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You may be considering a home renovation project or even buying an investment property to renovate. With a major investment ahead, it’s best to do a little homework before moving forward.
Some stories of unscrupulous handymen or contractors may be true (starting a job, then disappearing with your money), and other stories may be embellished narratives to warn others. Keep in mind, however, that contractors have their share of real-life homeowner horror stories, too. As diligently as they try to complete their work, many of their clients change their mind midstream about materials that have already been ordered, prompting the contractor to take three steps back to punt just when they thought the job was nearly over.
Just as you want to know all there is about the surgeon who will perform a medical procedure on you, you should make it your business to have detailed criteria when choosing a contractor. You may believe you can gain much of this information from the pages of Angie’s List or Home Adviser, but these sites should be considered mere conversation starters. Know that the first leads on Angie’s List and Home Adviser may be paid placements and may not contain the best contractors for your project. That’s why it’s best to consider online recommendations as just one part of the hiring process and consult references from your prospective contractors for quality, customer service and other important hiring factors.
You should receive a thorough proposal from your prospective contractors, describing in detail the work to be performed and allowances spelled out when hiring considerations are being made. Be warned that a low bid may be just as troublesome a sign as inflated one. Make sure when comparing price, you are also comparing the scope of work to be performed, the amount of allowances provided and what's NOT included in each proposal.
The first step may be an online search into a contractor’s credentials through the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board, hblb.alabama.gov. To be a licensed General Contractor you must have a license, insurance, and accreditation. For example, Welcome Home Construction’s license number is 25427. A great resource is www.buildersassn.org, the home page of the Huntsville/Madison County Builder’s Association. There you can find licensed contractors in different fields and specialties. A good resource too is the National Association of Home Builder’s handout that has a checklist for finding and hiring a builder or remodeler, available through the NAHB website.
Next, ask about a contractor’s history and specialties. Find out about past projects, what trades they outsource, how long most of their workers have been with them, what their scheduling process looks like, and how many jobs they juggle at the same time. Better to know when they may be able to dedicate the lion’s share of their time to your project than wonder how many days per week they may be elsewhere. If there is ongoing or recently completed work you can see in person take the opportunity to do so.
Ask too about the steps the contractor will take to protect the non-impacted parts of your home, your lawn and your landscaping from damage and dust during the project.
Ask the candidate you’re considering how long they have worked as a contractor and how long they have operated their own business. While a deep background is helpful, quality, project timing and customer service may be better guidelines. Organizational skills are a must to get work done on time and on budget.
Another critical piece of information is knowing how a contractor communicates with their clients. Communication is key to managing both parties’ expectations. When contacting references ask about their experience with communication to their contractor. If you need regular face-to-face contact and a contractor prefers to merely text you when he gets home every other day, it may not be a good match.
Finally, get everything in writing, and apart from an initial deposit and scheduled progress payments, don’t pay in full until the final punch list is fulfilled.
If you would like to talk to us about your next project call 256-683-1776 or email me at Bill@whcala.com
It’s a no-brainer. You can fold laundry to it, play your own music in the background or walk away from it. Then you can come back 55 minutes later and see the “big reveal” of a home that was renovated on a reality real estate TV network. It’s gorgeous, of course, and people are giddy over the results. Who wouldn’t be?
The formula for each show like this is the pretty much the same every time. Find fixer-upper. Buy fixer-upper. Choose a budget with or without the buyers (if you are an investor, you do this for yourself). Show all the unexpected stuff that happens along the way as the home gets made over. Who knew there would be lead paint applied to and asbestos behind the walls of a 100-year old house? Then show the gratifying final product — one that looks NOTHING like the original on the inside (fully staged, of course) and sometimes on the outside.
But how about those budgets and timelines they present, usually listed right there on the screen? After all, what you’d pay for materials and labor in Waco, TX, does NOT equate what you’d pay in LA, New York, or Miami, so are these shows just leading us down the rosy path to dream home budget disaster? Does pricing include labor? How much of the stuff you see is furnished by sponsors, home staging professionals, or contractors hoping to get noticed and willing to give away their services? Do these 7-8 week timelines they talk about happen only when the show employs multiple crews working around the clock — something we plebes could never arrange nor afford? Since the credits at the end of the shows do not include these disclosures, we’ll never know.
Doing a bit of research, here is what we found:
Renovation costs on reality TV shows are usually unrealistically low. Contractor quotes for gutting houses on these entertaining shows coming in at around the $50,000 to $60,000 for some savings-strapped homeowner or clever house flipper would probably soak the rest of us to the tune of $100 to $200K. In neighborhoods close to major cities, renovation costs for an entire house flip would rarely be less than six figures unless the house was a tiny bungalow or a condo.
The average cost of a kitchen remodel alone (new cabinets, appliances, countertops, etc) — WITHOUT relocating appliances, plumbing, or changing the room’s footprint —is about $30,000 according to Home Advisor. So when you watch these shows and see walls coming down to make way for new kitchen islands, sinks being moved necessitating jack-hammering concrete foundations and fancy vent hoods with marble backsplashes being installed, you can bet the price would be triple for you and me, and there would be no remaining budget for that new fireplace fascia, the gorgeous new master bath or a state-of-the-art laundry room they include in the show.
So if you’re in the market for a great deal on a house to live in, remodel or flip, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain of a reality real estate TV show when it comes to pricing and timelines. Values are not what they seem (nor profits), and expectations are wildly out of line with reality. These shows (while fun to watch to gather ideas for projects you’d like to tackle in your own home) are crafted for entertainment value first and foremost. In the meantime, they do get the laundry folded.