Whole-home renovations and minor updates, alike, come with the excitement of turning your dreams into reality and loving where you live. Before you roll up your sleeves, do your homework so you know exactly what to look for in a quality contractor, which is the key to a successful renovation. It takes patience and a trusty team to tackle a renovation because stress, even in the best of circumstances, is inevitable. A total gut job or new custom home have as many moving parts as a minor kitchen remodel, but with a good contractor by your side, you can come out unscathed.
We talk to the experts at Merrill Construction Group, a general contracting firm founded by Nashville native Hilson Merrill in 2010, to find out the most important questions everyone considering working with a contractor should ask before money is exchanged or a contract is signed — and to learn why the answers to these questions matter.
A good first step is exploring the contractor’s portfolio to understand the style of their work and be able to picture how your home will look. Then, verify licenses and insurance, making sure the company has their credentials in check, and take the time to understand their process. All good contractors are licensed and insured, but a great contractor focuses on details of how the deal is done.
Hilson tells us what questions to ask before you sign on the dotted line, and he shares his expertise in how to approach building a long-term relationship that will hold steady even when there are bumps in the road.
How much is this going to cost?
Construction can be costly, whether it is a full-blown renovation or updates to an existing bathroom. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, you need to know what you are paying for. Merrill Construction Group follows a fixed-pricing model that guarantees the homeowner won’t encounter any unexpected financial woes. “This model puts the risk on Merrill Construction Group — not the homeowners,” Hilson explains. “We reduce the risk of the homeowners by giving them clear expectations of what we are going to do, what it is going to cost and when it is going to be done.”
Hilson urges you to proceed with caution on accepting quotes you get from someone who doesn’t offer a fixed price. Although their quotes appear more affordable, you can be hit with a surprise payment six months into a project because a budget for contingencies is not built-in.
When working with the Merrill Construction team, homeowners determine a range they are comfortable with and discuss the options within the scope of their budget — so you know where your dollars are going. “We are not going to win a project based on price because we often are not the lowest-priced contract coming in, but in the end, it will probably cost about the same. We are just telling you upfront,” Hilson says of the process. And remember: You get what you pay for. A quality contractor comes at a cost that is well worth it in the end.
How long is this going to take?
Television has skewed our expectations of both cost and the time it takes to complete a renovation. “Every project is different, so there is not an average timeline, but we stick to a timetable and give you a substantial completion date,” Hilson explains. “It is important to understand that it is going to take a lot of time and cost a significant amount of money, but with us, it will be a good experience.” At Merrill Construction, the team holds themselves accountable to the discussed deadline, which is put into writing, and time is built in to account for any unexpected issues that may arrive.
Is there a dedicated point of contact?
Once the contract is signed, you should not be left in the dark on the progress of your project. Open and clear communication is key to staying sane during a renovation. With Merrill Construction, you will receive a weekly email from the project designer, as well as a weekly email from the production manager detailing weekly progress and opening the line of communication to determine needs and answer questions. The lead carpenter and a project manager are committed to overseeing a team of experts, who do their due diligence in providing a painless experience.
“The lead carpenter who is there every day, the production manager who is in charge of the project, and the owner, me, can always be reached,” Hilson reassures us.
What is it like to live through a renovation?
Ask your contractor to see a current project in progress. “It is more telling to see the team and the worksite cleanliness than it is to see a completed project,” says Hilson. “Seeing a project in construction will give you an understanding of what it will be like to live through a renovation.” Look for neatly stacked material, workers being respectful of their surroundings and how they are protecting the work area.
Hilson also understands that construction can be a nuisance to those living around you. Merrill Construction Group introduces themselves to your neighbors with a “Pardon Our Dust” letter to let them know about the upcoming construction. “It comes down to setting an expectation for the homeowners and doing everything we can to live up to that,” he tells us.
When looking for a contractor to take on your project, find someone who prioritizes efficiency, communication and honesty. Arm yourself with the information above, and know what you are looking for so you can find someone dedicated to doing the best job for you.
This article is sponsored by Merrill Construction Group. All photography is provided by Merrill Construction Group.