4 Ways to Help Prevent a Bad Home Renovations
1. Contractor Vetting Process
Don’t just call a few people and decide which one you like best, interview 5-6 companies or more to come up with the list of three contractors you’d feel comfortable working with. Once you have your 3 potential contractors, ask them hard questions. Many homeowners have a tendency to only ask a remodeler if they’re licensed and how much they charge.
Those are important things to know, but there are so many more questions that should be answered. Ask how long they have been in business, and if they’ve worked in the area before. If they have, they’ll most likely want to protect their reputation and do a quality job, but that doesn’t mean a company further away will not. Check out the contractors’ references and look at their recent work and/or their current works in progress, if possible, look at work they did five to 10 years ago to see how well the job held up, especially here in New England you want to be sure they understand the problems hard winters and driving rains can bring. Another way to prevent problems down the road is to be sure the contractor knows what your expectations are. Many times the homeowner is unhappy with the final result because the finished product wasn’t what they envisioned. On larger projects its important that you ask the contractor/builder if they do design work using CAD (computer animated design) this way during the design phase (see why design build works) a 3D rendering or a computer-generated picture can be produced to help you understand what the finished product will look like. It’s cheaper and easier to make changes to a digital model than to the actual construction.
2. Complete Set Of Documents
Once a contractor has been selected for the project work with him or her to produce an accurate design, then from the design build an accurate estimate. This estimate needs to be complete with product and material specifications to include all model numbers, part numbers or manufacture details. You are setting yourself up for failure if you think you can get an accurate estimate from some scribbling on a piece of paper and a lump sum estimate on a generic form. A schedule for project completion to include milestones that will be met along the way, like the completion and inspections of all rough in work before closing in the walls. This is the time to be sure all the plugs are in the right place, switches are as located where you expect them to be (per the plan). Any changes to the wiring for lighting or otherwise now is the time to do it, same with plumbing and heating. Once the walls are closed in it will be twice as expensive to redo these things, not to mention the time delay. Delivery of the cabinets would be another milestone to consider to inspect and document any issues with the cabinets early on so it does not delay the installation further. Watch your cost overruns so that you’re not unpleasantly surprised when the final bill comes in. Make sure any changes to the contract are done only with a change order signed by all parties involved…it’s a contract within the contract and adds to not only the bottom line but may also add to the time line for completion, which should also be updated. There needs to be weekly site meetings, especially during the stages leading up to the roughing in of the mechanical work, ie.. electrical, plumbing heating etc… look at the fixture locations to be sure they are where they need to be, is the light centered over the sink for instance… look at the plans to be sure everything is as drawn (or as close to the plan as possible, after all it is remodeling is it not). Having thorough and accurate documents to revert back to for guidance, clarity and understanding can help avoid many unwanted problems for all concerned.
3. Don’t Put Off Problems
Either the owner OR the contractor may discover a problem or concern…if you discover problems, promptly bring documented concerns to the attention of the owner, project manager/general contractor. 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 up to the homeowner to take ownership of the problem. Conversely if the owner feels the project isn’t going well enough, mismanaged… poor leadership or is lagging due to late starts, missing days or maybe even weeks… then it is time to sit down with the general contractor to discuss and resolve the issue before it becomes a major problem for all. A response time to the problem needs to be given and agreed to by all so as not to delay the project further. Set the expectation that in this predetermined amount of time the problem should be resolved…if not another meeting needs to happen to determine the appropriate response.
4. Resolve The Issue Fast
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. Having a 2nd contractor look at the project to determine how much work is left and the cost associated with it to complete the job and check the result with the balance due on the project estimates. This may cost a nominal fee as the contractor is doing the work for your benefit to resolve an issue not involving him. Review your contract to determine how to proceed, many contracts will state that before a party can file suit, the homeowner must agree to solve the conflict through mediation. 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. 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, than great, there’s no need for one party or the other to file a lawsuit. The parties my also agree to separate and de-solve the remainder of the contract should there be sufficient monies left in the remaining budget to finish the work as originally planned for. This would be a good option if neither party, after the mediation process feels comfortable with continuing to work with each other. However, the mediator does not make a binding decision about who wins or loses. If the parties are unable to settle their differences, the next action could be arbitration or even a lawsuit. The homeowner’s 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. Going through arbitration or a lawsuit may only be worthwhile if a large amount of money is involved, because attorneys’ fees may not be recoverable, even if the homeowner wins. According to one source 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. The only winners in a law suit is the lawyers.
In summary…bottom line is do your homework; 1.Vet all the contractors thoroughly, check their references thoroughly. 2. Get s complete set plans, specification and estimates down on paper and have all parties sign understand and agree to all the documents. 3. Raise concerns immediately, don’t wait for a small problem to become a big problem later. 4. And finally… escalate if necessary, sometimes it just doesn’t work out on a remodeling project and problems arise that the two parties just cannot work out together.