separate architect, general contractors and sub-contractors is to hire them all in one firm. Design/Build firms offer start to finish contracting using one team to both design and build.

Advantages
This option simplifies the process by having one central point of contact that is responsible for the project. Significant cost savings can be secured by using only one firm for everything from start to finish. However, things do go wrong and design/build firms are not exempt from budgets getting out of hand. Time and ease are also gained by only having to work with one individual.

Disadvantages
A less than optimal firm means you are stuck with them through the full project. It can also be difficult to estimate the total cost, as pricing is determined upfront for the entire project. It is hard to include everything before a project begins, so plan for changes in the budget. If the idea of dealing with a lot of individuals and managing a big project is more than you want to tackle, consider this alternative. It will eliminate the number of contacts and the need to go back and forth with the contractor and architect as they work for the same firm.

Like any vendor, take the time to research firms and choose one that is reliable. Make sure the project manager is someone you enjoy working with. Talk to a few different companies and choose the one that is right for you and the project.

 
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