Building & Remodeling Articles
10 Tips for Hiring a Contractor
Make sure your contractor is licensed by the State of Louisiana.
Check licenses at www.lslbc.louisiana.gov or 1.800.256.1392
Ask your contractor for references... and CHECK THEM!
Check for current insurance.
It is good practice to verify your contractor has General Liability & Workers’ Compensation.
When collecting bids, remember that if a bid sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
Don’t sign anything before fully understanding it.
If your contractor is pressuring you to sign, perhaps you should reconsider who you are hiring.
Keep good records of everything related to your project.
This includes payment records - never pay in cash
A General Contractor is responsible for all aspects of the project... proper permitting, scheduling, planning, and coordinating subcontractors & suppliers.
Check regulations before you begin any project.
This includes Deed Restrictions & Zoning Ordinances.
Set a specific Timeline & Payment Schedule.
Draw schedule should coincide with progress of work.
Make sure change orders are documented with your contractor.
A verbal agreement is not enough!
10 tips for a smooth remodel
Follow these 10 tips when you embark on an exciting home remodeling project.
- Establish good two-way communication with the remodeler. It’s essential to have good communication for a smooth remodeling project. Does the remodeler listen? Does he or she answer questions clearly and candidly? Can you reach him when you need to? Does he return phone calls promptly? Does he let you know when problems arise and work with you on solving them?
- Make sure you have compatibility and “fit” with the contractor. You’ll spend a lot of time with your remodeler so it’s important to have a good rapport and trust in him.
- Set a clear and mutual understanding about the schedule. You and your remodeler should agree on the schedule up front to avoid conflict and problems later in the project.
- Request a written proposal. Often times, two people remember the same conversation differently. Get the proposal in writing and work with the remodeler to ensure it reflects your wishes.
- Determine a clear and mutual understanding on the miscellaneous details. There are a lot of little details that need to be settled before work starts. What times of day will they be working? How will he access the property? How will cleanup be handled? How will they protect your property?
- Remember to be flexible. Remodeling is an interruption of your normal life. Remember to be flexible during the project so that you can handle the unexpected and go with the flow.
- Create a clear and mutual understanding of how Change Orders will be handled. With remodeling there is always the chance you may want to change materials or other project details during the job. Agree with your remodeler on how these changes will be handled before the start of work. Also understand that changes could affect the schedule and the budget, so it’s important you have all changes in writing.
- Agree on a well-written contract that covers all the bases. The contract should include these elements: a timetable for the project, price and payment schedule, detailed specifications for all products and materials, insurance information, permit information, procedures for handling change orders, lien releases, provisions for conflict resolution, notice of your right under the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling Off Rule (your right to cancel the contract within three days if it was signed someplace other than the remodeler’s place of business), and details on the important issues (such as access to your home, care of the home, cleanup and trash removal).
- Ask for a written Lien Waiver from the remodeler upon completion of the work. If the remodeler hires subcontractors for portions of the work it is their responsibility to see them compensated. In order to ensure this has been done and to protect yourself, ask for a written lien waiver when the work is finished. This document will verify everyone has been paid.
- Establish a project plan, covering all phases and dependencies in the work. Plan your big picture goals with the remodeler and talk out your needs. Hire a remodeler who will plan it out with you, listen to concerns, and answer questions.
An Interview with a Remodeler
How do you weed out shady contractors and find the best professional remodelers? Be sure to ask these questions when interviewing candidates for your remodeling job:
- Do you have General Liability Insurance?
- Do you carry worker’s compensation insurance?
- Will you provide me with a written lien waiver?
- Do you have a physical office address?
- Are you a member of the HBA’s Remodelers Council?
- Will you obtain all the required building permits?
- Do you guarantee your work?
- Who will be in charge of the job?
- Have you or your company been a party to any construction-related litigation within the past five years?
- Will you provide me with written references or contact information of previous customers?
- What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?
- How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?
- How will you protect my home? What about protecting my children and pets?
- How is cleanup handled?
Get the Best Bang for your Remodeling Buck
Your home is your castle, but sometimes that castle may need a facelift. Remodeling is a great way to create a home environment that can meet your family’s changing needs and tastes without you having to spend a lot of money.
Before you spend your hard-earned dollars, however, make sure that the changes you make now will have longer-term benefits for you when you look to sell your home in the future.
You should find out what features are standard for homes in your neighborhood. If you only have one bathroom but most of the other homes average two or more, you will want to bring your house up to that standard. On the flipside, do not make changes to your house that are too extravagant or out-of-place for your neighborhood.
Make sure you are not making changes that will turn off prospective buyers. Keep in mind what future home buyers would like to see in their next home. It is often wiser to add an additional bathroom or bedroom rather than a sunroom or sauna, for example, which are costly and will not necessarily be a priority for anyone else.
The size and cost of your project matter as well. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University advises that smaller or midrange jobs overall will tend to recover a higher percentage of their cost than larger, higher-end projects.
