Renovations Without Headaches Four Phases to Success

Construction projects can certainly be traumatic but the difficulties inherent in residential renovation projects could be substantially minimized with professional oversight from a construction management firm.

Using a CM in Your Renovation Project

To date, the use of construction managers in individual residential renovation projects is rare. This trend is changing, however, in response to an unmet need. Few examples exist of residential renovation projects that proceeded smoothly from start to finish. While no job is 100 percent problem-free, co-op and condo owners can spare themselves the headaches of daily involvement in a major interior renovation project by delegating the direction of the renovation project to a construction management firm whose function is primarily one of quality control.

With or without a construction manager, the steps presented below will facilitate your interior renovation project and enhance the likelihood of success.

Four Phases to Success

All interior renovation projects progress through four phases: conception, planning, execution and close-out. As one might expect, most problems occur during the execution phase, giving rise to the greatest need for vigilance and oversight. Nevertheless, meticulous attention to detail during phases one and two also contribute significantly to a successful outcome.

Conception and Planning

Jobs progress more smoothly when you as the apartment owner know what you want and can articulate your wishes clearly. A simple bathroom renovation can serve as an example. Do you wish to replace old appliances, add additional storage, or perhaps a bidet, a second sink, or a sauna? Considering all possibilities and fully conceptualizing and planning the project before physical work begins prevents subsequent modifications that inevitably involve costly change orders and frustrating delays.

Planning encompasses short-term logistical issues, as well as long-term maintenance concerns. Depending upon your taste and budget, almost every item selected for our sample bathroom can be obtained "off-the-shelf," by special order, or through custom workshops. The latter two typically involve longer lead times. Premature demolition and installation of a readily available toilet is senseless if a hand-painted sink and imported tile will not arrive for another two months. Similarly, your initial satisfaction with a job will inevitably turn negative if you are subsequently forced to demolish the marble surrounding your malfunctioning Jacuzzi simply because access panels were not installed. While a cliché, it is certainly true that "a little planning goes a long way."

The list of potential problems is endless, making it clear why co-op and condo owners view renovation projects with trepidation. Early involvement of a construction manager to guide you through these first two phases of a renovation project can prevent immeasurable amounts of angst in the months and years to come.

Execution and Close-Out

Execution - the act of demolishing the old and installing the new - is the most visible aspect of any renovation project. Unless property owners are vigilant about inspections, problems almost inevitably arise. Is proper care being taken to avoid damage to the balance of the apartment during demolition? Is the new construction being conducted according to plan? For example, have the expensive brass globe valves specified for the water shut-off been used, or have inferior materials been substituted and buried behind new walls - or even simply omitted? Have vapor barriers been installed under the finished floor? The list of items to be overseen can run on for pages, merely emphasizing the importance of constant vigilance and quality control inspections.

Last - but certainly not least - is the close-out phase of any project. Final inspections must occur and punch lists developed to itemize all faulty or incomplete work. Each item must be resolved while the contractor is still on site and final payment still outstanding. If not, chances are extremely high that punch list items will forever remain unaddressed.

Bigger is Not Better

For purposes of illustration, we have focused on renovating a single bathroom. As the size and complexity of a renovation project increases, so does the potential for difficulty. Extensive time must be devoted to planning, inspecting and negotiating with others to ensure that a job is successfully completed. Certain property owners relish this challenge, but most do not. In today's world, time is a scarce commodity - and most of us would rather be engaged elsewhere. Furthermore, few property owners have sufficient knowledge of the building trades to effectively oversee all phases of an interior renovation project.

Outsourcing has now become the norm. Retention of a construction manager to direct a residential renovation project is a logical choice for many co-op and condo owners. Firms engaged in large-scale commercial or residential renovation projects routinely hire construction managers to relieve corporate property owners of timely and difficult supervisory tasks and to ensure a professional level of oversight. There is no reason for individual co-op and condo owners not to do the same.

George Garver and Marisa Jacobs are principals in Dreamworks Concepts LLC, a Fort Lee, New Jersey-based construction management firm specializing in residential renovation projects.

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