Comparing and Contrasting Different Remodeling Experiences

There are so many different types of contractors to choose between for your project: remodelers, general contractors, builders, handymen, trade specialist subcontractors, and other specialties (such as insurance restoration). Check out our blog post on the types of residential remodelers here. It can make your head start to spin when trying to pick between them for your specific project’s needs.

We want to give an example of a kitchen remodeling project in which you want a substantial, full-gut update on your home’s kitchen and dining area where we contrast two different remodeling experiences. For our example will we look at a professional design/build contractor vs. a smaller general contractor with handyman services. R. L. Rider Remodeling is a full-service design/build firm where the entire job and every detail is handled from start to finish so we are in the first category. On the other hand we will take a look at a generic, less-experienced company.

NOTE: This is not meant to disparage any company or suggest that you will always get the type of experience that we discuss below. It is simply a general overview that explains the differences we have heard from clients in the past about how our company was able to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Some of these examples are worst-case scenario and not indicative of what to expect, but unfortunately we hear all too often that the items below frequently crop up in the remodeling process.

Let’s jump in and start with your hypothetical kitchen remodel that you want to have performed in your home. We’ll begin with you researching companies and go through every stage of the project, ending with the final warranty!

Initial Research and Trust Building

In the digital world there is an enormous amount of information available to research before you even start calling around to companies about your project. Online presence such as quality of their website, reviews on Google and elsewhere, and photos of past projects can allow you to build an initial comfort level and get an idea of the projects the contractor is qualified to work on. If their website is poor or non-existent then that should be your first warning sign that the company you’re looking at doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Reputation around town e.g. asking your neighbors or the company having a network of past referrals is also an important method. If you keep hearing terrible things then maybe it is time to second guess calling that firm. Likewise raving reviews are a good initial sign that you will get your kitchen designed and constructed the right way. Other questions can be answered online such as if the firm is licensed, insured, a member of local organizations like the Home Builder’s Association (HBA), etc. It all adds to the “trust factor” and level of comfort that is crucial to a successful, on-time project.

The design/build firm such as R. L. Rider Remodeling will have a nice, informative website that is frequently updated with lots of reviews and photos. The other guys… maybe not so much on the website and reviews will likely be less enthusiastic. Not to mention insurance and licensing… make sure you take the due diligence phase seriously and do what makes you feel comfortable.

First Contact and Conversation

After doing your due diligence research on local companies, it is time for the real first impression – reaching out via phone or email to discuss the work you’d like to have completed. We strive to respond quickly, be polite and informative, and ask a lot of questions to make your experience pleasant and ensure we are the right fit for your job. If you can give us a general overview of what you’d like done, we can provide rough budgetary estimates right on the phone based on past experience with similar jobs. We also will explain our process and suggest a recommended course of action to move forward with.

A smaller company may not be able to get back to you in a reasonable time frame and provide a lot less information when you are speaking with them. They might not have the time to train their staff to be as helpful or not have the building expertise to offer a useful budget number. Again, this is just based on what we hear from our customers but it comes up often enough that we know it is a common occurrence. Just like any other industry, there are lots of different companies and they have varying skill levels and areas of expertise they are most comfortable in.

Communication and Availability

This is a big one we hear customers complain about all the time – they just don’t hear back from many contractors that they call. It seems crazy but as the economy continues to improve and everyone gets busier, the number of calls that fall through the cracks increases exponentially. If you don’t hear back while trying to contract someone and provide them work, how do you think the communication will be during the project once they already have your down payment?

It is a priority that R. L. Rider Remodeling’s communication before, during, and after a project is stellar. Construction inherently is a messy, dusty business and sometimes it is unavoidable that issues arise throughout the process. Remodeling in particular can have a lot of unforeseen circumstances due to the nature of working within existing structures instead of building from the ground up. We feel that it isn’t necessarily avoiding every single problem as that would be an impossible task. Rather a key sign of a great remodeler is how they handle the issue once it’s discovered.

Do you want to be able to call, discuss the problem, and immediately get a plan of action for how it will be resolved? Or would you rather get your call sent to voicemail five times over three days as you sit there with an incomplete project?

Design, Idea Implementation, and Product Selections

Remodeling your home is a large undertaking and an important investment. A design/build firm must be able to listen to your ideas, discuss how realistic they are, guide you within your budget, and provide the final specifications and drawings to make it come to life – all before you commit your hard-earned money to invest in the work. Our team is ready to help you with every aspect of that to ensure you feel comfortable moving forward and that you receive the kitchen of your dreams.

