Friday, July 11, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Three

You would assume that choosing the right contractor is the first step to a horror-free home improvement project, but it’s not. Before you start calling contractors, you need a set of detailed plans and specifications, says Ken Kroog, chairman of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “Without that,” he points out, “contractor A might look at a job one way and contractor B will look at it another way. It’s not just the plans—it’s the details.”

Depending on the type of project, you may need to start with an architect or an interior designer to draw up the specs so you can secure apples-to-apples bids. It’s also a lot cheaper to work out your ideas on paper beforehand than with lumber, tile, and imported marble as you go.

Then get your bids, preferably from contractors your friends and neighbors recommend, and, even if you were the kind of kid to pay your big sister to do your homework, do it now. “People get three bids,” contractor Eric Messer observes, “but then all they look at are the numbers. You wouldn’t just get car prices from three dealers, then pick one without driving it. Remodels can cost a lot more than a car and last a lot longer, yet people seem to be not nearly as thorough.” That due diligence can ensure that you don’t wind up living in your car.

“The single most important question you can ask is, ‘would you hire that contractor again?’” says Westchester (NY) Director of Consumer Protection Gary Powers. “Don’t just get references on completed jobs; get some on jobs in progress,” he advises. “And don’t just get on the phone, get in your car and go look.”

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