When a homeowner signs an agreement with a General Contractor, there are pitfalls to avoid that add cost and stress. As a rule of thumb, count on added costs as the remodel progresses. When figuring a budget, allow 25% above the contract amount for eventualities. Even experienced contractors can’t see into walls to find hidden dry rot, previous substandard workmanship or other surprises. Remodeling is a complex, multi-trade activity that is improving an already existing complex, multi-trade structure.
As well as allowing for “extras” that the contractor or homeowner adds to the original contract, homeowners should be alert to five preventable mistakes.
1. Omissions in the written contract.
During the bidding process, the contractor may explain tasks he will do and products he will produce. Make sure these are in the written contract. Not only is it the legal instrument, but promises may be forgotten.
2. Short-cutting structural requirements due to lack of a building permit.
Inspectors are there to make sure that the foundations are deep enough, the correct wood is used and the correct fastening hardware holds it all together. They make sure the plumbing and electrical are up to code. Inspectors are the Quality Control of the building industry. No permit equals no inspector. If you are not sure whether your project needs a building permit, check with your local Building and Safety Department.
3. Underbidding with requests for more money.
Correct estimation is an art form. It takes knowledge of building trades and must include things that don’t make it into the contract such as purchasing and storing materials, setting up tools and equipment, and organizing repetitive tasks. The contractor is responsible for figuring out the time entailed and the cost of expenses. In a down economy, a cushion for error may be eliminated in an effort to lower the bid and get the work. Homeowners should be suspicious of a bid that seems a lot lower than their other two estimates, since that contractor may press them for more funds if he “ran out of money to finish the job.”
4. Shoddy work due to lack of training and experience.
Checking references is a way to gauge past products. One remodeling company, when interviewing job applicants, asked the person to complete a simple task, such as sawing a piece of wood and nailing it to the workbench. By observing the confidence and ease of using a tool or the frustration and ineptitude, the over-confident could be weeded out from those who knew their actual skill level.
5. The worst rip-off is lack of communication.
The bid appointment is a good guide to the company’s attitude towards punctuality. If the estimator was running late, did you get a call before the scheduled time to make a new appointment? How fast did the estimator return calls and send out a bid? During a job, good communication is needed from beginning to end. Lack of communication means time wasted trying to contact each other. And, the contractor needs to ensure that the job is progressing along customer specifications; otherwise, there could be upsets and redos. The homeowner has questions and concerns, so communication levels must be high on both ends of the build.
A little vigilance by both homeowner and contractor can circumvent these problems before they happen. In that way, the temporary whirlwind of the remodel will calm down quickly and the homeowner can reap the rewards of a revitalized space that better suits their needs and lifestyle.