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Off the Cuff: A Conversation with John Witt and the New Remodeling Team

Homeowners’ desire to remodel their home — instead of moving into a new one – is surging in New York’s Capital Region and Witt Construction has established a new division just to respond to the demand. President John Witt has added two people to his staff dedicated full time to the remodeling process: Project Manager Brendan Maydick and Assistant Project Manager Andrea Rollier-Fitzpatrick. Currently, eight such projects are underway, with more coming on line all the time.

They took some time recently to reflect on their work:

Q: Why are people choosing to remodel, rather than move?

Witt: Location, location, location. If you’re already where you want to be, make the house fit your needs. People understand and believe that more and more — that’s why business is booming. I am especially gratified that many of our remodel clients are already living in homes we built for them in the last 25 years. Their needs and lifestyles have changed and they come back to us to design renovations that reflect that. I’m happy, because it means they feel we did a good job for them in the first place.

Maydick: The market is really strong right now for homes in and around Saratoga Springs, but a lot of them need updating. This is a great place to live and remodeling is one way you can continue to enjoy your house and property, but still get the change in look and feel you desire, as well as increase its value.

Rollier-Fitzpatrick: Sometimes people have a sentimental attachment to a house and they’d rather spend money redoing it than buying a new one. They might be thinking ahead and making a retirement home out of a house that had been in their family. Or they’ve been visiting Saratoga and they decide to sell the house on Long Island or New Jersey and move up full time for the lifestyle. I think the popularity of remodeling was originally driven by the media, particularly the reality TV shows that focus on building, such as ‘Extreme Home Makeover,’ ‘This Old House’ and ‘Kitchen Cousins’.

Q: What is the big difference between remodeling and building from scratch?

Witt: Remodeling is a sign of the times, a whole philosophy based on the idea that ‘reuse and recycle’ is better than throwing it all away. Building from scratch is just that – nothing is already in place to save. It’s all new. You can do whatever you want. With remodeling, you have to be very thoughtful about how to maintain the best of what is already there and enhance it.

Maydick: Sometimes, it’s actually more expensive to remodel than to build a new home, but someone who would rather remodel is willing to work through the problems that come up when you have foundations, bearing walls, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electricity already in place and we need to accommodate it. In a new building, if you want a bigger window, you just cut the hole. With a remodel, there are parameters. The placement of existing systems and structures control to some extent how renovated space can be configured. There are a lot of variables; that’s the challenge.

Rollier-Fitzpatrick: You are dealing with the daily lives of the homeowners, you are right in the middle of it. That’s why I have to schedule everything so precisely – when one crew leaves, the other has to be ready to go, so there aren’t gaps of time when people are uncomfortable or inconvenienced in their houses and no progress is being made. Everything has to be planned precisely. When you’re building a new house, nobody is in it, you’re not in anybody’s way. That’s a major difference.

Q: What areas of a home are most likely to be remodeled?

Witt: People always want new kitchens and bathrooms, but we are also often asked to build first-floor master-suite additions as our clients age – they’re thinking ahead. They want to be really comfortable in their private space, they want it to be like a luxury spa in their own home and they want it to be accessible.

Maydick: Other areas also get renovated, maybe not as frequently. For example, after the kids leave home, you might want to make a bedroom into an office, or do something special in a lower-level space that used to be a kids’ playroom, like put in a wine cellar.

Rollier-Fitzpatrick: Kitchens and bathrooms. If you put the money into remodeling those rooms, you’ll probably get a lot of it back on resale. You have to think of it as a long-term investment.

Q: How do you allocate your time?

Witt: I am involved in every aspect of every project. I meet with clients and talk to them about what they want and design it. I know what’s going on in the field through our weekly meetings and our cloud-based software that tracks and schedules selections and all communication.

Maydick: I spend a lot of time in the field, stopping by daily on jobs in the city or nearby, and three times a week at projects that are further away. I educate people to understand that we are going to get involved with pulling apart everything from the foundation, to the plumbing, electrical work and heating and cooling equipment – and then we have to put it back together. I help them understand what to expect, how much time it might take and what it might cost.

Rollier-Fitzpatrick: I keep the remodeling projects on track, paying attention to every detail in order to facilitate the best outcome. I have to understand all the orders – it’s not enough to refer to ‘trim’. Do you mean baseboard? Window casing? Door casing? Moulding? I have to make sure these things are specified. We work with a lot of subcontractors; I have to make sure to process and pay their invoices on time – there are a lot of deadlines. I am, therefore, a contract administrator and a scheduler. There’s constant juggling.