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David T. Price, Renovation Design Group
After: With the help of the professional design-build team, this client received a beautiful exterior upgrade, reaching one of their remodeling goals of enhanced curb appeal.

As difficult as remodeling is under the best of circumstances, imagine trying to complete a project on a house in a different city or state. For instance, a Utah family was transferred to Arizona. The family flew to the new city for a few days and found a house that would do, but with some remodeling. This is a fairly typical scenario for many homeowners, as it is almost impossible to find a perfect house on the market. Usually, there is something to change about any house to make it function well for your family.

The idea was to engage a contractor to remodel the home before the family moved in. Wouldn’t that be great? So, they started the process long distance, but soon found how challenging their task was. Besides the myriad of design decisions they faced, they had another concern: They had rushed into hiring a contractor with the hope to get the job done before the big move without the due diligence that such a decision requires.

Luckily, they halted the project before it turned into a budgeting and/or aesthetic disaster.

This family made two of the top remodelers’ mistakes. The first mistake was not making all the design decisions and selections before commencing construction. The second was failing to conduct a thorough search for an excellent contractor to execute the project successfully.

Long-distance remodeling occurs more often than you might think. We have had numerous clients who are living in another state or even abroad who own or have acquired property in our area that requires some sort of remodeling for their future use. Whether they are moving here permanently or trying to create a second home in our area, they need a local advocate who can help them through the remodeling process. Perhaps you won’t be surprised if we suggest adding a great architect with strong residential remodeling experience to this team.

When an architect has a contract with a client, he becomes an advocate for the homeowners in the process. Whether it is dealing with municipalities, contractors or vendors, the architect will represent the interest of his client. This may be especially relevant if the clients are not physically present.

While design is still a fairly hands-on proposition, it can proceed virtually these days through technology, and other applications can facilitate conferences and meetings between remote participants. The goal is to replicate the same process you would experience if your project were typical of a local remodel.

The traditional process would be to create the construction documents and then identify three to four contractors to bid on the project. This process is called design-bid-build. In recent years, another process is being used more often which is called design-build. With this method, the client interviews contractors early in the design process. After meeting them personally, reviewing their portfolio (and possibly visiting some completed projects) and following up with the references they have provided, the client selects the contractor with whom he wants to work.

The contractor is then involved in the design meetings and process, with the specific assignment to provide budget information as the design unfolds. Besides obtaining professional-construction input, the client has the opportunity to verify that the contractor is reliable, competent and a good team player before the actual building begins. This would be an especially advantageous process if the project involves an owner who will not be present during the construction of the project.

When we have projects where the client is living away but the project is local, we can take on the architect role to provide the eyes and ears and keep the client in the loop during the construction phase. Remember, the architect is contractually obligated to the client and, therefore, acts as a client representative to focus on the client's best interests.

We are occasionally hired by out-of-state clients to design projects. In this scenario, the remote design process proceeds in a similar fashion, but the construction process differs. Here, the client is usually present for the construction, while the architect is not. This limits the services the architect can provide during the construction process and puts more responsibility on the client and the contractor to see that the project is executed successfully.

Of the two scenarios, an architect local to the building site is probably the most useful. The architect will then be familiar with local codes, permit processes and construction techniques applicable to the area, and will be available to serve the absent client during the construction phase. Local architects will also be in a position to make knowledgeable recommendations for contractors who they know are up to the task of successfully completing the project.

Ultimately, while remodeling from afar is not the ideal situation, it can be accomplished successfully. It will require all the planning skills of a "normal" project, and then some. Make sure you compile a great team who will help you get the job done on time and within budget.