If a company is truly offers full service they will be able to provide you with architectural drawings ready for construction, a detailed scope of work and material specs, 3D CAD (computer assisted drafting) drawings that show what the project will look like, and the help of a designer to pick out cohesive materials and finishes. Smaller companies will usually not have the team in place to assist with any or all of these important components, and that can compromise the project before it begins. This isn’t as important for a small job like an exterior repair, but is highly advisable for a new kitchen.

Accuracy of Budgetary and Final Estimates

Part of being a quality remodeler is accurate budgets and guidance throughout the job. They must have confidence in their numbers as well as the knowledge to modify and apply them appropriately and on the fly for a given scope of work. We seek to give customers budgets at every crossroads to make sure things are moving along in a realistic way.

The first budget, as mentioned above, comes right away on the initial phone call so you can get a feel for where we have been historically and if that fits into your expected range. The second, more accurate one comes on site after we have talked through the job, made some suggestions, and gotten a general feel for what you’re expecting. The third, more accurate and detailed still, comes in the form of a detailed line-by-line item estimate covering the entire scope of work and hard numbers. Any revisions thereafter will be minor as we dial it in based on your requested adjustments for the final contract.

This peace of mind comes at a resource cost to R. L. Rider because of the time and software it takes to track and compile our historic numbers. We feel it is important to offer to our clients because pricing is only useful if it is accurate. Many smaller builders may not be able to provide this type of service due to lack of experience, staff, tracking of estimates and quotes, or a number of other reasons.

Contract and Payment Schedule

Proper contracts are there to protect both the contractor and the homeowner from a variety of situations and a must-have for any large remodeling job. They provide legal protection and avenues of recourse if any sticky situations come up for both parties. A further component in addition to the legal language of a well-done contract is a payment schedule as these also work to provide protection for both parties.

The builder is able to collect money as he completes each stage of the work. This ensures that he or she doesn’t fall behind on payments in case the customer has an issue with their funding. It serves to protect the client by holding the contractor accountable at each stage of the project, not having large chunks of money due all at one time, and holding a final payment in reserve until the punchlist is completed.

A common contract layout that less experienced contractors use is the 50% down/50% upon completion format. This isn’t bad per se, but customers dislike it because it is one of the easiest ways to pull a scam. If a dishonest builder can convince a homeowner to provide lots of cash up front he is able to drag his feet or never even perform the work and just steal the money. It isn’t ideal for the contractor either as he “gets ahead” with the initial billing but then “falls behind” at the halfway point of the project. While it is easier and a few less checks to write, both client and builder should take advantage of proper contractual protections and payment scheduling.

Final, Bottom-Line Cost to Customer

One area where a small remodeler will almost always have the advantage is final cost of the project to the customer. Whether it is because of less overhead (less staff, no office/shop/warehouse, no insurance, etc.), use of cheaper materials, no warranty of work, whatever, there are a huge range of reasons why we see this on a consistent basis. While this may be appealing on the surface, a lot of times there are hidden costs to using a cheaper contractor.

A huge advantage of our detailed price tracking and confidence in our estimates is that once we get to the final, fixed contract price, we do not ever write change orders unless the customer changes something after the contract is signed. An unfortunately common practice we see is “going in low” on a job to win the contract just to make it up with change fees after the job has kicked off. Asking for money is not fair to the customer, especially if it is to complete the job to the standards that were initially promised. It can feel like being held hostage as you stare at an incomplete job site with your life disrupted while the builder is holding out his hand for more money. This is a negative, stressful experience that we feel has no place in the remodeling world.

A common contract layout that less experienced contractors use is the 50% down/50% upon completion format. This isn’t bad per se, but customers dislike it because it is one of the easiest ways to pull a scam. If a dishonest builder can convince a homeowner to provide lots of cash up front he is able to drag his feet or never even perform the work and just steal the money. It isn’t ideal for the contractor either as he “gets ahead” with the initial billing but then “falls behind” at the halfway point of the project. While it is easier and a few less checks to write, both client and builder should take advantage of proper contractual protections and payment scheduling.

Capability to Handle All Aspects of Projects

When searching for a remodeler to hire it’s good to ask yourself if your contractor can handle every portion of the project. Said another way, is the firm you’re hiring truly a one stop shop or someone who is going to have to take bits and pieces and leave you to handle the rest? Or maybe our kitchen project is just too big for them handle in the first place? Some clients prefer this avenue, but most don’t want to playing general contractor in their free time.

Team composition is important, and a small shop is unlikely to be able to keep on top of all the administrative, sales, and job management responsibilities necessary for a quality customer experience. Larger teams with the right players that are comfortable and skilled in the type of project you are desiring are much better suited to tackling a full-gut kitchen as opposed to these smaller outfits. The team must be composed of trained design staff, salesman, and of course carpenters and tradesmen to perform the project the right way. Is this something you’re confident your budget firm can handle?

