Recent Houzz article on bold APEX remodeling of St. Croix River kitchen.
Recent Houzz article on bold APEX remodeling of St. Croix River kitchen.
HomeAdvisor, the company that sells leads to contractors and bought the online reviews platform Angie’s List this year, is betting that homeowners will prefer them to recommend qualified remodelers than to qualify companies on their own. However this Vadnais Heights story suggests the time-honored approach of asking family and friends for referrals still is going strong in Minnesota.
Scott and Jean Crow had first learned of John “JB” Biancini and his company APEX Construction Management from neighbors who had used him and whose sons were friends. After meeting JB and seeing his website and work, Jean was impressed enough to refer APEX to her sister for a big remodeling project. Then she and Scott had APEX raise and remodel their sunken living room and install new Marvin windows throughout the main level a few years ago. And this year APEX returned to replace their upstairs windows and remodel their master suite.
Afterwards, the Crows shared this online review:
“We just completed our second remodeling project with Apex and once again we are thrilled with the results. Three years ago we remodeled our family room; we just finished remodeling our master bedroom and bathroom. Apex does an outstanding job. They have great attention to detail and do high quality work. Apex does a nice job communicating with clients. They are fast and finish the project on time. We would recommend them to friends and family and will contact them again for our next project.”
The Crows also elaborated on their Master Suite project in this video. Minneapolis Architect Meghan Kell designed the space.
Many contractors aspire to be your “contractor for life.” Based on the steady flow of repeat business and referrals, APEX actually pulls it off. It takes more than the ability to drive a nail and saw a straight line to be a successful General Contractor. JB put the words “Construction Management” in his business’s name for a reason. He’s a process guy from his long career in technology. He knows good intentions only get you so far in remodeling. Repeatable, reliable quality also takes good process and mutual trust.
APEX values long-term client relationships like the Crows’ so much, JB has special yard signs that say “VIP Repeat Customer.”
“What I like about personal referrals is that they are based on the actual experience of people whom I respect and trust. They know my standards and I am confident they will not suggest someone who will fall short. APEX clients feel the same way,” JB explained.
Many homeowners think the most important thing they can do to obtain a fair remodeling price from a good contractor is to get three bids. In reality, competitive bidding is a small part of the process of finding the right remodeler. Establishing trust should be your top priority.
APEX Construction Management’s JB Biancini suggests you start by checking project photos and friends’ projects. Do you like what you see? Next consider online reviews and personal referrals. Do you like what you hear? Finally, meet with a couple of contractors who clear those two hurdles. Do you like what you feel? That’s when you decide if you can trust the contractors and if they listen. Although intangible, mutual trust is the most important building material in any successful remodeling project.
We caught up with JB at a St. Paul job site. Here’s how he explained it. If you have questions, contact JB.
Sometimes, bigger IS better, especially in remodeling. But a poorly planned home addition can just as easily make your home worse off structurally, functionally and aesthetically. No worries. We address the critical considerations and common misconceptions during our design-build process so you get it right and there are no surprises. At least no unpleasant ones.
If there’s land, there’s room – Just because you are willing to forfeit some lawn for living space doesn’t mean your community will let you. Zoning regulations require minimum setbacks from your property lines. To be safe, start your home addition concept with your plot plan and survey, not the fence the neighbor erected. Know your limits. There’s nothing worse than planning a project only to have the permit rejected for insufficient sideyard setback.
Going up is always less expensive than bumping out — Depends. Adding a second story saves the expense of a new foundation but the first-floor ceiling joists may have to be enlarged or reinforced. You will need to open up some walls on the first floor to run mechanicals. And you still will need a roof.
Must enlarge to gain space — When existing living space is underused, an addition won’t overcome the problem. The new space could make the old area even less appealing. Before considering expanding up or out, look within. It may make more sense to expand the kitchen into the dining room, convert the formal living room and main level powder room into an accessible bedroom suite. Or make the basement livable with a proper egress window, radon mitigation and drain tile.
