4 steps to prevent a remodel gone wrong
Do your research before hiring a contractor, and make sure you keep on top of any problems that may arise.
With the real-estate market in the doldrums, many remodeling contractors are trying to drum up business by offering discounts to homeowners. But that remodel "bargain" could turn into an expensive headache if the newly installed kitchen cabinets are crooked or the basement contractor disappears after the deposit check has been cashed.
"I see a lot of homeowners who are eager to get to the end result of a finished product, but they're not as eager to do the proper pre-planning and pre-screening of contractors,” says Monica Higgins, founder of Renovation Planners, a Los Angeles-based certified construction-management firm.
"The reality is, with remodeling jobs, you need to go through a thorough process in order to get to a satisfying finish," she says. "Too many homeowners are hiring contractors for jobs, and they're finding the work doesn't meet their expectations."
There are ways to help prevent or remedy a remodel job gone wrong. Here are four steps that experts say homeowners can take to help resolve a bad situation.
1. Do your research before the job starts
Performing due diligence beforehand reduces the chances of having shoddy work done on your home, Higgins says. This includes contacting several potential contractors until you have a list of at least three strong candidates.
"Don't just call a few people and decide which one you like best," Higgins says. "You may need to interview 10 companies or more to come up with the list of three contractors you'd feel comfortable working with."
Once you have your potential contractors, ask them hard questions, Higgins says.
"Many homeowners have a tendency to only ask a remodeler if they're licensed and how much they charge," she says. "Those are important things to know, but there are so many more questions that should be answered."
Bing: Search & decide
Higgins suggests doing a little research to find out if the contractor has ever filed for bankruptcy under any company name, past or present.
"Also, ask how long have they been in business, and if they've worked in your community before," she says. "If the contractor has worked in your neighborhood previously, they'll probably want to protect their local reputation and do a good job."
Check out the contractors' references and examine their recent work, Higgins says.
"Look at their current works in progress, and, if possible, look at work the contractor did five to 10 years ago to see how the job held up," she says.
Another way to prevent problems down the road is to make sure the contractor knows your expectations. Many times, the homeowners are dissatisfied because the finished work wasn't what they envisioned, Higgins says.
"Ask the contractor if they can create computer-generated pictures to help you understand what the finished product will be," she says. "It's easier to make changes to a digital model than to the actual construction."
When you're ready to select your top choice, check with your state license board to verify that the company and its workers are properly licensed.
Also ask the contractor to provide proof of adequate insurance, says attorney Joe Cavasinni, chairman of Reminger Co., L.P.A.'s Construction Liability Practice Group in Cleveland. Adequate insurance for contractors includes two types of coverage: general liability insurance, which protects against injury or damage done by the company; and worker's compensation, which protects workers from injury on your property, Cavasinni says. These policies don't protect against poor workmanship but can offer protection — both for the company and the homeowner — if a major problem arises.
"It's not uncommon to find that some contractors who don't fulfill their contract will go out of business before the homeowner can pursue their complaint," Cavasinni says. "Then, they resurface a few months later under a different name."
With a proper policy in place, the homeowner could pursue a claim through the contractor's insurer instead of trying to hunt down that company, he says.
2. Document everything
Once you select a contractor, work with him or her to craft a written timeline for completion, including milestones to be met along the way, says Bob Gullo, president of Electronics Design Group, a technology systems contractor in Piscataway, N.J.
"Document whether or not they are coming to work on the days they're scheduled to come, and if not, if they are calling to let you know beforehand," he says. "If you leave them a message, note how long it takes them to return your call. If they're not very responsive, it should be an immediate red flag."
Make sure that they're using products they promised to use and that they're not cutting corners. Homeowners also should regularly review the cost of materials, Higgins says.
"Look out for cost overruns, so that you're not unpleasantly surprised when the final bill comes in," she says.
3. Raise concerns immediately
If you discover problems, promptly bring documented concerns to the attention of the supervisor or general contractor on site, Higgins says.
"Use your notes for reference and say to them, 'I'm not happy with this work and here's why,'" she says.
It's possible a problem could arise that's beyond the contractor's control. For example, he or she may find unexpected structural damage that must be addressed before the project can move forward. If that's the case, it's probably up to the homeowner to deal with the problem, Higgins says.
However, promptly address the issue if regular work seems to be delayed without a good reason, or the work doesn't look as if it's going according to plan. Whatever makes your project take longer to get done right is going to cost you money, she warns.
"Give the contractor a chance to respond, but keep it within a short window — about 24 to 48 hours," Higgins says. "Set the expectation that you're giving them a certain amount of time to fix the problem, but you won't let it go unresolved."
4. Escalate if necessary
If the work problem hasn't been adequately resolved in a reasonable time or the contractor is unreachable, the next step may be legal action. Review your contract to determine how to proceed.