For example, replacing old windows will generate a higher payback ratio than adding a high-end kitchen with all of the bells and whistles and it costs significantly less, according to Stephen Melman, an economist with the National Association of Home Builders.
Maintenance-related projects, such as siding and window replacement, are especially popular because they are repairs that are seen as needed, but can also help improve curb appeal at fairly low costs in relation to other projects.
The top-ten midrange projects cited in Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report” that provide the highest percentage return are:
- Deck Addition (wood) - 81.8 percent
- Siding Replacement (vinyl) - 80.7 percent
- Minor Kitchen Remodel - 79.5 percent
- Window Replacement (wood) - 77.7 percent
- Window Replacement (vinyl) - 77.2 percent
- Major Kitchen Remodel - 76.0 percent
- Bathroom Remodel - 74.6 percent
- Attic Bedroom - 73.8 percent
- Deck Addition (composite) - 73.7 percent
- Basement Remodel - 72.9 percent
These numbers represent the national average and percentages may vary in your region. To get information on projects that are the best investment for your area, check out the Remodeling magazine’s “2008-2009 Cost vs. Value Report” published by Hanley Wood online at www.costvsvalue.com.
Whether you are looking to sell your house soon, or are just looking to remodel for yourself, it makes sense to keep an eye on how the changes you make now will reflect on your biggest investment down the road.
To find a professional remodeler in your area, contact your local home builders’ association at www.home-builders.org or visit www.nahb.org/remodel.
How to Resolve Problems that May Arise with Your Builder
The typical house contains more than 3,000 different parts. These components must be assembled with skill to form the new product you will call home. It would be unrealistic to expect your new home to be perfect. Even the best built homes are likely need a few corrections. Most problems are corrected routinely by the builder. However, if a non-routine problem should arise, you should follow certain procedures to correct the situation.
First, identify the exact nature of the problem. Then you should put it into writing and send it to the builder. Many builders require all complaints to be in writing and will respond to telephone complaints only in emergencies.
Use the following guidelines when you write your letter:
- Include your name, address, and home and work telephone numbers. Type your letter if possible. If not, use printing or handwriting that is easy to read. Keep your letter brief and to the point, but include all relevant details. State exactly what you want done and how soon you expect the problem to be resolved. Be reasonable. Include all relevant documents regarding the problem. Send copies, not originals. Keep a copy of the letter for your files.
- Before you write your letter, familiarize yourself with your warranty coverage and the Louisiana New Home Warranty Act. If a problem develops after the warranty has expired, the builder is not required to fix it under the terms of the written warranty. Some items, such as appliances, may be covered by manufacturers' warranties and are not the responsibility of the builder.
- Always go directly to the builder with your complaints. Do not send letters to lawyers, government agencies, home builders associations or any other third parties before you have given your builder a reasonable chance to correct the problem. Interference from outsiders may impede the handling of your complaint. Also, sending angry, sarcastic or threatening letters is not likely to expedite your case. Such letters usually do more harm than good.
- Contact outsiders only if you have reached an impasse with your builder. Try to avoid legal proceedings. Lawsuits are expensive and time consuming and should be attempted only as a last resort.
Remember that most builders are seeking customer referrals and repeat buyers. They want you to be satisfied. If a problem develops, remain calm and approach your builder in a reasonable manner. By following the procedures described above, chances are that you will be able to resolve the problems.
The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors
If you have exhausted your other options, the next place to turn is the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors, the chief regulatory agency for contractors in the state. The board regulates both commercial and residential contractors who bid or perform construction projects whose value exceeds $50,000 or more, and hazardous material contractors on projects valued at $1.00 or more. The agency also administers business and law and trade examinations for contractor applicants and qualifying parties. Administrative and disciplinary hearings are conducted monthly for alleged violations by both commercial and residential contractors. Agency investigators conduct construction project investigations to determine compliance and enforcement of the contractor licensing law. The agency maintains public records on these matters. All board meetings and administrative hearings are conducted at the board’s Baton Rouge headquarters. For more information, please visit the LSLBC website.
Remodeling Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t neglect your home. Do maintain and enhance the value of your home with maintenance and remodeling projects.
- Don’t try complex remodels on your own. Do call a professional remodeler to get the job done right the first time and save yourself time and money.
- Don’t necessarily hire the cheapest remodeler. Do a thorough check on the remodeler’s experience, references, and qualifications, such as membership with the HBA’s Remodelers Council. Use these interview questions to identify the best remodeler for your needs.
- Don’t lose patience during the remodel. Do prepare yourself for challenges and realistically understand the time and money your remodel may require.
- Don’t try to remove or deal with lead paint on your own. Do call a professional remodeler or remediator to minimize exposure to lead paint.
Small Remodels Bring Big Rewards
Are you feeling a chill from those drafty windows or placing a bucket on the floor to cope with a leaky roof? Have you noticed that your home is looking a little worn and in need of repairs?
