|By Linda Case
iring a contractor is a little like the
first few months of married life [so here's your survival kit]. --The analogy isn't
that farfetched. If you're 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 lose some privacy and freedom of movement in your own
home. What you gain is dust, noise and strangers.
Here are the issues YOU should address:
Trash Or Treasure: I can't count the number of
remodeling projects that have gone sour because the contractor unwittingly disposed of
materials that still had value to the homeowner. Remember, when the contract reads
"remove," your contractor will be reading "demolish." Point out any
items you want saved, and settle up on where these items will be stored. As a precaution,
attach a large note to anything that isn't to be haul off.
Living Condition: How will your living space be
affected? Ask the contractor to give you a realistic assessment by walking you through the
stages of work. Have they made the loss of vital space as bearable as possible and
minimized the time you and your family must do without it? Will you or the contractor
moved the furniture out of the affected rooms or the dishes out of the kitchen
cabinets? Whoever does it, how much notice will they give you?
Daily Necessities: If your kitchen is going to be out of
commission, can your contractor set up a temporary one with a refrigerator, microwave and
hot plate in another room? Is a temporary sink feasible? If a subcontractor is going to
turn off the water or power for any length of time, insist on 24-hour notice.
Liaison: It's important to know how the construction company you've hired
works internally. Who is your contact on the job and in the office? Whom do you talk to
first about changes or concerns? Are there pager numbers you should know?
Working Hours: Ask about the company's working
hours. Some remodelers work five 8-hour days a week, others work four 10-hour days. Ask to
be notified if anyone is going to work outside their stated hours. Your contractor may
have some flexibility, but you'll have to show some too.
Schedule: How long does your contractor anticipate
the job will take? Does this include downtime for real-life delays? You should ask for a
written schedule, and then arrange regular weekly meetings with your contractor to review
progress, update the schedule and discuss any other issues.
Security: Most homeowners give their contractor
keys to the house for the duration of the job. But rather than having it duplicated for
employees and subcontractors, ask your contractor to attach a real-estate-type lockbox to
your house to store the key in. Then discuss who will be given the combination to the
lockbox. There are other security issues talk over as well. If construction includes
working on the second floor of your home, will the contractor make sure that no ladders
are mistakenly left up overnight? Will any openings be covered with securely attached
Dust And Dirt: Conscientious contractors make skillful
use of plastic, plywood and shop vacuums. They also sweep the job daily and do a more
thorough cleaning at the end of each week. Still, you'll want to protect TVs, stereos,
computers and other sensitive equipment. If anyone in the household is allergic to dust,
let the contractor know about that up front. But keep in mind that even the most careful
contractor can only do so much [about dust].
Expected Payments: Although your contract will detail
the exact cost of the work and the date payments are due, the preconstruction meeting is a
good time to review payment procedures. Will your contractor invoice you by mail, or just
give you a few days' warning of an impending draw and expect to pick up the check? Are you
clear on how any changes to the work will be handled? They should be written up as change
orders. Make sure to go over the procedure before you have to use one.
Unexpected Costs: The early stages of remodeling --
especially the demolition phase -- can reveal conditions the contractor could not have
anticipated when estimates for the project were worked up. These conditions typically
result in an upcharge. Find out at what point in the course of construction you can
anticipate that no new surprises will appear.
Bad Habits: Sometimes minor issues become
major annoyances. How do you feel about workers smoking in your home? Also address loud
radios, workers without shirts, which bathroom they can use and which phone is available
for local calls.
Making Friends: Last, and perhaps most important, begin making friends with your head carpenter now, before he or she "moves in." Create an ally.
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