Exterior of a modern log cabin covered in snow in the mountains.

March 21, 2018

How to Renovate a Home from Afar

Having renovations done while you're out of town or building a vacation home from afar might seem like a sensible decision. Remove yourself and your family from the chaos, noise and hassle of construction, right?

But the reality is that remodeling or building from the ground up is no simple task – and it's even tougher if you're not on site.

Homeowners who choose to renovate from a distance have to adjust to making decisions, managing workers and navigating challenges without being at the property every day.

Tips for Making Renovating from a Distance Less Stressful

If you're planning on either building a new house or renovating an existing one remotely, consider these tips from professionals and homeowners on how to make the process easier.

Hire a Team You Already Know and Trust

Jenny Park, who is an attorney and has three children, renovated her three-bedroom, four-bath ski condo in Mammoth while living 300 miles away in the Hollywood Hills.

Her first attempt, using a Mammoth contractor, didn't work out.

“He couldn't wrap his head around my vision, which was not the typical Mammoth look," she said. “He fought me at every turn."

Park wound up hiring designer Karen Videl who had worked on her Hollywood Hills home. Videl in turn hired the contractor and crew she frequently works with in Los Angeles. For convenience, Park housed them in a nearby condo for a couple of months during the bulk of the construction. From start to finish, the project took almost a year.

Park and her husband, along with Videl, visited the property nearly two dozen times during construction. “You want to be present to catch something early so it can be changed," Park said.

Mistakes were made that she would have caught had she been on site every day - but at least having Videl on board helped make Park's vision a reality.

Utilize a Project Manager for Large Renovations

Geoffrey Rosenblatt, president of SPECTRE8, a San Francisco-based construction management firm, oversees large-scale projects, often including situations in which the homeowners are out of the country.

“We remove a lot of stress from the project that our clients would normally have to deal with," he explained. “One our standing rules is to stay even-keeled at all times."

Danny Rosenthal, an IT executive in Los Angeles, has also dealt with remote construction projects: He is building a house for his mother in upstate New York.

“It's so far away, I can't get there," he said. Because he couldn't find a project manager in the area, he hired a graduate student studying construction management who came recommended by a nearby university.

“She tracked all the expenses, she tracked the work, she made sure we had all the lien waiver and release forms signed," he said.

Unfortunately, that individual moved out-of-state mid-job, so Rosenthal hired an additional contractor to do weekly walk-throughs and email reports with photos. That person caught mistakes and also reassured Rosenthal, who is optimistic that the house will live up to his expectations.

If your project is large – new construction or a total remodel – and you decide to hire a project manager like Rosenblatt, bring that individual on from the start. As Rosenblatt explained, “If we're engaged early, we can make sure the right team gets put in place."

He charges by the hour and bills throughout construction, including expenses for travel and lodging.

If you're bringing in an out-of-town project manager, make sure that person becomes familiar with local and state building codes and approval processes. It helps if they can connect with the best local sub-contractors as well.

“One of our biggest assets is that we have a huge Rolodex. And if I don't already know the right sub personally, I can find the guy who knows the guy who knows the guy," Rosenblatt said.

Create a Milestone Calendar with Your Contractor

For smaller projects, like a bathroom or a kitchen, a project manager may not make financial sense. But if you're not going to be on-site during construction, general contractor Mike Martinez, whose landscaping business Outerspace is located in Los Angeles, said it's important to set expectations.

“The contractor should know what's expected of him or her as far as progress goes, and homeowners should know what's expected of them as far as payment and decisions needed," Martinez said.

He recommends looking at a calendar and establishing milestone dates for stages of progress and creating a plan based on incentives, like a 5 percent bonus if the agreed-upon deadlines are met and the project is finished on time. “A real professional won't cut corners just to get the bonus. They are more concerned about their reputations," Martinez said.

If you don't have a project manager, you'll have to be more involved. And remaining flexible is key. As Martinez said: “Things come up. Construction on older houses can reveal long-standing issues that throw off the schedule and add costs." If delays are not caused by your contractor, it should not affect the incentive bonus.

It makes sense to use time out of town to have work done on your house. And if it's a vacation home, you might not have a choice.

So whether you hire a project manager, bring in a designer or contractor you've worked with before, or use a local, make sure you hire someone that you can communicate with easily and whose temperament is compatible with your own. Ask for recommendations from friends and colleagues, sit down with whomever you're considering and discuss your needs and the work they've overseen in the past so you're fully confident in their ability to bring your unique project to life.

Thank you for subscribing!
Error. This is not a valid email address. Please try again.
Error. Please make sure all fields are properly filled out and try again.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter

This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.

Thank you for subscribing!
Error. This is not a valid email address. Please try again.
Error. Please make sure all fields are properly filled out and try again.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter