Higgins Building and Remodeling

Tips for stress-free home remodeling
Here's a guide for how to budget, plan a remodel, and choose a contractor.

By HOME AND GARDEN STAFF / The Orange County Register

Dreaming about remodeling your home but don't want the nightmares that too often are associated with it?

The strain on your marriage. No bathroom or kitchen for weeks on end. Dirt and dust everywhere. Workers on the job before you even wake up. A remodel that never seems to end.

Remodeling your home doesn't mean you have to live these nightmares. It's kind of like what makes a good marriage; you have to work at it.

Here are 25 tips to help you budget, plan the remodel and choose a contractor or remodeling company.

1. Decide first why you want to remodel. To gain more room? Update your home? This will help you focus and plan the remodel rather than approaching it willy-nilly.

2. If a restructuring of your home will be involved, check with your local building department about whether ordinances will restrict your effort. Are there easements? For instance, buried electrical cable may run through one side of your yard. The electric company may hold the rights to that land. It would prevent you from building a permanent structure on it. Are there height limitations? Perhaps you're restricted to a one-story house. If you add to your home, perhaps a second floor will block a neighbor's view.

3. If you belong to a homeowners association, must you get association approval first? This can include everything from additions to the color of walls.

4. Unless it's a simple remodel, hire an architect or home designer. Either should be able to help you maximize use of space at the least cost. Your best bet on hiring one should be word of mouth or seeing firsthand a project the architect has already done.

In choosing an architect, don't necessarily go by the style of homes he or she has done. A good architect can adapt to any style.

5. Make sure you obtain the necessary permits from your local governing body. The remodeling company can pull the permits. Or, if you are acting as your own contractor, you can do it. Usually that means going to a building or planning department and getting an initial permit after inspectors examine and approve your plan, and then having them come out after the job. The inspectors will follow "code," which are rules/guidelines the governing body has created.

You'd be amazed at how many permits usually are required even for the simplest job.

6. Develop a realistic budget. This is best done by consulting with an architect or remodeling company. If you intend to act as your own contractor, there are plenty of books available to help you estimate costs. Subcontractors you may hire directly can also help. Once you've got your budget, add at least 10 percent. Most remodels run over either from inaccurate budget forecasting or from additions to the original plan.

7. Before you choose a contractor, check him out with the Contractors State License Board, the Better Business Bureau and with any references he gives you. Ask to see the remodeler's work license. Don't just take a license number or the remodeler's word that he has one. Then ask to see his driver's license to see if it matches the contractor license. If the remodeler is properly licensed he shouldn't mind.

Unlicensed contractors undercut his prices and ruin public confidence in legitimate contractors.

8. Make sure the contractor is properly bonded. Ask to see proof of the bond.

9. When you talk with an architect or contractor, ask about square-foot cost of the style of home you're considering. Compare it to other styles. This cost can vary greatly.

10. Don't be afraid to express your wishes to your architect and contractor. After all, it's your property they're working on and your money they're taking.

11. Stick to those wishes for your remodel if they're doable. This is your chance to have your home the way you want it.

12. If the architect and contractor or subcontractors say something can't be done, abide by that decision. If you don't, the entire job could be delayed, it might cost you more money, and you may wind up with something that doesn't work or won't last.

13. Get at least three bids. If one or two are very high or very low, it's usually a good idea to toss them. However, if you love the previous work done by one bidder, don't be afraid to pay a bit more to get the kind of quality you want.

14. When talking about materials for your home - particularly exterior materials - consider the maintenance factor. How much effort and money do you want to spend?

15. Remember to have enough money ready - more than you'd expect to spend - for "finish" work. This is painting, staining, moldings and the like that you and visitors to your home will see. Too often remodelers try to get by with paying for basic structural changes and have no money left for finish work.

16. Do the best you can to plan for weather problems. Want a new roof? If you have it done during the rainy season, you're asking for problems. Scheduling your remodel by the weather is only as accurate as weather forecasts for your area.

17. Before signing the contract, set a finish date.

18. As part of your contract, a schedule of payments - usually after certain parts of the job are undertaken or finished - should be included. Stick to the schedule. Do not let your payments get ahead of the contractor's work.

19. Be as specific as possible in your contract with the remodeling company. If you're having new tile installed, for instance, have the exact tile specified in the contract. Besides tile size and color, mention a specific brand and specific color or pattern that company makes. Though remodeling companies can show some flexibility beyond their contracts, chances are you will pay a lot more.

20. Ask for a basic timeline, such as how long it will take for a foundation to be built, how long for framing, rough electrical and plumbing, etc. 21. Any changes - even those in the back of your mind - should be discussed and settled before you sign the contract. Changes afterward could cost you a bundle of money and time spent.

21. Expect problems and delays. Few remodeling projects go without either. Also expect a lot of stress. This may not happen, as some remodels go smoothly. But if you plan to stay in your home during the remodel, there will be many problems if there are structural changes to the home. The workers will most likely come early. You may not have use of your kitchen for a while. Or you may have to use the kids' bathroom while yours is being made over. Plan on leisurely weekends or moving out.

22. Treat your workers well. A little extra kindness, such as sodas and water, use of a bathroom on the site, can go a long way.

23. Do not make the final payment until you are satisfied with the job.

Call Fred today at 781-383-0027 to arrange a free consultation on your next building or remodeling project. We look forward to serving all of your home carpentry needs.

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