"Many contracts will state that before a party can file suit, the homeowner must try to solve the conflict through mediation," Cavasinni says. "This is when all parties involved meet with an independent third party for the sole purpose of trying to resolve the claim."
Usually the homeowner starts the process by making a formal demand for mediation with the contractor, according to the terms of the agreement, Cavasinni says. Then, during mediation, each party makes its case. The mediator goes back and forth to try to get both parties to settle the claim.
"If everyone agrees to resolve the issue, then great, there's no need for one party or the other to file a lawsuit," he says.
However, "the mediator does not make a binding decision about who wins or loses," Cavasinni says. If the parties are unable to settle their differences, the next action could be arbitration or even a lawsuit.
The homeowners’ signed contract will often indicate whether they can file a lawsuit in state court, or if they agree to file a claim in arbitration instead, using an entity such as the American Arbitration Association, Cavasinni says.
"Arbitration is probably best thought of as a private trial," Cavasinni says. "Instead of trying a case and having the jury decide who wins and who loses, and how much money is owed (as with a regular lawsuit), arbitration typically involves a three-member panel of arbitrators."
An arbitration panel's decision is binding on the parties, Cavasinni says.
Going through arbitration or a lawsuit may be worthwhile only if a large amount of money is involved, because attorneys' fees may not be recoverable, even if the homeowner wins, Cavasinni says.
And according to Cavasinni, the cost of a lawsuit could reach up to $30,000 or $40,000, with the case taking up to two years or longer to be resolved.
"I tell my clients that if there's a way to fairly and reasonably resolve the claim without resorting to litigation, I would do that," he says. "Once you get into litigation, in large part the only ones who win are the attorneys."
How the author could forget to offer the advice "Hire an architect!" shows the state of ignorance in the media and marketplace. Your home is the majority of your net worth and undertaking a renovation is infinitely more complicated than undergoing heart surgery. To think you have the skill to undertake a renovation because you have always lived in a house is like thinking you have the ability to perform heart surgery because you have always had a heart.
The old adage should be changed to "plan thoughly and build once." We are often able to save our clients anywhere between 3-8 times our architectural fee because they can get enforcable, competitive bids. This is not taking it out of the contractors either as they know they will not have to pad their number to tear walls out because the client "thought" they were going to get something else. They know they can use the drawings to get more competitve bids from their subcontractors too.
This does not even take into account the increase in value of the property because it was designed by someone trained to solve spatial problem and educated to create elegant and properly proportioned designs. Any client that tries to save money by doing it themselves, deserves every bad thing that inevitably happens to them. The media needs to get a better handle on this and help steer people away from this disaster!
A lot of good information here
I will give my personal insight, being I work for a windows and siding company.
One MAJOR key point is making sure whatever contractor you use is fully licensed, bonded and insured. In most cases for these types of projects, you will definitely get what you pay for. I find it funny when i tell someone a window or siding price and they say they expected it to be half of that. I tell them that you CAN find things for half our prices, but not our installation and definitely not our quality (for instance, the guy installing the job on the siding video didn't look like he gave much shifting room for the nailing hem)
An argument to the vinyl siding video from consumer reports; yes, there are siding jobs that have those problems. But if you dont want it to crack, you need a form fitting insulation to prevent that. That alone gives a 300% greater impact resistance to the siding.
Again, a decent article, but a good company will be upfront with you and tell you everything you need to know. They won't come to your house, spend 5 minutes looking around and give you a quick estimate (expect those costs to double by the time they're done). They will spend the time to make sure you know what you're getting and explain thoroughly what and how they will do things. They will be the ones to give you a true estimate you can expect to not change.
And as far as making sure you will be 100% satisfied with the job, use a company that will do it with no money down (I know many contractors don't have the size or revenue to be able to do this, but if you're that worried about getting it done right, this way you know you have to be pleased with the project before you spend any money on it)
"Hire an Architect", good advice! That makes perfect sense for homeowners and especially for contrators. When the contractor needs questions answered they will send RFI's that the architect must answer. This protects the architect and contractor. So when the homeowner starts whinning about money, changes or timelines, the contractor can say "According to RFI # blank, signed and approved by your architecture you need to pay for it and/or this is why we'll behind schedule, it took your architecture to long to answer." RFI's and signed change orders saves lives! Make the architect take some responsibilities, everyone is always beating downt the contractors. A good contractor will demand an architect, CM or someone to represent the homeowner when building a project. Most Owners usually don't have a clue about building and they need to leave that to the experts, or else they can build it themselves, experience is the best teacher. My first project was established by friendships and handshakes, never again. Words mean nothing unless there in BLACK OR WHITE, and of course signed. This is a tough business for all parties, but sooner or later one party will call foul and start a fight. Just make sure you have your back up! (paper)
You can also rely on the services of an Interior Designer. We also have General Contractors and subcontractors we use in every job. We are very much qualified to handle any type of residential renovation. We not only design the room but we can also do the purchasing, and orchestrate and supervise the job from beginning to end, including accessorizing to the last detail.