With material prices holding steady, expanded energy-efficiency tax credits and a skilled supply of professional remodelers, now is the perfect time to remodel!
By incorporating some changes, you can improve the beauty and comfort of your home and increase its value at the same time. Consider these remodeling suggestions:
- Replace home siding. New siding revitalizes a home’s exterior and can also solve pesky draft problems. Quality siding can improve insulation; reduce noise; resist damage from moisture, fire, insects, and other natural elements; and is easier to maintain. A 2008 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling magazine found that siding is a top choice in home investment as it yields an 81 percent expense recovery for midrange projects.
- Install new windows. Improve your view and lower your energy bill. New windows are easier to maintain because they require less cleaning and reduce costly air infiltration -- saving on your heating and cooling bills. New windows may be impact resistant, repel dirt and water spotting, and come with coatings that prevent heat loss or gain. Windows and other projects also qualify for the expanded federal energy-efficiency tax credit.
- Repair or replace the roof. Choose from a multitude of options to save energy, and stay warm and dry during the wintry months. Also consider new green roofing options, such as incorporating vegetation on the roof to collect rain and conserve energy, or adding reflective surfaces to keep the roof from retaining as much of the sun’s heat.
- Update the kitchen cabinets and sink. You can modernize your kitchen without the effort of a complete kitchen renovation. New cabinetry and sinks improve kitchen appearance, enhance the use of your kitchen and also allows the homeowner to recoup 80 percent of the investment when they look to resell.
- Refresh the bathroom or add a new one. Just adding new cabinets, a sink, flooring or a tub can revitalize the bathroom and make it a quiet refuge for pampering. Or, adding a half bath can increase home value 10.5 percent and a full bath 20 percent, according to a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) analysis of data from the American Housing Survey.
- Add a deck or porch. Expanding your outdoor living space with an area to entertain friends and family or for weekend relaxation is a popular remodeling project. A survey of remodelers has shown an increased number of calls for outdoor remodeling work, with 52 percent adding decks, 35 percent building porches, and 25 percent installing patios. Adding a wood deck to a home returns 82 percent of the investment and expands your outdoor entertaining space.
“Maintaining and upgrading your home just makes good financial sense,” says Greg Miedema, CGR, GMB, CAPS, a remodeler from Tucson, Ariz., and chairman of NAHB Remodelers. “It’s like servicing your car; you want to make sure your home stays looking nice and in good operating condition to preserve a major personal asset.”
Taking the "CON" out of Residential Contracting
With every storm season, we’ve learned from the likes of Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike that not all contractors are created equal and that the misery one suffers from a natural disaster can be compounded by a bad experience with an unscrupulous contractor.
While no fraud prevention measure can ever be totally fail-safe, there are plenty of precautions that informed consumers can take when confronted with unscrupulous contractors.
- If you’re told that a contract for “this job” won’t be necessary, there’s a pretty strong presumption that you’ll never truly come to a meeting of the minds with the contractor regarding the entire scope, or term, of the work. Moreover, an unsavory contractor could even run off with your money without having done any work, or work that is grossly substandard. Use a clearly written, detailed contract; it’s your evidence that a deal between the parties was negotiated.
- Beware if you’re asked to pay for the entire job “up front” – or to pay cash to a salesperson instead of issuing a check or money order to a company. Although our emotions are often at peak levels during the search for a good contractor, don’t let your angst to repair or build your home override your good judgment.
- Don’t let anybody rush you into what will likely be one of the larger financial decisions that you will make in your lifetime. Before you decide to sign the contract, circle back at least one more time to make sure that the proposed deal passes the “sniff test.”
- Invariably, when you’re told that you’re the lucky customer who has been “chosen” for a demonstration project at a special, low price…” if you sign the contract today,” you’re likely to end up in a deal at a price that is neither special, nor low. Pressure sales tactics are perhaps befitting of other industries, but not usually residential contracting. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Once you’ve navigated some of the initial land mines set by unscrupulous contractors, you are now in a position of strength to negotiate a fair, balanced residential construction contract when you interview your contractor. Finish your homework by confirming the following:
- The contractor has a verifiable fixed and permanent business address.
- The contractor has produced evidence of a valid Louisiana contractor’s license or a valid Louisiana home improvement registration.
- The contractor has produced evidence of valid general liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies. Make certain that the policies will still be effective during the course of the work performed under your contract.
- The contractor can produce references for past jobs completed. Take the time to contact and confirm those references.
- Ensure that your contract specifies payment schedules for stages of work completed and reasonable timelines for completion of the entire job. Use prudence when negotiating down payments. A normal down payment should range between 10 or 15% of the entire cost of the job, unless unique circumstances exist. Avoid paying cash up front!
- Check the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors to research Louisiana-licensed contractors and for information on state contracting laws.
- Finally, Contact the HBA at the HBA of Greater New Orleans. Since 1941, the HBA-GNO has been home to the community’s most experienced builders and remodelers.