How to assemble the perfect 'team' for home renovation

Like most things in life, sometimes “it takes a village” to do a remodeling project right.

So the critical first step on your home improvement journey is to assemble just the right team of partners.

That team might look different for every job. Here’s a rundown of which kinds of contractors might be most helpful for the renovation you’re ready to start.

Handyman. For simple repairs or small projects that are just a bit too much for you to do yourself, a good handyman is an invaluable ally. Some homeowners I know have theirs on speed dial.

A well-rounded handyman can do everything from simple repairs, like fixing a leaky faucet, to those projects you’ve been putting off, like building a no-frills deck out back. Smart ones can help solve just about any routine problem around the house. They’ll hang your flat screen, pictures and shelves; replace your shower door, change your air conditioning filter, clean your gutters and power-wash your porch.

For the good ones, no job—even little odd jobs—is too simple. And if your request is beyond the handyman’s expertise, a good one will tell you so.

Specialty tradesman. Painters, plumbers and electricians are trained and experienced in a single specialty. When you’ve got a job that requires expertise, hire an expert.

Anyone can slap paint on a wall, but a professional painter knows that for those walls to look nice and for the color to last, painting is only half of the job. Pros will prep your walls by patching cracks, caulking holes, sanding and covering imperfections. A painter will know how many coats your walls need and can advise you on colors and paint brands. He’ll do the job quickly, and he won’t make a mess.

More: Handyman how-to: Our guide to selecting a professional

Same goes for professional plumbers, electricians, heating and air conditioning technicians, granite fabricators and exterminators. If your job is specific or your problem is big, you need a specialists, not a handyman who knows a little bit about a lot of different things.

Carpenter. Carpenters are among the handiest in the family of remodeling specialists. They work with a multitude of tools and can build or repair framing, build stairs, enlarge a door frame, install kitchen cabinets and patch up drywall.

How to assemble the perfect 'team' for home renovation

If your project is big enough for a general contractor, it’s likely you’ll see a carpenter in your house for at least part of the job.

One caution: While carpenters typically are multi-talented, they are not general contractors. My advice: Hire a carpenter for a specific project that involves carpentry work, but don’t put him in charge of a larger remodeling project. Same goes for any specialty trade.

Architect. If your project involves tearing down walls, moving kitchen counters, rearranging a room or messing with the structure of your home, you need an architect.

Without a general contractor, you will wind up finding specialty trades to install your countertops, paint your walls, hang your cabinets, plumb your faucets and lay your tile floor. That’s a lot of work.

A general contractor has all of those trades—plus landscapers, window installers, and on and on—on call. He’s your project manager. You tell him what you want, and he figures out how to get it done so you don’t have to.

Some general contractors have a great eye for design. But the best ones will steer you toward an interior designer to help with planning, selecting materials and designing a well-functioning space.

Design/build remodeler. When you need all of the above, the design/build remodeler is your best friend.

The design/build remodeler is a general contractor with designers, architects and every kind of specialty trade you could imagine on staff or on call. This kind of remodeler will spend time up front talking to you about exactly what you want, and then planning it for you. The best ones have computer programs to show you, in 3-D, exactly how your finished room will look, so you can make changes before the work is done and it’s too late.

This kind of professional remodeler places as much emphasis on the quality of design as on the quality of construction. Every homeowner works with an interior designer who works hand-in-hand with you, your project’s architect and with the crew that comes to your home.

Whichever contractor you hire, get one who is licensed by the state and who is happy to share the names of former clients whom you can call for references. Insist on a written contract that outlines the price and the amount of time the project will take.

Your home is the most expensive thing you own—and the most important. Let the pros take care of it for you.

Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, has been president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting www.jebdesignbuild.com.