Journal of a Remodelee, Part 11 of 11
Originally appeared in Hills Publications, Aug. 4, 2006 and ANG Newspapers, Aug. 5, 2006
After over eight months and much aggravation, my wife, Sonia, and I have completed our major home remodel and we are thrilled with the results. Here we share do’s and don’ts learned along the way.
The right contractor.
Your most important decision is which contractor to hire. Fortunately for us, I have met many contractors in my almost 27-year real estate practice. There is only one I use and feel comfortable recommending.
I have received many e-mails since this series began. Most ask me for my contractor’s name, which I am glad to provide. After working with him for over 20 years, I respect these key things: 1) he is totally honest and can be counted on to keep his word and be accountable when problems arise; 2) the quality of his work is outstanding.
Insist that the contractor you hire is licensed and has sufficient Errors and Omissions and Worker’s Comp insurance. Hiring an unlicensed contractor is folly; what you save in dollars, you will end up paying in other ways.
You get what you pay for.
Over the years I have seen that contractors who charge the least make their profits on volume – fast in and out. A quality operation does not take shortcuts. It costs more, but is worth it.
Whether it was choosing the floor refinisher, window supplier, tiles for kitchen and baths, granite, lighting and plumbing fixtures, kitchen cabinets or heating system, we placed value above cost, although we did not have an unlimited budget. In the end, we are happy with both the workmanship and materials, despite the fact that we spent more than we had hoped.
Move out or stay?
In psychological terms, this is the classic “avoidance-avoidance” conflict, choosing the better of two bad options. Moving out is a pain, but, if you can handle the cost and logistics, it is the best choice for your emotional and physical well being.
The downside of living somewhere else, even if nearby, is that you may not be there at critical times to answer questions about your preferences, especially when the unexpected occurs. In addition, you might miss the opportunity to catch a major mistake before it costs you money and grief.
Living in the house during the entire process allowed Sonia and I to be on top of everything. When things went wrong, we made sure they were corrected quickly. The price we paid was lack of privacy, constant interruptions and the incessant dirt, dust and noise. If we could have found a rental near the house that accepted our two poodles, we would have done that.
Get permits, and have them finaled.
I recently chatted with a woman I know who was having her kitchen updated. She complained that the contractor did not do the kitchen as she had asked and expected, despite, what she felt were, clear instructions. Reluctantly, she accepted the result.
When I asked if she was working under permit, she said no. Had she hired an architect or kitchen designer to draw up plans? No. And, she said, she was paying the contractor a substantial amount.
Permits on major remodeling protect you. City inspectors may find structural, heath or safety issues that need to be addressed. Further, in all but the hottest of seller’s markets, having significant remodeling done without permit will likely impact your selling price negatively.
I counsel my buyers not to buy a home where an addition or major renovation has been done without permit. Such a property presents an unnecessary safety and investment risk for the buyer.
Know what you want.
Start creating a file of pictures and ideas from design magazines, books and TV shows long before beginning the construction process. Visit open houses. Hire an architect and/or kitchen/bathroom designer.
Having done her research, Sonia visualized exactly what our house would look and feel like after completion. Throughout, she was able to articulate specifics to the crew so that, even though the plans had many errors of omission and commission, Sonia kept them moving toward her goal.
Have the contractor work from plans, not seat of the pants. Permits are important because the city/county will insist on reviewing architectural plans for large jobs.
Think carefully about paint choices; you will be living with those colors for years. If this is not your strength, hire a color consultant. For a nominal fee, he or she will guide you through the color maze of warm vs. cold, absorption rates, finishes, etc.
Do not chose colors from paint chips alone. Make sure to buy samples and paint large swatches to see how they look on your walls. Only by doing this did we end up with colors that please our eyes and our emotions. Do not count on your painter for color advice.
Even the best craftsman will make some mistakes or encounter problems that cannot be resolved totally to your satisfaction. Go to war on the big things; accept minor errors.
For example, we had to give up on lights above the kitchen cabinets. Once they were installed, it was discovered there would not be enough room to insert a hand to change the bulbs.
When things seem their worst, don’t lose your temper. During the project, one of our major worries was how they were going to get those huge slabs of granite into the house.
Even though six men carried a nine foot section of granite up the steps, they dropped it just outside our back door. Considering the multiple breaks in the bull nose, we remained calm while talking to the installer. His repairs were amazing; no one would ever know chunks had cracked off.
No matter how trying, the ordeal will end. Make the right decisions at the start and you will enjoy the outcome.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 1 – It begins; we know there will be the inevitable surprises, but optimistically hope previous experiences will help renovations go smoothly.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 2 – Holding our breaths that some irreversible glitch does not take place while we are out earning a living.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 3 – An eliminated window is mistakenly left in the plans while miscalculations in light fixture placement increases costs.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 4 – Even with a great construction crew, once again we learn you can’t count on them to think of everything.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 5 – Mislabeling of tile grout almost results disaster.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 6 – We are reminded how important it is for at least one of us to stay close at hand to answer questions as they arise.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 7 – Back from a holiday break, we experience more surprises and a frustrating accident.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 8 – Surprises and scheduling conflicts can’t detract from enjoying our new kitchen.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 9 – It is all coming together…almost.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 10 – City inspections and the finish line.
Journal of a Remodelee, Part 11 – Eight months’ worth of do’s and don’ts.