|HOMEOWNERS HOLD KEY|
|Homeowners hold key to renovations
By Noreen Seebacher for Gannett Newspaper
Home is where the hammer is, at least according to remodeling professionals.
According to a survey conducted by Getting To Know You, the largest homebuyer welcoming program in North America, almost 85 percent of the people who buy a home in New York plan to make major home improvements within a year. Among families with children, 86.8 percent cited a need to remodel.
Nationwide, homeowners spend $119.1 billion in home improvements and repairs in 1996, according to U.S Census Bureau. Affluent American (those with income of $100,000 or more) spends $31 billion of those totals.
Home improvements can add value to a home and make it more comfortable. Unfortunately, they can also create headaches; the nations 137 Better Business Bureaus say complaints about shoddy workmanship or outright fraud have increased 60 percent since 1991.
In the New York Metropolitan are, the Better Business Bureau said home improvement contractors and services generated the most inquires of any industry in 1997 and the third highest number of complaints.
"Construction is like plastic surgery. Once you realize the job is no good, its already too late," said John Jelliffe, president of Integrity Construction, a Mamaroneck-based renovation and construction firm. "To make sure it gets done right, its important for the homeowner to excerpt positive leadership from the beginning."
The success of the project and its cost depend on it.
Joe LaBarbera, director of the Putnam County Department of Consumer Affairs, said many homeowners have learned from experience that their responsibilities extend to more than signing the contract and paying the bills. If they really want to be happy with the results, they have to get actively involved with the project goals and finding a contractor who agrees with them.
Too often, LaBarbera said, homeowners start a project without doing their homework. For example:
--They fail to get in writing the dates that the work will start and end.
--They chose a contractor without verifying the quality of his work.
--They have an incomplete idea of what they want, and then end up frustrated when the work turns out different than their expectations.
"Quite frankly, some homeowners cant conceive in their minds eye what the project is going to look like. Then, even if the contractor does the work correctly, their not satisfied with the result," he explained.
Sylvain Côté, president of Absolute Remodeling Corp. in Yorktown Heights said hiring a contractor is a little like the first few months of married life.
"The analogy isnt that farfetched," he warns. "If youre about to undertake a remodeling project, you and your contractor are going to be housemates for the next few months. However courteous these tradespeople are, you stand to loose some privacy and freedom of movement in your own home. What you gain is the dust, noise and strangers."
The key is to meet with the contractor before them project starts to hammer out the details of the life together under one roof. This preconstruction meeting is a way of meshing your expectations with those of your contractors, and a chance for you to set the house rules, Côté said.
If your contractor doesnt suggest such a meeting, then you should.
Communication is the first step. A written contract is the second. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry urges homeowners and contractors to put everything about the project on paper.
Every time an agreement is made you should have a written confirmation. This means a contract at the beginning and written change orders, work directives or confirming letters when the scope of the projects is altered in any way.
These items should be signed by the homeowner and an officer of the contractors corporation or the person with whom the agreement is reached should sign these items. Changes to the project also should be noted in any contract with a subcontractor or independent agent.
All change orders and contracts should be executed before any work is performed or materials ordered. In addition, copies of all contracts work orders or change orders should be available on the job site for a quick reference and clarification, the trade organization recommends.
Scott Pinelli, owner of Pinelli Contracting & Renovations in West Nyack, said its better and more economical to think through the project as thoroughly in advance rather than make changes along the way. "Changes are what rack up the cost of the project, " he warned.
Pinelli said the other mistake homeowners make is overestimating what they can do themselves. "About 15 percent of the jobs I go on are to correct mistakes homeowners made themselves." He said. Unless you have experience in trade or know for sure you can do the work, its often less expensive to hire a professional.
The bottom line: Plan your project carefully
1.Know what you want: The project has to reflect a realistic balance between your budget, your schedule, the quality you expect and the scope of construction. Dont expect the contractor to read your mind. Spells out what you want, how much you can afford, and when you want the work to begin and end.
2.Consult professionals: John Jelliffe said too many homeowners make decisions based on experience of friends or neighbors. A better bet; Talk to builders, architects, interior designers or other professionals.
3.Interview the contractor: Not all contractors are equally good for all projects. Find one that specializes in the type of work you plan to do. Visit some of the completed job sites and talk to former clients. Most importantly, make sure there is a good rapport between you and he contractor you plan to hire. It helps to avoid misunderstandings.
4.Discuss work conditions: You need to know the days and hours the contractor plans to be on the job. You also should spell out what you expect from the workers, including whether or not they can smoke in your home, play radios, work without shirts, use the bathroom and which phone is available for local calls.
5.Evaluate how work will affect living space: Sylvain Côté said you should make sure the contractor makes the loss of vital space as bearable as possible and minimizes the time you and your family must do without it. If your kitchen is going to be out of commission, see if a temporary one with a refrigerator, microwave and hot plate can be set up in another room. If a subcontractor is going to turn off the water or power for any length of time, insist on 24-hour notice.
6.Talk about security: You might want to give the contractor a key and then attach a real-estate-type lock box to your house to store it in. Just make sure you and he understand who should have the combination.
Dont get burned
--Obtain at least three bids for every job. Compare cost references, standards.
--Get the bids in writing. Include as much detail as possible, including the manufacturer and model numbers of the items you select.
--Ask for references of previous customers and visit those customers for a first hand look at the workmanship.
--Obtain copies of contractors licence, and their liability and workers compensation insurance policies.
--Verify everything, including the license, the insurance and the contractors record with the Better Business Bureau and/or your county Office of Consumers Affairs.
--Make sure you know exactly what work is to be performed what materials will be used and when work will begin and end.
--Include a payment schedule in the contract. Contractors generally ask for about 15 to 30 percent upon signing the contract, then partial payments as each successive stage of work is completed.
--If the remodeling will cost more than $1,000 to $2,000, have the proposed contract reviewed by an attorney to identify potential problem areas.
--Withhold final payment for about 30 days after the work is completed. It will give you time to make sure the work is done to your specifications.
For more information .
--Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection; Check on licence or make a consumer complaint: 285-2211 or 285-2155
--Rockland County Consumer Protection Department: Check on a license or make a consumer complaint: 364-2680
--Putnam County Department of Consumer Affairs: Check on a license or make a consumer complaint: 225-2039
--Better Business Bureau, White Plains, 900-225-5222. The charge is $3.80 for the first 4 minutes. 95cents for each minute thereafter, not to exceed $9.50. The average call is four minutes. You can also reach the Better Business Bureau on the Web at www.newyork.bbb.org
--The National Association of the Remodeling Industry offers a free Master Plan for professional Home Remodeling. Call the NARI Homeowner Remodeling Hotline at 800-440-NARI (6274)
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