Questions to Ask Remodelers
With remodeling projects on the rise, what questions do you need to ask a remodeler or contractor before you hire them?
More than a dozen years ago, building contractor Marshall Todd put the finishing touches on a brand new house in Bronston. From fall 2008 through early 2009, Todd was taking the same house through a major remodel.
“When the house changed hands, the new owners wanted it renovated,” says Todd. “We put in two bedrooms and a bath upstairs, added a master suite and bath on the lower level, and remodeled the kitchen. It was a major project.”
Todd’s experience is not unique. According to Bob Weiss, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Kentucky (HBAK), owners’ desire to remodel their homes is on the rise. As a result, remodeling projects represent between 30 and 35 percent of all residential construction projects in Kentucky. That percentage is expected to grow as long as the nation’s overall economy remains sluggish.
“The remodeling industry has come into its own in the past 10 or 15 years,” says Weiss. “In economic times like these, people reconsider moving into new homes. Instead they say, ‘We can add a downstairs bedroom or remodel the kitchen and stay in our present home and be just fine.’”
In fact, kitchen and bath remodels continue to account for the majority of remodeling projects in Kentucky and nationwide. And upgrading those spaces calls for major investment. Price tags on kitchen remodels run as high as $40,000, while bath remodels can cost homeowners as much as $25,000.
“They are both high-end projects,” says Todd, who is president of HBAK’s Somerset chapter, Lake Cumberland Home Builders. “But they add more value to a home.”
With that kind of cash at stake, it’s crucial for homeowners to understand the remodel process and who is best qualified to carry it out.
“Kentucky does not require that contractors be licensed,” says Steven Treap, president of Treap Contracting Inc. in Pikeville, and a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). “Anybody with a pick-up truck, a sign, and a tool box can call himself a contractor.”
When Walton, Kentucky, residents Doris Childress and her husband, Dan, purchased the Bronston home Todd previously built, she sought a word-of-mouth referral from its previous owners.
“But we also asked the questions, and kept a finger on the project all the way through,” Childress says.
To do that, Childress spent every weekend in Bronston checking on the project’s progress and making sure she and her contractor were clear about their mutual expectations for the project.
“It’s important for anyone remodeling a home to be able to communicate with the contractor,” Childress says. “There are always changes and a remodel always takes more time than you think. It’s important to get a contractor you can work with.”
Patience from the client is needed in all phases of the project, but especially near the end, says Todd. “Clients want to rush a contractor at the end of a project because they want the project to be finished. But client patience is critical for contractors to present them with a job well-done.”
He adds, “Contractor commitment to that relationship shouldn’t end with the project. A reputable contractor will be responsible for his work for one year. If something comes up after that, he’ll work with the client to see that they’re satisfied.”
For now, Childress is preparing her Bronston vacation home for summer visits by friends and family, including a tribe of grandchildren. But even though this project’s done, she anticipates future changes to the house.
“Whatever we do, I know we’ll get our money out of the house if we sell it,” she says. “Right now, we’re just taking a break.”
WHAT TO ASK CONTRACTORS
Both Treap and Todd say homeowners can spot experienced, professional remodelers by their answers to critical questions. They advise home-owners to ask contractors:
• If they carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
• If they follow Kentucky state building codes.
• If they use licensed subcontractors for plumbing, electrical, and heating and air-conditioning aspects of the job.
• For references of previous work. Then make sure you interview previous clients and visit former clients’ homes to peruse contractors’ work.
• Written estimate and warranty: “A reputable contractor will also give them a detailed written estimate of what the project will cost,” Todd says, “and will provide a written contract and a written warranty to cover their work.”
Members of the construction industry have a lexicon of their own. Understanding contractors’ terminology is critical for getting a successful remodeling project off the ground. Here’s a basic glossary.
General contractor. A general building contractor furnishes materials, hires subcontractors, and performs specific construction services at a specified price.
Subcontractor. Subcontractors provide services to the general contractor on a remodeling project. Typical subcontractors may include electricians, plumbers, HVAC installers, roofers, drywall installers, and painters.
Certificate of insurance. These documents prove that a contractor has purchased general liability and workers’ compensation insurance. General liability protects homeowners from financial liability in the event someone not connected with the project suffers a construction-related injury.
It also covers the performance of materials and subcontractors used in the project. Workers’ compensation insurance protects homeowners from financial liability in the event someone hired to work on the project is injured. Legitimate contractors are able to produce proof of insurance upon client request.
Construction manager. Construction managers provide pre-construction expertise, including cost estimating and engineering. Construction managers also locate, hire, and schedule subcontractors on the homeowner’s behalf, and coordinate all construction activities once the project gets under way. Most charge a percentage of the project’s value for this service. Under a construction management plan, the homeowner pays subcontractors and material providers separately and directly.
Contract. This document should spell out in detail who is responsible for what during a remodel project. A good contract should be clear about what contractors will—and will not—provide in terms of labor and materials, and should include provisions in the event the homeowner makes changes of any kind once the project gets under way. Contracts also indicate homeowner responsibility, including terms and scheduling of payments, contractor and subcontractor access to premises, and redress in the event either party fails to meet conditions of the agreement.
Estimate. An estimate represents a detailed snapshot of what a remodel project will cost from start to finish. Experienced, reliable contractors provide line-by-line descriptions of work to be done, materials needed, and costs for each item—from lighting fixtures to faucets.
Warranty. Warranties are promises contractors make to correct errors or make repairs to their work without charge, generally up to one year after the project is completed. Warranties should be made in writing and clearly spell out what is covered under the warranty and what is exempt.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE REMODELING HELP
What survival skills do you need for a remodel? What online associations can offer help? What amenities should those age 50 and older consider in their remodeling plans? To find out, go to remodeling.