After the long winter, many people start to focus on home improvement projects. Our project began last fall, when we bought a fixer-upper and true to its name, required extensive repairs. Although the completion date was targeted for early January, various aspects of the project are still ongoing. I am happy to report that the end appears to be in sight and we are still on speaking terms with the general contractor who we hired.
Following the guidelines offered by the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation was the easy part. The contractor pulled the appropriate permits with the town. We checked he was registered with the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund, called all his references and verified that his workers compensation and liability insurance were up to date.
Overall, we are pleased with the results, but it has been a long haul. Having never tackled a project to this extent, we were definitely at a disadvantage and learned by trail and error. If you are considering a home improvement project, here are some tips to consider to ensure a good result.
Interview at least three contractors. We had four visit the house and spoke extensively with another. Each contractor offered his suggestions, which were helpful in determining the final design. Obviously, there were many questions. Three contractors promptly returned follow up phone calls and took the time to patiently answer our concerns. Two contractors eventually got back to us. In the months ahead, you are going to be working closely with this person. If phone calls are not returned in a timely fashion in the exploratory stage, you could be headed for a difficult time. We were fortunate to have worked with a contractor who responded to our texts promptly and even came to our rescue when the new washing machine door leaked.
Most large projects will require “subs” or subcontractors. It is in your best interest to meet and interview them as well. Have your list of questions ready when they come in. We were particularly impressed with our general contractor’s subs. They were professional, knowledgeable and addressed our issues.
Study the contract very, very carefully. The devil is in the details and there will be many details. Are there provisions for work that is sub par? Consumer Affairs recommends that hiring an attorney to review the document, which is a good idea. We didn’t, but spent many hours crunching numbers and scrutinizing the details.
Determine who is responsible when mistakes are made. In our case, the kitchen designer’s measurement of the stove’s dimensions was inaccurate. As a result the lower cabinets did not fit and had to be reordered and reconfigured. The hardware for the cabinets was incorrectly ordered and needed to be replaced. His company ate the additional costs.
As you move through the project, it is inevitable that there will be upgrades and changes. Make sure your contractor documents the costs and that both of you approve it in writing. Some examples might be an estimate from the lumberyard for trim or additional tile. We used “change orders” throughout the project ensuring that everyone was on the same page.
If you are changing or upgrading your electrical system, lighting, and receptacles, plan ahead of time where everything will be placed. The same goes with plumbing fixtures. Given these contractors’ busy schedule, they may just show up unexpectedly ready to go into action.
And finally, hold back 10% of the cost until the punch list has been taken care of to your satisfaction. Most contractors will be on to their next job so getting them back to complete the final details can be challenging.
Two months later we are almost at the end of our project. Was it worth it? Most definitely, but I will admit, the absence of constant dust, endless visits of work crews and volley of daily texts will be wonderful!