Most of the time, your home is the biggest investment you make during your life time. Moreover, this is the place that protects your family and your valuables– tangible or intangible. So it makes sense that when comes to maintaining it to be as careful and thorough as you can be and choose a product that will guarantee the security and durability you and your family need and a contractor that can make it all happen on time and on budget.
Each year thousands of Houston metro homeowners hire a contractor to improve or remodel their home. While most consumers are satisfied with the work done by their contractor, others complain about careless workmanship, overcharges during the process, missed deadlines or the contractor’s failure to complete the work. Some even complain that the contractor failed to start the project at all.So what can and should you do to protect yourself from running into trouble when remodeling your home?
Do your homework
Now-a-days, there is a lot of information online you can read to familiarize yourself with the type of project you are planning to undertake. What products are available? How are they rated? Who offers them? Are there any issues with those products that you should be aware of? While you expect your contractor to give you most off this information, having a little bit of knowledge helps you weed out the pros from the amateurs.Visit home improvement centers, showrooms, read magazines, browse the Internet and talk to others who have completed similar renovations.
Think about what you want and what you can afford. Figure in all the costs, including materials, supplies, labor, permits, and financing. Create a workable, realistic budget. Plan on how you want to pay for your project. Can you afford to pay it all with savings or you consider financing it? Is a home line of credit available or you need a contractor that offers finance plans?
Choose a contractor
This is a very important part of your project and there are many things to consider before you sign on the dotted line. Choosing the right contractor can make the difference between a successful home renovation project and a disaster.
- Shop around. Try to get recommendations from people you know: your friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work. Good contractors are usually found by word of mouth.
- Get at least three estimates from different companies, especially if your project is a large one. Listen to their presentation; all of them have a different approach to project management and offer different products. Make sure all estimates are based on the same set of specifications, materials and scope of work. Be sure the estimates include details and specifications, responsibility for clean up, and amount of downpayment required. In assessing the estimates, don’t always go with the low bidder. A higher price may be worth it if the contractor is the most experienced, will use better materials, will do a better job, and keep to a timeline. Be wary of an extremely low bid. It may be an indication that the contractor is overeager for your business, made a mistake in preparing the bid or is not including all the work quoted by the other bidders.
- Ask for proof of insurance. Home improvement contractors should have insurance to cover all the unforeseen events that do happen from time to time during a home improvement project, such as personal accidents or damage to the property. Ask your consultant to provide proof of insurance before signing anything.
- Make sure they have been in business for more than a few months. Generally speaking, the longer the better, but don’t discount newer companies. They tend to go the extra mile to prove they are serious about their business.
- Ask about similar past and current projects similar to yours.
- Ask for their business address. Verify this information, and remember – a contractor who only gives a P.O. box address may be difficult to find if the job goes uncompleted or you need him to come back to fix something after the last bill has been paid. Check for work from home companies as well, as that may be a sign to be concerned.
- If your project requires a permit- and most of them do, ask the contractor if they take care of the needed permits. Be suspicious if the contractor asks you to get the permit – it could mean that the contractor doesn’t represent a registered business and does not want to contact the local building authorities.
- Ask questions about the process once the project starts. Will they check on the work regularly? Do they have a designated project manager? Will they take care of unforeseen issues? Do you have access to an upper management/owner if things don’t go the way they should?
- Understand the estimate you are given. Make sure the price covers everything so you don’t run into surprises during the project.
Get a written contract
Contracts for jobs costing $500 or more must be in writing, but it’s best to get a written contract in all cases. Insist on a written contract, and make sure to get a copy. Do NOT agree to an oral contract. By law, the contract must include :
- The complete name, address, and phone number of the contractor
- Specific description of the work and materials, including brands, model numbers and other identifying information, along with the price
- Clarification on who obtains and pays for permits
- A requirement that the contractor remove and cart away construction debris, including the frequency with which this must be done
- The total price, including materials, labor and any additional charges
- The payment schedule. Any schedule of progress payments must bear a reasonable relationship to the work done, materials purchased or other project related costs
Supervise the progress of your project
This doesn’t mean you should stay with the crew every minute of the day. Just check on the progress of the project at the end of every work day to ensure the project goes as planned and conform to your agreement.
- Keep a job file of important papers, including the contract, plans and specifications, warranties, advertisements, bills and invoices, canceled checks (front and back), correspondence and pictures of the job in progress.
- Don’t be pressured into signing a Certificate of Completion until you’re certain that all work has been completed to your satisfaction and to the specifications set forth in the contract.
- Don’t give your contractor the key to your house.
If you do your homework right and choose your contractor carefully, your home improvement project will be an experience to be enjoyed and not a nightmare.