Don’t Remuddle! Remodel with Hartman-Baldwin’s Home Remodeler’s Survival Guide

August 2, 2009
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hb11I hate “if only’s,” but I’ll admit to one. If only I had known about Hartman-Baldwin’s “Home Remodeler’s Survival Guide,” before I undertook a limited remodel of my 1,700-square-foot home, I might have avoided much of the pain and many of the pitfalls that marked my particular remodeling (remuddling) experience.

Without rehashing all the mistakes I made, I want to get right into what you need to do right if you want to have a positive remodeling experience.


First, ask yourself how long you plan to stay in the house. “Our experience has shown us that most homeowners who remain in the house for eight years or more usually realize the full benefits of their remodeling projects,” says Devon Hartman, who along with Bill Baldwin started their Claremont-based design/build firm in 1979.

Next, you need to have a clear idea of what you want your remodel to accomplish. For me I wanted to remodel my kitchen. It didn’t have to necessarily be high tech. I wanted it to have more of an old world charm. For help, Colleen and I browsed magazines, books and websites. There are so many styles and choices, however, that you begin to feel overwhelmed. This is the first time I realized I needed a real pro in my corner. I regret to say I never found that professional.

In thinking about remodeling your space, never underestimate the details in that space – the nooks, the crannies, the sizes and your relation to all the proposed changes and modifications to those spaces. Will your blender still fit under your new plus-sized cabinet? Will your raised countertop still allow room for your coffee machine to fit comfortably under your cabinets?

“Really examining the spaces around you and your relation to them might bring up some surprises and call to mine ideas you might incorporate into your own home,” Hartman says.hb4

In compiling your list of need-to-haves and want-to-haves, start forming a budget in your head, and share it with your design/builder early in the planning process. “Some homeowners are afraid that if they share their final budget with their designer/builder too early, the builder will design to the budget, instead of designing the home you want,” Hartman says.

Delaying talk about your budget shows a lack of trust in the person you need to trust the most to have a successful remodel.

“Your designer/builder is your resource,” Hartman says. “His or her knowledge and experience of design and construction solutions can help you manage your budget, while making sure you get the home you want. Communicating openly with your designer/builder means that he or she can spend the most amount of time creating a home solution that is reasonable and works for you.”

If the initial cost estimate comes in over your budget, don’t give up. You still have many options.

“Many homeowners decide to reduce the scope of their project slightly in order to balance their remodeling goals with their budgets,” Hartman says. “A home can be successfully remodeled by focusing on the quality of the details, instead of size.”


As much time as you spend on planning, making your lists, taking notes, exploring your options and budgeting, spend twice as much time on finding the right team to execute your vision. “Choose the relationship that will provide you with fresh design ideas and help you stay within your budget,” Hartman says.hb29

Hartman-Baldwin favors a design/build collaboration handled by one company or by one team. “Since the architect and builder work together constantly from the beginning of the project, the homeowner isn’t required to supervise the project to make sure that their ideas are followed during construction,” Hartman says. “The turnkey approach of design/build firms – one team managing every detail from beginning to end – also appeals to many homeowners for its higher standards of accountability and consistency.”

The opposite approach – hiring an architect to develop a set of plans and then shopping out the design and drawings to contractors for bids – is a far more problematic approach, according to Hartman. “For the homeowner, the process of soliciting bids, interviewing, answering contractors’ technical questions and evaluating bids can be difficult,” he says. “This is especially true when bids are prepared by different contractors making different assumptions and using different methods and different materials.

“There are truly no ‘apples to apples bids.”

“If the project goes into construction,” Hartman adds, “the architect may play a limited role in overseeing the contractor’s work. This is an important point, because it is the homeowner who signs the contract with the builder, not the architect, and the architect’s role is outside the relationship of the homeowner and builder. If the architect is not involved in the construction, it falls upon the homeowner to make sure the contractor follows the architect’s plans.”

Ultimately, the success or failure of your remodeling project depends almost entirely on the people you choose to perform your work. “Don’t make the decision based on price alone,” Hartman says. “Pay very close attention during the interview process – evasiveness, discomfort, or defensiveness are red flags.

Hartman recommends remodelers ask these 10 questions of their prospective design/builders as part of their research to find the best company or team to undertake their particular project:

1.    How many people – direct employees – work for your company? What are their job descriptions?

2.    What is the average number of jobs you do at the same time? How many jobs is your company doing right now?

3.    How are jobs managed on a daily basis? Who will be in charge of my job each day?

4.    How is client satisfaction tracked and measured? (If it’s not measured, maybe it’s not taken that seriously by this company.)

5.    What happens if something goes wrong?

6.    What were your best and worst remodeling experiences?

7.    What kind of work does your firm like/dislike to do?

8.    Who were your two best clients? Who were your two worst clients? Why?

9.    Do you use subcontractors for some specialties? What is the average length of time you have worked with them?

10. Will the same crews who on those projects be working on mine?


According to Hartman, plastic sheets and safety goggles will help protect you and your home during construction, “but nothing protects you and your home better than a well-written contract.”

Nail down the scope and scale of your project in writing and in great detail. “Be as specific as possible when specifying the builder’s scope of work,” Hartman says. Include details about the location of the work, type of materials to be used, and methods of application.”

At the same time, detail work not to be included in the scope of the project. Furthermore, discuss the procedure for changes and specify in your contract the payment terms for your project.

Hartman suggests setting up a pre-construction meeting to discuss a project schedule that includes completion dates for each phase. The schedule should take into account the possibility of moving furniture, the shut-off of water and power, potential relocations, pet care, security, protection of valuable items, working conditions and the tidiness of the workspace each day.

“A remodeling project is more than just blueprints, nails and wood,” Hartman says. “A remodeling project involves transforming the home and working within the delicate boundaries of family, lifestyle and privacy.

Any remodeling project involves a lot of moving parts. To keep them all moving in the desired direction requires patience and flexibility on both the homeowner and design/build team.

“Remodeling is a compromise between our fantasies for a perfect house and the reality of what we can and cannot do,” Hartman said. “A flexible attitude is essential at the beginning phases of a project, when first creating a design for the work. Later, a flexible attitude is still important in dealing with the problems that may arise – problems with materials or supplies, delays in installations or repairs, changes to plans or additional charges.

“Be open to new options,” Hartman suggests. “A positive outlook can make a stressful process more enjoyable.”

Because Hartman believes the best indicator of the future is the past, he suggest, he advises asking the former clients of the design/builder(s) you’re considering these 10 questions:

1.    What work did the designer/builder perform for you?

2.    What was the level of collaboration during the design/build process?

3.    Did the builder prepare the homeowner for construction?

4.    How was the communication between you and the design/builder?

5.    Were their design and construction teams likable and trustworthy?

6.    Are you pleased with the quality of the design and construction work?

7.    Was the project completed within budget? What affected the costs?

8.    Did anything concern you about working with this design/builder?

9.    Do you feel the quality of design and construction justified their costs?

10. Was the process enjoyable? How did the design/builder make it fun?

Hartman-Baldwin is a local community resource. Learn to use it. Its office is at 100 West Foothill Blvd. in Claremont. (909) 670-1344.

Bill Baldwin and and Devon Hartman

Bill Baldwin and and Devon Hartman




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