What’s big enough? – I call this approach “go big or go home.” Once you’ve committed to adding on, the cost per square foot actually may shrink a bit when you increase the footprint. On the other hand, if you only need an extra 18-in. to make your new kitchen layout work, keep it small. A cantilevered bump out may be fine.
Melding new and old – Additions need to work with the original structure indoors and out. They should reflect and be scaled to extend and enhance the home’s architectural style. Aligning windows and keeping siding and trim details consistent will help. The enlarged home also should fit the character of the neighborhood. For instance, make a second story addition more down to earth by creating false soffits along the sides. Or add a porch to the front of the home to break the elevation. Indoor considerations include traffic flow and the addition’s impact on natural light and sight lines from existing rooms. Will the porch make the kitchen darker? Will the french doors to the new sunroom conflict with the kitchen table?
The best additions are the ones that look like they were always there. They don’t just add living space. They fit. They flow. They make sense.
Foundations — Additions can be built on piers, footings or foundations. Excavate for a full basement under the addition, install slab on grade if the height is right, or create a crawlspace. Incorporating the new basement with the old will require engineering for a beam to support the load where the original foundation wall is removed. However, if you already have a 36-in.-wide window in the existing foundation wall, you can convert it to a doorway to save time and money.
Perhaps the most important question when considering a home addition is whether it makes more sense to move to a bigger house or expand the one you’ve got. If you like your neighborhood, have the room and plan to stick around, an addition is a fine option. Let APEX help you improve your quality of life at home. Contact me.
It seems we talk about remodeling projects forever and torment ourselves bingeing HGTV and browsing Houzz. We tell our spouses we aren’t quite ready to spend (or borrow) the money. Besides, we deserve that big vacation this year.
During the Great Recession, that strategy may have made sense. According to an analysis by Metrostudy, remodeling costs actually declined for several years during the housing slump. But the opposite has been true for the past few years. The latest annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report showed that projects costs have been increasing steadily, and the trend is only expected to accelerate. Fortunately, home values are going up too.
The Report noted, “Nationally, the average payback for the 24 projects that we’ve tracked throughout this decade has ranged between 58% and 66%. Costs have risen each of the past four years, following a time in which the Great Recession caused prices to fall. Values have seen bigger shifts, rising the past two years after having declined in three of the previous four.”
Building materials prices have been rising steadily during the economic recovery driven by higher demand and now import tariffs. For example, more than a third of the lumber used in US construction comes from Canada. Since the grace period for the US-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement expired last October, prices have risen each month. A US Commerce Department decision on anti-dumping penalties due April 25 was just pushed back to June. With some fearing the combined penalties and tariffs on Canadian lumber could reach 45 percent, the Canadians are said to be evaluating shifting exports away from the United States and to China. At this point, the just announced tariff is up over 20%.
Remodeling activity in the greater Twin Cities is robust. Reputable contractors who survived the downturn are busy. Skilled construction labor is in short supply and pushing labor costs higher. Meanwhile, interest rates for home equity loans also can be expected to rise in the years ahead.
“I don’t believe in high-pressure sales tactics. Never have. But the facts cannot be dismissed,” APEX President John “JB” Biancini observed. “Remodeling will cost more next year than it does this year and this year costs more than last year. The better value is now, not two years down the road.”
While rising costs argue for remodeling sooner rather than later, the most important incentive is the ability to enjoy the upgrades sooner. How do you put a value on your kids and their friends wanting to hang out at your house because you remodeled the basement. Or wanting to entertain friends and family more because you have a wonderful open floor plan kitchen. Or the pride that comes from an exterior facelift and sheltered entry addition that neighbors adore (and envy)?
“With the exception of house flippers who are only in it for the money, most people remodel their homes to improve their quality of life. The investment potential is important but secondary,” JB said. “The main factor that would lead to an over improvement is if you don’t remain in the home long enough to enjoy it.”
Interestingly, a recent Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook report predicts record remodeling spending, largely by baby boomers and much more on discretionary rather than repair projects. It suggests nearly 33 percent grow in remodeling spending among homeowners age 55 and over, some 56 percent of the overall remodeling market, by 2025. Discretionary projects, which dipped to one-third of spending during the recession, are expected to drive the remodeling market going forward.
