Basement Finishing 101

Where Do I Start? What Type of Company or Person Should I Look For to Help Me?

Undertaking a basement finish can be a daunting task. Finding the right professionals to help you through the process can greatly reduce the stress on both you and your family. Even if you want to try a Do-It-Yourself project, there are professionals that can help.

Do I Start With an Architect, a General Contractor, Or Someone Else?

This is a common initial question for many homeowners. Certainly, the plan or design is one of the first and most important steps to a professional result, and an architect can be a good choice for preparing your home remodel plans, but there are reasons why you may want to consult with a contractor or other construction professional first.

  • Beginning your planning with an architect may lead you to a design you cannot afford.
  • An architect may only design a few basements per year, but there are other experts available who focus exclusively on basements.
  • Any construction-type guy will tell you he can design a basement, but you may get just a basic, white-box finish. Other contractors may have people on staff to do your design for much lower cost than hiring an architect.

Are There Options Other Than Hiring a Basement Finishing Company (i.e. a General Contractor)?

YES! Some homeowners choose to finish their own basements, which can be very rewarding and save a lot of money, but also can be overwhelming and with less-than-desired results.

Another option is to DIY with the help of an experienced construction planner and construction manager. DIY does not mean you have to do any or all the actual work yourself. Hiring a project planner and construction manager to assist you with hiring and managing individual trade contractors will alleviate problems and get you the same professional results as using the best basement finishing companies, but at a reduced cost. Your DIY responsibilities will be just to play the role of GC, pay for materials and the trade contractors invoices, and work closely with your project manager to answer questions that might come up.

There’s a lot to do when you’re planning your own DIY project, and a good construction planner and manager will help you every step of the way. In general, these are 4 steps to a successful basement finish:

1. Create a Plan

The best designers try a couple different configurations for the basement, with public space nearest the stair and private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms farthest from the stair. Bath plumbing rough-ins can be moved, so don’t feel you are locked into where a builder placed the underground bathroom rough-in.

Design items such as angled walls, coffered ceilings, arches and niches will make the space much more interesting. Bar areas, home theaters, workout rooms, and a wine cellar will add value to your home.

2. Get Bids and Pick Your Contractors

Our industry connections help us get you the best contractors, each one specializing in a relevant area of expertise for your basement renovation. Below is a list of just some of the factors to consider when selecting contractors.

Credentials and experience

Experience matters, and not just years of experience in construction, but years of experience doing EXACTLY what you need. A specialist will always get you better results than someone who only occasionally does any particular construction task.

Price, expertise, and quality

Shopping based only on price will usually lead to disappointment, but you don’t want to pay too much either. So how do you know what you are looking at? The common suggestion is to get 3 bids. This is a good start, but how is anyone supposed to know what company is the best fit and who to trust and believe?

Be aware while you’re searching that larger companies will generally be more expensive, but should give you better service, while smaller companies are cheaper but generally carry more risks, such as lack of expertise at design, subpar workmanship, or lack of proper insurances (both contractor liability and workman’s compensation). Decide up front which business model you feel fits your needs, then look for the best contractors of that type.

Transparency

Some contractors will show you line item costs, but most will not. In most cases, they do not want you to know what their costs are and how much they are making. Some companies mark up their costs by 30 to 50% or more! If you care about how much you are paying, the more transparency the better.

A personal connection

Meeting a contractor who is also a nice guy does matter, but many “nice guys” are lacking in expertise. It’s important to make sure your contractor has a great work ethic and lots of experience to go along with his or her great personality.

Your budget

Most homeowners are afraid of revealing their budget for fear of being taken advantage of. This is a very real concern, unfortunately, as there are some unscrupulous contractors out there. You might be best to ask first, “what is a ballpark cost range for my type of project”, then let the contractor speak and see if his range fits your budget. You could make a comment such as, “I’ve heard this can cost $30,000 to $40,000” and judge his reaction to your price range.

From the contractor side, they need to find out if you are realistic about the cost of what you need done, and whether they can make it happen for a budget you can afford. In some cases, speaking in wide ranges can help get past this discussion.

3. Execute Agreements and Get a Thorough Scope of Work

You need to know exactly what you are getting, what it will cost, and how you will be billed. An important aspect is to not get too far ahead in payments. You probably will be asked to pay enough to cover materials in advance, but getting too far ahead in labor payments can be a big problem if you find out later you’ve made a bad choice in contractors.

If you are getting a firm bid, you need to know exactly what is included. And no matter what, you want everything you asked for to be written down so that there is no gray area later. Some contractors do not create a scope of work while others feel it is as important as the agreement. Ask this question before you select your contractor.

4. Begin the Work, Ongoing Scheduling, and Management

Finally, after all of this planning, you’re able to begin remodeling your basement. It’s especially important at this point to make sure that your project is scheduled and managed correctly so you don’t have contractors stepping on each other’s toes as they’re trying to work.

You also need to consider the order in which your work is done. After all, you don’t want to have to pull off sheetrock you just put up to run some wires or pipes that you forgot about. Each step needs to be completed in the correct order and on schedule to make sure the whole project stays within budget and completes on time. An expert construction manager will keep the work moving forward every day, and will check that each step of the work is 100% complete and meets quality standards.

Pick the Better Option

When you’re ready to remodel your basement, don’t feel like you have to either do it all yourself or give away control to a general contractor. Working with a construction planner and manager, you can get the best of both worlds, combining the low cost of a DIY project with the amazing results of a hiring a professional. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help with your next renovation.