General Construction Knowledge and Code Adherence

Remodelers who want to run a successful business must stay at the forefront of the best building practices consistently or risk being left in the dust. Continuous advancement of knowledge and commitment to using the latest, cutting-edge techniques is a great sign that your builder is prepared to offer only the best service to you and your home. Knowledge of these new tools is gained by subscribing to industry magazines, attending seminars and trade shows, and sending employees to classes in which they can learn and practice the skills.

Staying up to date on the latest in remodeling does require investments of both time and money. It is easier to not review the newest edition of code changes. It is easier to not schedule a trade skills class and take your guys out of the field for multiple days. And it is easier to let your company slip on paying attention to the “latest and greatest.” Whether due to time constraints, not wanting to spend the money, or lack of serious commitment to their craft, it is usually the less-experienced, smaller companies that are unwilling to invest in the future – both the clients and their own.

Project Management and Updates

Managing the project and seeing it through to an on-time and on-budget completion is arguably the most important aspect a remodeler must bring to the table. It doesn’t matter how nice the sales and design team were if the workers can’t swing a hammer and see it through. A secondary component of this is a project management team that keeps the customer updated throughout the job and loops them in for any important decisions on a daily or weekly basis.

Once we again we come to the time and resource constraints of a smaller outfit who is unable to properly manage and keep a job on pace in addition to all the other tasks a remodeler must complete to keep the business working. It takes a dedicated, professional team who takes their role as a consumer’s advocate seriously. For a small job that just has a little repair or improvement you don’t need all the bells and whistles a larger remodeler offers – it just isn’t the correct fit. But for your kitchen remodel, or substantial addition for example, the people and processes need to be in place.

Realistic, Accurate Schedule

There are three components to successful scheduling: setting a realistic initial schedule, working with your in-house team and subcontractors to incorporate everybody else’s schedule, and working the plan consistently until the project is completed according to the date set. Scheduling a remodel increases the difficulty as there is often at least one trade that doesn’t go quite according to plan. There are ways to mitigate the impact such as scheduling in “slack” or make-up days, but these add time to a project. The only real way to handle it is to expect the unexpected, keep clients updated frequently, and keep a finger on the pulse of the project is with a management team that has seen everything.

Punchlist Completion

A punchlist is the final checklist that covers the completion of finishing touches on a project. We call ours a “Pre-completion checklist” because the term “punchlist” has gotten such a bad rap over the years and wanted to differentiate our process. This is mostly due to the reputation of unsavory builders letting a punchlist drag out because they had collected all of the money already and had no financial incentive to send their guys back there when other profitable projects were set to start.

Small builders can get stuck in this trap because they don’t have the manpower to see a job all the way through and must get on the next job to keep the lights on. We combat this with our excellent communication and attention to detail, but there are always a few minor items left at the end to “punch a job out.” In order to complete each punchlist is a timely manner, R. L. Rider sets a final walkthrough with the client where our project manager literally walks the job site with them and lets the client point out any pending items. As mentioned in our payment schedule section we keep a final retainer in the draw fund to make sure you know we are coming back and not collecting final payment until the job is 100% complete and to the client’s standards.

Final Warranty

Lots of companies in every field go out of business (especially when the economy isn’t as strong as it has been the last 4 or 5 years) and cannot support their promised, extravagant warranties. Or they offer an extremely limited warranty with lots of “gotchas” like only covering defective material (but not the labor to replace it). Or they don’t offer a warranty on their work at all and you are left in the dust if something is not quite right.

R. L. Rider Remodeling has been continuously serving Lansing and surrounding communities since 1924, and we know what it takes to keep our business healthy and serving customers for another 100 years! We always use the materials specified in our detailed line-item estimates and don’t shortchange the customer to make an extra buck or two. We have a hassle-free, 2-year warranty where you call and we quickly make things right – no ifs, ands, or buts. This isn’t to say that lots of remodelers don’t offer similar or better deals, but the question is can they back up their claims with experience and reliability? Not to mention staying in business long enough to ensure their clients will be taken care of now and well into the future…


As always – it depends on what you are looking for and what your specific project needs to be successful. There are plenty of jobs where it would make more sense to higher a smaller, less experienced firm or handyman type as they will be cheaper and probably able to get to the job sooner. In other cases, such as your full-gut kitchen remodel, it is probably best to go with the professional firm because we have heard too many horror stories to recommend going with anyone but a reliable contractor. Hopefully this overview has been enlightening to the differences between different remodelers and why pricing can vary so much. It truly does take an entire team with the right skills to make your job happen exactly the way you are dreaming of.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss your project and see if R. L. Rider Remodeling is the best fit for your job then please call us at 517-487-3713 and we will be happy to help you!