The Jorrisens turned a nightmare flood into the motivation they needed to obtain their dream kitchen remodeling last Christmas. They are living proof that our attitude toward events, not the events themselves, is what defines our quality of life. That and a little help from APEX Construction Management.
The Vadnais Heights couple had already updated their kitchen’s counters, backsplash and cabinet hardware several years ago. They were planning to overhaul the space after their son finished college. But when they returned from their cabin last October and discovered a plumbing leak had soaked through the laminate flooring, the timetable got a jolt. As ServiceMaster removed the base cabinets to address the water damage, they agreed to seize the day.
“There was no way those 1987 honey oak cabinets were going back in,” Marie recalled.
Most major kitchen remodeling projects take at least a month to plan and families prepare to set up temporary kitchens during the work. The Jorrisens didn’t even begin to think about the project until the cabinets were out.
They chose APEX Construction and Hearthwood Kitchens to design and build their new kitchen. APEX completed the project in time for their dozen family members to christen the new space on Christmas Eve. While APEX and Hearthwood’s Angie Cote worked hard to meet the holiday deadline, they credit the Jorrisens for their own contributions. For instance, the couple taped off the dogleg island profile on the floor to make sure they would be comfortable with the width of the traffic zone. They also had the idea to replace the left opening French door with a right opening sliding patio door to eliminate an awkward choke point at the porch.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was that APEX had to build the new kitchen around the diamond-pattern backsplash the couple had personally installed during the earlier facelift. That required meticulous attention to the height of the new luxury vinyl floor, transition to adjacent rooms and the ceiling-height upper cabinets.
Best of all, the insurance claim offset some of the cost of the major kitchen remodeling. Bonus: the family got a Christmas present it will never forget and continues to enjoy all year long.
“APEX Construction Management’s core purpose is to improve our clients’ quality of life at home,” said APEX President JB Biancini. “We helped the Jorrisens turn a surprise setback into an opportunity to upgrade their kitchen with cherry cabinets, premium appliances and an island that’s perfect for parties and everyday use. That’s quality living!”
Here’s their story.
APEX President “JB” Biancini has been profoundly deaf since birth. When you meet him you will quickly discover he is a consummate lip reader. But how does he communicate by phone?
Although some deaf people use a service that translates incoming voice into text, JB crafted his own technology solution. He adapted his office phone with a pair of powerful in-line amplifiers and a special headset that enables him to hear callers in real time. It’s similar to the system he invented when he learned to fly airplanes, where the need for precise communication was even greater.
JB admits it helps if callers speak slowly and clearly and that deeper voices are easier to understand than higher pitched ones, but the technology solution definitely works. I have regular phone conversations with JB and often forget he is deaf.
For those who know JB as a Top Gun-decorated flight instructor, the in-office communications gear must recall his many hours in the cockpit teaching others to fly. No doubt, they also would appreciate his business desk organization. Pilots are big on printed checklists and visual displays. That’s why JB keeps a copy of his APEX mission statement, core purpose, corporate vision and shared values in direct line of sight whenever he flies his desk.
While the electronics amplify voices so JB can hear callers, the APEX mission statement is what informs both his words and actions. Simply put, APEX’s goal is to help clients enhance their quality of life at home. JB achieves this through his commitment to absolute integrity, employee empowerment, client relationships, exceptional service, uncompromised quality and appreciation of life.
Because we spend so much time in our homes, they have a big impact on our quality of life. That’s why APEX remodeling projects never are merely about carpentry, plumbing and electrical. The goal is to make clients’ lives happier, healthier, safer and richer.
Quality of life takes many forms, including the food we eat, the company we keep, how well we sleep at night, how natural light affects our mood, our sense of order and opportunities for personal expression. APEX understands that a proper remodeling project considers all of these things. It’s the mission.
