Remodel your home, but don't wreck finances
In a down real estate market, many homeowners choose to spruce up their homes rather than try to sell and move. If you're thinking about hiring a contractor for a remodeling job, consider these tips:
1 Ask people you trust for recommendations. Line up the names of at least three contractors and solicit bids from them. Important questions to ask include: How long have you been in business? What kind of workers' compensation and liability insurance do you carry? How many projects like mine have you completed? Can I go see them?
2 Talk with previous customers. Ask them: Did the contractor communicate well and do a good job of listening to you? Did the crew show up on time? Was the job finished on schedule? Would you hire the remodeler again without hesitation?
3 Don't automatically choose the lowest bidder. Consider other key factors, such as the feedback you receive from past customers and the contractor's reputation.
4 Do a background check. Before hiring anyone, take a moment to investigate the contractor's complaint history through the Better Business Bureau of West Florida (call (727) 535-5522, or check the database at www.bbbwestflorida.org) and the Florida Division of Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-435-7352.
5 Get your agreement in writing. Even if the contractor is a friend, make sure agreements and promises appear in a written contract that both of you sign.
6 Establish a budget before work begins. Define your budget from the outset by picking the products and materials you want. Include your choices in the contract to avoid confusion and change orders.
7 Know how to pay for the job. Aim for a down payment of 10 percent or less, and schedule payments weekly or monthly, or after completion of each phase of the project. Never make final payment until you are satisfied with the work done and know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
8 Avoid liens. After completion of a large job, withhold a portion of the payment (about 10 percent) for 30 days in case liens emerge. (If a contractor doesn't pay subcontractors or workers, they may hold you responsible and place a lien against your home.)
9 Mastermind ways to save money. Consider starting with a small remodeling project first. Doing a larger home remodel in stages is a good way to minimize your initial cash outlay. Another possibility: Work with a contractor who will let you share the workload. Perhaps you can do the demolition work at the start of a project and the painting at the end.
10 Have some tricks up your sleeve. As opposed to making structural changes, painting is the best way to revitalize a room for a small amount of money. Rather than replacing slightly damaged walls, use heavy or textured wallpaper or faux finish painting techniques to conceal damage. Also, it costs a lot of money to add square footage to your home. Instead, borrow space from a neighboring room or make a room appear larger by using optical illusions such as bow windows, skylights and vaulted ceilings.
Laura T. Coffey
Sources: National Association of the Remodeling Industry (www.nari.org); Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org)