A 'good sense'
To save headaches later, consider drawing up a short
list of qualified professionals in your area by logging
on to the National
Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National
Association of Home Builders or the Better
Business Bureau. To help your search go smoothly,
you could check out how
to hire a professional remodeler.
It's also good sense to make sure the
contractor you choose has:
- verifiable business licenses,
certification and professional affiliations.
- previous work experience, including
a verifiable list of local customer references.
- financial security (check banking
and supplier references).
- adequate insurance to protect
you and your property against loss or suit.
- good communication skills.
That last item should not be taken lightly.
When you get down to writing the contract, clear communication
on both sides is your single best insurance against
a remodeling nightmare.
Once you've solicited bids from several licensed professionals,
studied them carefully and selected your contractor,
it's time to commit the project to paper. In general,
remodeling contracts come in three flavors:
- Cost plus. You and your
contractor arrive at an estimated cost and you agree
to pay all actual costs plus the contractor's fee.
It's a common type of bid, but you assume the risk
of cost overruns and corrections.
- Turnkey. The
contractor commits to a fixed price for cost overruns.
Change requests are documented, signed by both parties
and typically paid for prior to the change being made.
- Combination. If
you choose to do part of the work yourself, you may
combine elements of the cost plus and turnkey approach.
The key is making each party's responsibilities absolutely
Your contract should include:
- detailed descriptions covering
all aspects of the work to be done.
- remodeling plans signed by both
- payment plan (never pay more
than 30 percent down).
- start and finish dates.
- change order process, to be approved
by you before work is done.
- final inspection and sign-off
requirement prior to final payment.
In addition, include these provisions:
- Cancellation rights.
When you sign a remodeling contract, you have three
business days to change your mind and cancel it. Contractors
are required to tell you about this right and provide
you with any cancellation forms.
- Lien protection. On
large projects involving subcontractors, protect yourself
from liens against your home in the event your primary
contractor fails to pay the subs. This can be done
by a release-of-lien addendum or by placing your payments
in escrow until the work is finished.
It is the contractor's responsibility to obtain building
permits, if required, and to perform the work in accordance
with all building codes.
- Warranty clause. Make
sure all warranties on products and materials installed
by your contractor are in writing and verified.
Control the quality
You've heard the old phrase "built
to spec," right?
Well, specifications, or specs, are written
instructions detailing how the work on your project
is to be completed, including installation processes,
materials and actual products to be used. Without specs,
a contractor is free to complete the work to his or
her satisfaction, not yours.
If your project is a major one and your
budget allows, have your architect include specs with
your blueprint and hire a knowledgeable professional
as your independent inspector to make sure the work
is performed "to spec."
Bottom line: The best-laid plans of home
remodeling have a way of going awry without your watchful
eye to oversee the process from start to finish. If
you want it done right, hire a reliable professional,
get everything in writing in the contract, and then
watch over it like a hawk to make sure your contractor
is performing quality work.
Then, of course, sit back and enjoy what
you have caused to be done so well.
MacDonald is a freelance writer based in Mississippi.
editorial assistant Leslie Hunt contributed to this
Posted: April 12, 2006