Each year, Remodeling magazine publishes its annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report. The study estimates the cost of 29 typical remodeling and replacement projects in various markets and asks Realtors to assess the resale value based on comparable homes (comps). For example, if two houses were identical but one had a recently remodeled kitchen, how would it impact the home’s sale price?
The 2017 report provides you with three pieces of information to help you make a more informed financial decision regarding your remodeling project:
According to the report, remodeling costs are up 3 percent this year and the average value of projects is up 4.2 percent. Resale value might mean more if you are a fan of HGTV’s Flip or Flop show or are concerned about over-improving your home. But items 1 and 2 send a clear message to Twin Cities area homeowners: You will save money by remodeling sooner rather than later, and our healthy real estate market means your return on investment (ROI) will be slightly higher this year.
Not surprisingly, the report shows that Realtors still love exterior facelifts and curb appeal projects. It’s all about making a good first impression. For instance, consider two side-by-side homes. One has a modest stoop and an exposed main entry. The other has entry portico or, better yet, a street-facing porch. Guess which one is going to be more appealing to homeowners and homebuyers alike?
The popularity of three remodeling trends is beyond debate: integrating interior/exterior living areas, universal design features that support aging in place, and adapting homes for multi-generational/multi-family living. But the report suggests financial ROI for these projects would not be as compelling as for some other projects. These are improvements with significant labor costs so it can be more difficult to recover those expenses.
Remodeling divides projects into mid-level and upscale categories. In 2017, the top three mid-range projects include a steel entry door, attic sealing and insulation, and a minor kitchen remodel in that order. For upscale projects, the winners are garage door replacement, wood replacement windows and vinyl replacement windows. But none of the upscale projects came close to the mid-priced project’s ROI.
Industry studies such as the annual Cost vs. Value Report provide interesting benchmarks, but it is important to remember what motivates most of us to remodel our homes — quality of life. Ever since I founded APEX, our core purpose has been to help our clients enhance their quality of life at home. It still is what gets me out of bed each morning. My point is that prospective homebuyers may value a new entry door or garage door, but it’s doubtful those are the projects that would truly elevate your quality of life.
At APEX, we don’t need a national magazine study to tell us what delivers value. We simply listen to our clients. It’s the beautiful, high-function kitchen where they are proud to entertain. Or the finished basement that’s a magnet for their kids and friends. Or the sunny addition that quickly became their favorite lounging area. Or the enlarged garage and mudroom that made Minnesota winters tolerable. Or the new master bath with enhanced accessibility, lighting and storage.
Perhaps the most important prediction, made by Remodeling’s sister company MetroStudy, is that with rising mortgage rates and home prices this year, people will be more likely to improve their current homes rather than invest their equity into buying new homes. Which takes us back to the beginning.
The smart money says the sooner you remodel the better. And I would add – invest in what you love. Homes are way more than investments. They literally shape our quality of life. — JB
APEX strives to deliver great client experiences, one project at a time. What better way to demonstrate this than to let you hear directly from a couple of homeowners who recently chose APEX to enlarge and remodel their kitchens. One project was near Stillwater, the other in Burnsville. We hope you enjoy these videos. Please contact JB to share your own remodeling dream.
Angie’s List has stepped up its support for APEX Construction Management (APEX Design-Build) this month by granting us Angie’s List Certified status. This is in addition to the Super Service Award that Angie’s List gave APEX last year.
Angie’s List Certified status is granted to companies whose licenses are in good standing, who have high scores on reviews and who have no state enforcement actions.
Many factors go into the process of choosing the right contractor. The first step is to narrow the list of contenders. Online reviews and certifications can help to qualify a short list of companies worth contacting.
Now that Angie’s List membership is free, we encourage Twin Cities homeowners to join Angie’s so they can view the many APEX Construction Management reviews that were only seen by paid members in the past. We also encourage our clients to post reviews on Angie’s, Better Business Bureau, Houzz, Guild Quality, Google, Facebook and our own website.
We still want clients to share their APEX experiences with family, friends and coworkers, but they can extend their influence far beyond their inner circle by writing an online review and pasting it onto the various review sites.