Avoid home remodeling snafus --
"Communications are a critical component
of your arrangement," says DiPrimio. "Make sure
all details of the work are spelled out in a written contract,
including specifics about material to be used and the time
frame for starting and completing the work. And never, never
give an advance deposit greater than one-third of the contract
When something goes wrong
Even with your best efforts to choose the right contractor,
everything may not go smoothly. That's why it's important
to keep good records. From the initial estimate to a running
journal of progress and problems, make sure it's in writing.
If you have a grievance, communicate it
to the contractor in writing as soon as possible. Your letter
should clearly spell out your concerns and include a reasonable
timetable for the contractor to respond. Deliver your letters
in person or send them certified mail, return receipt requested.
Laws in most communities allow contractors the
right to make a reasonable effort to correct unsatisfactory
work, and you should, too. Better Business Bureau files on
complaint cases show that most contractor problems can be
resolved through better communications between the parties.
"I have mediated enough complaints to realize that sometimes
the real issue has nothing to do with the quality of work,"
says Richard Davis, executive director of the Remodeling Contractors
Association, "but everything to do with the quality of
the relationship between people."
If your good faith efforts to resolve
things with the contractor prove unsuccessful, your next step
should be to file a complaint with the local Better Business
Bureau and the Department of Consumer Protection in your state.
When complaints don't help, small claims
court may be an effective option. In most states, filing a
small claims suit is a simple process that requires only the
payment of a small filing fee. The services of a lawyer are
The disadvantage of small claims judgments
in many states is the lack of teeth in the enforcement procedures.
"Even if you win," says DiPrimio, "if the contractor
does not voluntarily comply with the judgment, you may have
to hire a constable to repossess property and auction it off
to settle the claim."
While seeking full legal redress in court
is always an option, most experts agree that taking your problem
to a lawyer should be your last resort. "That's why it's
so important to avoid situations where litigation of any type
may become necessary," says DiPrimio. "Never make
the final payment to your contractor until the work has been
completed to your satisfaction."
Doing it yourself
"Some homeowners are capable of producing beautiful work
at minimum cost," says DiPrimio. "However it's important
that you be honest with yourself about your level of skills.
When homeowners attempt jobs beyond their abilities, the results
can be disastrous."
Even if you're handy with hammer and saw,
you should consider the time that will be required to do the
job, your own work schedule, and how it all will fit in with
family commitments. If a kitchen remodeling that should take
two weeks drags on for months, your family will have to find
expensive alternatives for meals. And sometimes the cost of
the tools or equipment you'll need to do the job will offset
some, if not all, of the financial benefits of doing it yourself.
Partial upgrades worthwhile
You may also want to rethink whether it's really necessary
to completely overhaul a particular space. Bahman Azarm, president
of Remodeling Contractors Association of Connecticut, says,
"Many times changing a countertop, backsplash, and faucet
in the kitchen will make it look and feel like a new room,
and changing the vanity in a guest bath to a pedestal sink
can make a small bathroom feel much more spacious and inviting."
Bill Lynott is a freelance
writer based in Pennsylvania.