Yes, we do carry insurance; and references speak from themselves. Always, do your homework.
Some of this information is good. But there are a couple of things missed. Like permits. Where I am (don't know if this is the same all over) you should pull a permit for major remodels, if you don't and something goes wrong then your insurance company doesn't have to pay for the damage, and if your contractor disappears you are left holding the bag. If your contractor doesn't mention a permit for anything then ask! And then double check with your county.
Know when to do a job yourself and when not to. Some things should not be done by just anybody or you will spend extra money fixing what you tried to fix. Things are not they way they were in our Grandfathers time, things are much more complex because of lawsuits and technology. We have pulled out wiring that had blackened framing and melted insulation and the current homeowner was lucky that a fire did not start. My Grandfather built his house from the basement up, even digging out the basement with a hand shovel. He and his brothers did the whole thing, but to remodel that house would not be something I would want to do, but Grandpa did things right, but he did them 70 years ago.
Also, don't believe that whatever was quoted you is the end. A remodel job is not a new build, even if it is an addition. When you open a wall you never know what you will find, even in new houses. We have found clogged pipes that had slow leaks for years, bare wiring, plumbing nightmares and all kinds of things. This is not the contractors fault. We have started adding a contingency to the contract. This is a part of the contract that is for when things go wrong and you didn't see them coming. We go over things with the homeowner and let them know there is a contingent in the contract, if that money is not used then they don't pay for that portion. If something does come up it is documented, signed off by the homeowner and deducted from the contingency fund. Nothing is hidden and most of the time it means that they can do a little extra in their remodel than they thought. We don't do it for all contracts, mostly when they go to get home loans for the work.
Set the expectations of the homeowner and you will have fewer problems with the homeowner, but homeowners need to understand that it's not a walk in the park for contractors either. My husband is a one man show. He brings in plumbers and electricians and other subcontractors when he needs to, it depends on the job. This means that things have to be coordinated and sometimes it's hard to get someone there when you needs them. It's not what we want, it happens. Problems happen and its very stressful having your house torn up and being inconvenienced. Be realistic and patient. Get a schedule of events before they happen, and when delays occur ask for the new schedule. Don't schedule a big dinner the day after you are supposed to be complete. Wait until you're done and then have Aunt Rose over to see it.
Contractors are human, mistakes happen. I have taught my son that being a man doesn't mean never making a mistake, its how you recover from it that makes you a good man. Just because a pipe breaks because of something the contractor did doesn't make his a con man, see how he repairs his mistake and ask him about it. Part of what people like about my husband is his problem solving capabilities. Something will always come up, solutions need be thought of, completed and move on. There is not a remodel ever known that has ever gone without a hitch, sometime things are small (like having to move a pipe in the dining that shouldn't be there) and some are large (opening a wall and finding green slimy mold). Work with your contractor, he is not an adversary he is there to make money to feed his family and do a good job for you. Doing your homework and making sure that you have done all you can to get a good contractor will go a long way toward making your house what you want.
Learn how to do many things yourself, buy the right tools and no project is too-big-to-fail.
Stop believing these con artists with their nonsense. Few have the knowledge or skills to do a decent job, regardless of the costs. When I retired I finished off my home, adding 1500 sq ft of living space and hired only those connected to a building supply business for the difficult things. It was slower but done to my specifications and with skills I developed as I went along. There were some mistakes, but nothing that I couldn't fix and it was a lot easier than dealing with contractors.
come up with a budget first. everyday im having to explain the reality of building to homeowners. if you budget for beer dont expect champagne. the most important info i can give someones is you get what you pay for .. never take the lowest bid and never take the highest.
do your homework find out what material cost are. what are the labor prices like. something like this
overhead and profit 33% " depending on the state you live in taxes,insurance,workers comp,
honesty starts with his employees if hes not paying well he not gonna get the skilled workers needed to complete a job on budget and built correctly. if his workers look like he found them under a bridge somewhere. he probably did!!! you know a bad remodel can ruin a fine house.
water leaks, electrical promblems, plumbing promblems, I never understand why a homeowner will buy 500,000 dollar house then hire a so called handy man do ruin thier house.. hire a real company, with insurance and workers comp. with in-house employees.
Sleepless your are correct.
I am a contractor, I am as busy as always even in these tough time, and have not advertised in over 10 years. Yes, the waiting list has gotten shorter in recent times but clients are still waiting their turn, because their friends were impressed with their experience with me.
To get a list of the most professional architects in your local area, go to the local AIA office or visit aia.org.
