Hindsight’s 20/20, which isn’t a great thing when it comes to home improvement projects. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars only to wish they’d done things differently in retrospect? To save you from making costly errors, we asked people to share theirs in the hopes that you can avoid making the same ones. Read on to save yourself some money and regret.
One thing I wish someone told me is that if you live in an old house, you may find some weird stuff in the walls, underneath the floors, or both. When my husband and I were tearing down the walls of our bedroom, we found a number of small ceramic farm animals. Then, when we took the floorboards up, we found even more! There were a few sheep, some cows, a little pig, and the faces were so creepy!
I brought them to an antique dealer who told me that they’d probably been made in the ‘40s or ‘50s, possibly even earlier. I made some money off them, which was nice, but I don’t look at my home the same way anymore. I’ve watched way too many haunted house movies not to think that the spirits of those animals are haunting my house.
If I could go back and do it over again, I’d hire a contractor and tell them not to tell me about anything they found in the walls.
[I have heard from people] that they wish they had a more realistic and itemized budget for their remodel. They failed to understand all the materials required, and they did not do enough product and brand research to determine different price points for all the products required for the remodel. This ends up being a big component of why people are over-budget on their remodeling projects.
Many homeowners end up in a bad relationship with the contractor they hired for their remodel. The root cause of this is they didn’t do enough upfront research and due diligence on their contractor they ended up selecting. They didn’t get multiple bids from different contractors, they didn’t talk to previous customers references, they didn’t check for valid insurance and contractors’ license. They paid all of the money for the project upfront, and the contractor never completed the remodel correctly.
John Bodrozic is a co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management platform that empowers homeowner to manage, maintain, protect and improve their largest financial asset, their house.
Jody Costello is a Home Renovation Planning & Contractor Fraud Expert and founder of ContractorsFromHell.com.
Vetting the contractor
To be honest, I wish I knew just about everything I know now, but there are three things that stand out which would have saved me not only money but would have put me in greater control over the project, my money and the contractor.
- Thoroughly vetting the contractor by doing a background check that would have revealed his history of lawsuits, lien history with clients and complaints by others online.
- Down payment laws for my state. The contractor requested $30,000 to begin the project, which is illegal in California. Down payment limits are 10% or $1000, whichever is less. We exceeded that by $29,000. And he dragged his feet, at the beginning of our project with multiple excuses which were just the beginning of our nightmare.
- Including protective clauses in our written agreement. Such as a “Right to Fire” due to shoddy work, consistently not meeting industry standards or failing to pass inspections on a regular basis. All three were problematic, and ultimately he would scream “breach of contract” when we pushed to fire him from our project. Though we won our case, it still became a costly expense to hire an attorney to force his hand.
I’ve done a home remodel four times (two basements remodels, one whole-house remodel and one sunroom addition). Every time, the contractor slows down toward the end of the remodel. By then, they’ve started their next job, and it is challenging to get them to come back to your job to finish it. Putting a holdback for substantial completion in the contract doesn’t work. Having a punch list of all the work that remains can help. Being a nag can help.
The best solution? Allowing the contractor to have an open house to show off the job to prospective clients and setting a date for the open house. Then, the contractor’s marketing staff will get on their case to finish the job.
- Never change the scope. Once, I used an architect who visited the site and gave change orders to the crew. Luckily, I had given clear instructions that only I can authorize changes, and I was on the site every day. I was able to countermand change orders, which would have added tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of the job.
- If you are installing a bathroom, watch to see if the contractor sticks rags into the waste lines to block the sewer gasses. If they do, hand them a loaf of bread to use instead. If the contractor forgets to remove the rags, they’ll migrate to the main house trap and block it, flooding the basement with sewage. A loaf of bread won’t fully block the trap and will disintegrate over time.
- Keep a container with at least a cup of leftover paint and the color specification for every coat color. This makes it easy to do touch-ups after the job is done.
- Never use two different shades or sheens of the same color. The contractor will get them mixed up, and you will be paying for the time and materials to fix it, even though it was their error.
- Always require permits. The local building inspector can be a pain, but they will catch problems you might not notice.
- When installing tiles, watch to make sure the installer butters the back of the tile and the floor. If they skip buttering either surface, the tiles will eventually pop up.
- Get at least three bids for the job. Bids can vary significantly. Make sure that each bid covers your scope of work.
Mark from Chicago
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