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Avoid home remodeling snafus

With approximately 20 million homeowners completing home improvement projects each year, it's a pretty safe bet not every one of them will be happy with the job.

True, there are no easy ways to guarantee you can get the job done right and at a reasonable cost, but there are some important steps you can take to improve the odds that you'll be pleased with the job.

If you've been thinking about sprucing up the family manse with a major or minor remodeling project, you have lots of company. In 2004, homeowners completed about 50 million home improvement projects and spent nearly $138.1 billion, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Home remodeling projects offer lots of opportunities for increasing comfort and enhancing lifestyle, along with potential pitfalls for the unwary.

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Most people who are about to spend big bucks for a new kitchen, bath, or other home improvement have two major considerations: How much is this going to cost me, and how do I get the job done right?

Low-cost, high-cost
While the so-called "high-end" market -- homeowners with seemingly bottomless pocketbooks -- is one of the fastest-growing segments of the remodeling industry, most consumers rank cost as a major consideration in home remodeling plans. Prospective home remodelers with pocketbook constraints are likely to learn one important lesson early: The project will cost.

According to the Harvard study, the average do-it-yourselfer who did a minor bathroom remodeling in 2004 spent $701. The average for a major do-it-yourself bathroom remodeling was $5,186. For those who relied on professionals to do the job, a minor bathroom overhaul cost $1,712, a major remodeling, $12,272.

Obviously, the range from $701 to $12,272 is too broad to help much in financial projections. To cloud the issue further, these figures are averages. Bathroom and kitchen replacements with price tags in excess of $100,000 are becoming less of a rarity.

Where you live is another variable in the equation if you intend to have your remodeling job done by professionals. Using data from 35 different cities, Remodeling magazine's 2002 Cost vs. Value Report showed San Francisco and Boston among the most expensive markets for remodeling, while Detroit was among the least expensive.

The bottom line: You'll just have to tell several local contractors what you want to do and get their estimates for the job.

Most popular improvements
Kitchen and bathroom remodeling continue to top the priority list for most homeowners. However, with more and more families choosing to stay close to home these days, the addition of a comfortable family room, incorporating the latest in audio and video technology, is rapidly becoming a must.

Government studies indicate that 40 percent of a typical home's energy loss is through poorly insulated and poorly fitted windows and doors. Since cozier homes are energy efficient, window and door replacements are the first home-improvement projects for some homeowners.

Locating a dependable contractor
"Selecting the wrong contractor is the No. 1 mistake in home remodeling," says John DiPrimio, veteran contractor and owner of DiPrimio Construction, Jenkintown, Pa. He offers these suggestions to help you through the important job of finding the right contractor for your job:

  • Ask neighbors, friends, and family members for referrals.
  • Get at least three estimates.
  • Ask for references from the contractor and follow-up by contacting them to see if they were satisfied with their jobs.
  • Ask to see the contractor's insurance certificates, both general liability and workmen's compensation.
  • Check with suppliers to see if the contractor pays his bills on time.
  • Check with the building department in your community to see if there are any unresolved complaints about the contractor.


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-- Updated: April 15, 2005

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