Always be sure to look for Architects that are Right From Every Angle.
I agree with "I design" who wrote that you need to hire an architect. Homeowners need to get a clue here. Contractors are NOT designers, so quit leaning on us as though we are. Homeowners seem to have relegated to the trash bin the need to THOROUGHLY plan their project. Many will forego the architect/designer altogether and try to design their kitchen or remodel project themselves thinking all along that they are saving money. I am an electrical contractor and do a lot of kitchen remodels and the like. Many times homeowners will hand to me a plan that was drawn up by someone masquerading as an architect/designer. These plans are always what I call "un-spec'd" plans, meaning that they leave out of these plans most of the details like the size of the can lights (wattage, aperture opening, trim color/style etc). The list of unanswered specifications is usually quite long and many of these questions can not be answered by the homeowner without leaning on their contractor. THESE QUESTIONS SHOULD BE ANSWERED BY THE DESIGNER- NOT THE CONTRACTOR!!!!!!!!! Some of the omissions are code related like "IC type" can lights, air tight can lights, fluorescent vs incandescent, vacancy sensors etc.
During my tenure as an electrician apprentice I received exactly ZERO education/training in the design/decision making/aesthetics end of the remodel world. This is typical and understandable seeing that I was an electrician apprentice and NOT a designer apprentice. When confronted with the prospect of having to make a decision regarding the electrical portion of their remodel many homeowners will say to me "Well you are the pro here, so you tell me". That is wrong. You should NEVER take the word of a contractor in lieu of proper planning. Once again know this- We contractors do not have, and most never will have, any amount of design making capability. We earn a living by building/installing as per well drawn and thought out plans, and not by wasting our time answering a laundry list of technical questions that should not be our responsibility.
Homeowners should know this- IF YOU DECIDE TO GO CHEAP ON THE PLANS THEN EXPECT TO HAVE A NIGHTMARE OF A REMODELING EXPERIENCE. Before you build you should make damn sure you have answered ALL of your questions.
The term "Design Build" is thrown around by architects/designers quite a lot today. Let me clarify something here. "Design Build" works well ONLY on large scale projects. This is where some of the planning (decision making) is done while the building is being done. On a residential remodel job there is NO time for "shoot from the hip" decision making. Usually this type of project is a "fast track" job. This means that the homeowner does not want her home/kitchen torn apart any longer than absolutely necessary. For this to happen ALL questions MUST be answered BEFORE one tears the kitchen to pieces. I have seen on many occasions where the kitchen gets torn apart very quickly only for the job to come to a screeching halt due to unanswered technicalities, which likely could have been answered during the design process.
This lack of proper design in the residential remodel world has become like a cancer to the industry. What may seem like a simple enough job to the homeowner many times is not the case. Do yourself a giant favor- Plan your job for a year (no kidding here) and then build in a very short amount of time with few headaches. PLEASE QUIT BASHING THE CONTRACTORS AND GET REAL WITH YOUR PLANNING!!!!!!!! It is time that you homeowners get your heads out of your colons, and spend the correct amount of time and money on the planning.
On Oct. 27, a comment was" Hire and architect". This is good advice. Architects are not expensive (!). They (or at least many) will work on an hourly basis to give you info as you need it or do a whole design (drawings, details, etc) for any size job (from a deck or a new half bath to a whole new house). They will help clarify your planning and goals; review zoning and legal requirements; help review materials, suppliers, contractors; set up the job so there is quality control; etc., etc. A licensed interior designer or any licensed design professional will be able to help sort the job out and make sure the consumer is getting what they are paying for. It also takes a huge time and energy burden and learning curve off the shoulders of the owners/family/working mom and dad/etc who should be attending to their lives, not trying to learn how to be a construction professional.
Hire an independent licensed professional to oversee and coordinate the work.
A good contractor is one who will willingly provide references from other customers.
Call these references, if the customer is willing, go see the finished product. I dont' agree that you should look at a ten year old project, and that would rely on what condition the customer kept the project in.
Budget....any good contractor will give you several options dependent on your budget.
Make sure that your contract is specific on what you will recieve for your money and the timeline.
Never, never, never, give all the money for the project before the work is completed and the project is done to your satisfaction.
Understand that delays can occur, but alternatives should be available should special orders, etc. turn into timeline nightmares.
Remember the old saying " you get what you pay for".
Trust your intuition and avoid falling for the smooth talking front person selling you the job.
Checking for licensing numbers, insurance coverage, and following the proper steps should insure that you get what you pay for, and are happy with the project.
A final comment, unless you as a consumer see something that is totally unsatisfactory as the project continues, let the contractor and his workers do their work.
A plumber once told me that he has three prices. One if you basically stay out of the way and let them do their work, a slightly higher price is you are talking to them while they are working and the top dollar if your head is under the sink with them.