Summer is the most common time to take on a renovation project. The kids are out of school, curb appeal is on the mind, and fair weather makes it easy to open up a house. But there are some key advantages to renovating in the winter, like availability, cost, and timing.
One advantage of choosing to engage a contractor for a renovation in the winter is less competition. Spring and summer are the busiest times of year for home renovations, and contractors’ plates will be full once renovation season is in full swing, which could leave you competing for the best builders.
And a renovation project in the winter months may get you more time and attention from your contractor. While the best contractors and architects won’t bite off more than they can chew, working with a contractor who’s taken on too many projects can mean protracted schedules and slapdash work, and this is more likely to happen in peak reno season when schedules are full.
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“When business slows, contractors may decrease their prices a bit to keep their crews busy,” says Katherine Jones of Sweeten, a service that matches consumers to the best contractors in the business. Because there a fewer projects to be had in winter, you’re more likely to score a discount from a contractor.
And while you won’t likely find any contractors offering holiday discounts, you will find that stores do. “The advantages of remodeling during the holidays are not having to host that year(!), plus possible Black Friday deals on appliances and materials,” Jones says. So if you’re in the market for a kitchen or laundry room remodel, the holidays may be the time to act.
“If you’re traveling or have a busy social schedule during the holidays, you may be able to do without a kitchen for a few weeks,” says Jones. For those with children in the home during summer months, it may be difficult to vacate the house for renovations, so if you’re already traveling for the holidays, it may be opportunistic for a contractor to open up your house.
So when is the best time for a renovation?
Even though you can take advantage of discounts and availability during colder months, there’s no point in taking on a high-dollar project if you’re not ready. Ultimately, the best time for a renovation is when you’ve fully defined the scope of your project.
“With a clearly defined scope of work, you can bid your work to general contractors who will give their best price,” Jones says. “Although some may lower prices to keep crews busy, others might have a full winter line-up. Don’t bank on getting a better price just because you renovate in February.”
How to choose a contractor
Choosing a contractor is a kind of matchmaking process. You’ll want to make sure your contractor has the same standards of quality, experience in the type of work you need, and can work within the timeframe you have. In fact, there are services that do make the match between contractor and client—Sweeten is one of the best, and Katherine Jones is one such matchmaker.
“When reviewing contractors, start by looking for someone with experience in your neighborhood and who has done similar work. This can help you narrow down the field from thousands of general contractors to just a selection of experienced professionals.”
Here are the questions Jones recommends consumers ask potential contractors during the vetting process:
- Have they done work in your neighborhood?
- Have they done similar work to what you’re looking to get done?
- Can they provide quality references and photos of past work?
- Are they licensed? (Working with an unlicensed contractor isn’t worth the risk)
“Don’t be afraid to ask to see some of their past projects in person or to speak to their past clients—at least two,” says Jones. “This is what we do at Sweeten when matching our clients to a selection of contractors based on location, budget, scope and style for the job.” Another nugget: “Screen a number of contractors over the phone before making site visit appointments,” she says.
“Once you’ve found someone you think would be a good fit for your project, take it one step further and make sure they’re a good fit for you. You’ll be working with this contractor for the duration of your project, so you should like them and feel both of your communication styles are a good match.”
So, how is this done? After those first few interactions with a contractor, you should be sure that the contractor’s communication style jives with your own, that you feel comfortable discussing concerns and ideas, and that they respond in a reasonable amount of time.
One of the tougher jobs will be ensuring that the contractor can truly deliver on your vision for the project. One indication, Jones says: Good contractors have good ideas. Spend some time bouncing ideas around to make sure they understand what you’re after. “Try to determine whether he (or she) is just telling you what you want to hear versus having a plan for the renovation that is in line with what you had envisioned or are open to.”