Cher Lewis was living in Paris when she found out that the rear wall of her historic New York City carriage house was in danger of collapsing.
In order to fix it, she’d have to file the appropriate paperwork with the local historic preservation board and then hire managing engineers, architects, and other contractors—from another continent. Then, of course, she’d have to oversee them.
So she turned to a renovation coach, Alex Bandon of North River Renovation Management in New York City, to get the job done.
“Alex had the people skills to schedule the contractors in sequence and make sure they all played nice,” Lewis says. “Contractors are much more responsive and honest when they know that someone who understands their work is evaluating it.”
This year, U.S. homeowners are expected to exceed the record $324 billion spent on remodeling projects during the peak of the housing boom in 2007, according to a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. But home renovations can go expensively awry. And that’s where you might need some expert guidance.
What does a renovation coach do?
A renovation coach is a kind of expert project manager for your remodel—and no, these coaches don’t just work on historic homes. They aren’t contractors or architects, but they advocate for you in hiring those folks and managing their work. Coaches help with budgeting, design, meeting with vendors, and/or choosing materials. They may guide you every step of the way, or just help you get your feet wet.
Some renovation coaches are former contractors or architects themselves. Others, like Bandon, have amassed their insider knowledge in other ways; Bandon was an editor at “This Old House” magazine for 15 years before starting her consulting business earlier this year.
Roxann Lloyd of Red Chair Designs in Denver, CO, calls herself a “design therapist.”
“I give clients the confidence they don’t necessarily have when they’re doing this on their own,” she says. Lloyd has a go-to list of trusted vendors whom she’ll connect with her clients.
Does the size of your project matter?
The short answer: no.
Dina Petrakis, a former general contractor who now owns Littlerock Renovation Coaching in Chicago, works on projects of all sizes.
“Some DIY clients might want to do the work on their own, but they’ll ask for an initial consult to get some design direction and a list of contractors they can work with,” she says.
“My busier clients want me to handle all of the footwork, so we’ll do the planning up front together, then I bring contractors in to get estimates,” she says. Petrakis writes up a scope of work with the homeowners to get comparable bids from contractors—which helps protect the client and make sure everyone is on the same page.
What does it cost (and is it worth the money)?
Homeowners investing in a renovation might be hesitant to add an extra line item to their cost sheet. But the price won’t necessarily bust your budget—and coaches say you get the money back by avoiding costly mistakes and overtime from miscommunications and shoddy work.
Petrakis charges an hourly rate of $120 strictly for her time; she doesn’t accept finder’s fees from vendors or mark up the materials she finds for her clients.
Bandon charges an hourly rate of $150 and offers homeowners flat-fee packages tailored to their needs. A basic consultation, where she runs through the scope of work and helps homeowners choose the right vendors, might cost $1,000 for six to eight hours. For a more involved project (a complete kitchen remodel, for instance), where she’s managing all the details over two or three months, homeowners might pay $3,000 to $5,000.
Lloyd has a base package that’s $250 for up to two hours of an initial design consultation. For a major kitchen or bathroom remodel, she charges a flat project fee, which varies depending on the size and scope of the project.
How do you find the right renovation coach?
There’s no professional association for renovation coaches, so you’ll have to search for one—try Google or Houzz. In vetting candidates, of course you want to check references, scour online reviews, and ask the right questions.
“You want to find someone who will listen to your needs,” says Bandon, adding that a good renovation coach will teach you something you don’t already know about your particular project.
If a potential renovation coach can’t articulate the process or how he or she goes about vetting contractors, those are red flags, Bandon warns. Above all, you need to be comfortable with the way the coach communicates and make sure he or she has experience overseeing similar projects, she says.
How do you know if you need one?
If you’re not sure whether you need a renovation coach, ask yourself: Am I prepared to oversee the project, vet the major players, and be my own advocate? Also ask: Can my marriage survive the strain of managing a remodel without help?
Coaches say it sometimes takes an objective observer to walk homeowners through the decision-making process, asking questions that get to the heart of what they want. And not everyone ends up renovating.
Lloyd worked with one couple who wanted a massive addition to their home to accommodate their expanding family. Over the course of a month, her counsel helped them realize they needed to buy another home instead of moving forward with the renovation. She gave them a list of Realtors® to put the wheels in motion.
“They told me I saved their marriage,” Lloyd says.