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11 Remodeling Tips

Dennis Friedman  |  August 24, 2020

WE JUST STARTED remodeling our house. I knew it would be an expensive project. Indeed, my next-door neighbor warned me about the difficulty of controlling costs.

He said they netted $250,000 from the sale of their old house. Their plan was to remodel their current home and use the remaining proceeds to pay off the mortgage on their vacation property. But unfortunately, they blew through their remodeling budget and didn’t have enough left over to pay off the other mortgage.

Have you heard the term “scope creep?” This is when a project’s requirements increase over the life of the project. In other words, you keep adding more work to the original plan. I’m guilty of scope creep.

After the start of our project, we decided to upgrade the overhead lighting in our kitchen and add LED lights under the cabinets. This wasn’t in our original plan, but the contractor suggested it would be an energy efficient way to add more lighting, while improving the look of the kitchen.

One way to prevent scope creep is to have a signed written statement of work that you and the project manager agree on. This will help prevent unauthorized work. Another way is to just say “no” to unnecessary work, which I didn’t.

Here are 11 other pointers:

  • Hire licensed contractors. They might be more expensive, but it can be worth the extra money. Licensed contractors are trained to meet all the requirements proposed by the city and federal government. This includes obtaining all permits, passing safety inspections and meeting all quality tests. For instance, after the demolition of our kitchen, our contractor made sure the required air quality test was performed.
  • Consider legal issues. Most licensed contractors have liability insurance that provides financial protection in case of bodily injury claims or property damage during the renovation. For instance, if someone gets injured on your property, the contractor’s insurance will cover the medical expenses. If an unlicensed contractor damaged your home and you had hired someone who wasn’t qualified to do the work, your homeowner’s insurance might not cover the damage. Licensed contractors will also provide you with a signed legal contract that can give you additional protection, should there be a dispute over the work performed.
  • Get at least three quotes. If you have multiple rooms being renovated, ask the contractors to quote each room separately. That makes it easier to compare bids and you may decide it’s worth using more than one contractor.
  • Pay in increments. Tie those payments to work that’s been completed. Ask for a payment schedule prior to the start of the project, so you can get a better understanding of how the contractor is going to charge you. Never pay the full amount upfront.
  • Budget for contingencies. You should always have a reserve fund for the unknown, such as mold discovered after the demolition of a kitchen or bathroom.
  • Avoid self-inflicted wounds. If you’re replacing kitchen cabinets, it’s a good idea to have one person handle the job from start to finish. For instance, you don’t want your contractor to take the required measurements and then you use those figures to purchase the cabinets. If the cabinets don’t fit, you could be responsible for the discrepancy—and stuck with cabinets that don’t fit. Faced with that risk, we ordered our cabinets and countertop through our contractor.
  • Make sure your contractor is responsible for all worked performed by the subcontractors. It’ll make your life easier when resolving issues with poor workmanship.
  • Save shipping costs by asking your contractor to pick up your big and heavy items from local stores. For instance, we purchased tile, vanities and toilets online, and had them shipped to local stores for pickup.
  • Some contractors are notorious for not returning calls and meeting schedules. If they delay getting you a quote, that’s a good indication of how they’ll perform on the job.
  • Ask contractors how they’re dealing with COVID-19. Our contractor requires its employees to wear masks and to get tested periodically.
  • Ask for references. See if you can get videos or photos from contractors of their completed projects to help you determine the quality of their work.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include Trust but VerifyNo Vacation and Changing My Mind. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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