A Good Residential Contractor: Your New BFF

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A good friend once bought an 1895 farmhouse, a real “fixer-upper” with genuine potential, for her growing family. Very soon it became apparent that it needed a host of projects done: a bathroom addition, a total gut-job kitchen makeover, some exterior remodeling to return the house to its former charm, and general home improvement projects. (We’re talking removing hideous wallpaper, repainting, a small bathroom remodel, the removal of a sand pit created by a now-absent above-ground pool, new light fixtures, and assorted other house remodeling projects over the long term.)

With a crawling baby on the premises, my friend swiftly decided that they needed to prioritize their front room, where she worked from home and where the baby spent most of his time with her. The room had great bones, but everything about it, except the arched front window, needed replacing. Her husband was handy, but this was clearly a job for a renovation contractor. She and her spouse found a local contractor with a solid reputation for residential construction, as well as custom remodeling and renovation—and then she and the baby left for three weeks to visit her parents while the contractor and his team did their work.

They took that room down to the studs (lathe and plaster is no joke to rip down!). When they returned, the contractor had remodeled the room, and the study next to it, at quite a reasonable cost. It was glorious. The construction company had been honest, on schedule, on budget, and generally pleasant and professional to work with.  And surprise! A few months later, my friend’s second child, a daughter, was born in that very room.

My friend and her husband were emboldened. After some much-needed exterior remodeling and repair, interior renovation priorities were a big question mark. The next most pressing project, they decided, was a bathroom addition onto the front room, where an old closed-in porch currently served as an ersatz storage space. The space was long and narrow, 12 by 4 feet, but it was an obvious spot for a second bathroom that would not require adding to the home’s footprint (and tax bracket). The only access to that porch was through a large 19th-century exterior window (yes, this house was truly odd when they bought it!).

This bathroom addition, although technically a small bathroom remodel, was very clearly another project for a home remodeling contractor. (My friend and her husband have smart rules about home improvement: they don’t do major electrical work, and they don’t undertake bathroom or kitchen remodels without a contractor.) The space was nothing but studs—no plumbing, electrical, or even insulation. It was a blank slate, which in many ways is a dream for anyone doing bathroom remodeling. They opted to call in the same renovation contractor they had used before, and they were not disappointed. In the end, they had a beautiful bathroom addition with a tub, shower, tons of storage, great natural light, and an expertly installed tile floor and shower designed by a master tile layer at the renovation company. Another win!

Then came the kitchen renovation. Now they had two kids, and the time had arrived. It was a small kitchen—12 by 12—with many entry points and what had been the home’s only bathroom just off of it (awkward!). The kitchen turned out to be another gut job. The floor needed additional support from the basement in the form of lally columns. The white tile had to go, in favor of wood that flowed with the rest of the house. The dropped ceiling had to go (as well as the original but damaged tin ceiling above it). No one knew what lurked behind the dated tile backsplash and drywall. The electrical was clearly not adequate. And, to top it off, there was a tiny room off the kitchen that housed both the washer and dryer (stackable), a counter and cabinets, and the refrigerator. Yes, again, an eccentric, though charming, house.

My friend feverishly researched kitchen remodel ideas, clipped inspiring pictures, sketched design ideas, and sought out good deals on appliances. She and her spouse brought in their familiar general contractor once more; they had trusted their remodeling services and knew they were top-notch.

The kitchen renovation took months and revealed some rather terrifying, though fascinating surprises: the dropped ceiling had been about to fall on their heads the entire time they had lived there, and there had been a fire at some point in the home, evidenced by the burned brick hiding behind the stove wall. The kitchen remodel’s cost was painful, but the renovation contractor did his best to squeeze value out of every penny. Again, a successful project: a small kitchen renovation with great storage, high-quality appliances, good flow, and natural light that highlighted the lovely oak flooring, white cabinetry, and dark counters.

My friend and her husband went on to do a small bathroom remodel on that awkward original bathroom, once again calling in their trusty remodeling contractors. And then—just when the garden was flourishing, the backyard grass was lush even where the pool had been, the bathroom remodels were complete, the home renovations were at the point of near perfection—they received a call to move to another state. “I always knew,” said my friend, “that once we finished that kitchen renovation we were going to move soon afterward. I knew it in my bones.”

My friend and her husband left that house with very fond memories on a lot of levels: wonderful family times, respect and deep fondness for their renovation contractors, and (in retrospect) some hilarious home improvement moments when things had not gone as planned. Though they were biting their fingernails, the house—thanks to the careful, conscientious work of their renovation contractors—sold in just four days, for above the asking price. Most important, they still miss that house terribly. Heck, they miss their contractors, with whom they became friends after all those projects!

The moral of the story: a good general contractor or renovation company is a tremendous asset. When considering a bathroom remodel or addition, or a basement renovation, or a kitchen rebuild, a reputable (on time, on budget, straightforward) contractor can, for a while at least, be your best friend in the world.

House remodeling is a project with high stakes. Make sure you follow my friend’s lead and consult with a contractor who can address your particular issues. You may need an exterior renovation expert, a maven at bathroom renovation, a genius at kitchen redesign, or someone who specializes in small spaces. Do the research, invest the time, and know that you will save money and enjoy many wonderful times in the long run because your residential contractor served you well and listened to your needs.