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Ten Practical Tips & Tricks for Renovating Your Home

Ten Practical Tips & Tricks for Renovating Your Home

Historically, many of us want to avoid the dentist, taxes, and living in a construction war zone.  Although many of us want to live without the dust or noise—myself included—we all know maintaining a house is an ongoing project.  Whether you are building a home or performing any renovations, however, the effort is not as daunting as it once was.  This is especially true where you have a qualify contractor overseeing the effort.  So what is a homeowner to do when contemplating a large or small renovation project?  These ten practical tips and tricks for renovating your home should guide you through hiring your next contractor for a residential renovation.  

  1. Trust your contractor – Above all else, if both sides do not have trust in each other, no project will run smoothly.  Your renovations could take one day to a year or more.  If you are able to trust your contractor, you will be able to sleep easier at night knowing the professional has your best interest at heart.
  2. Do your research – Have you verified the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured?  Have you searched the local building department or state site to verify the contractor’s license?  Are there any active complaints against their license?  Have you asked to see the contractor’s prior or ongoing projects or a list of clients who you can talk to about the contractor’s work?  Hiring the cheapest or first contractor to respond is often a recipe for disaster, so take your time and do your homework.
  3. Set Realistic Expectations (Hint: Have a Budget) – Sure, everyone wants the latest and greatest, but not everyone can afford it.  What type of contract do you have?  Is it a fixed cost?  Is there a maximum out-of-pocket (called a guaranteed maximum price) not to exceed?  Do you even have a contract?  Being clear on the fixed costs or budget is essential in providing realistic expectations, and routinely monitoring the budget and costs will help you and the contractor stay in line with your goals.
  4. Read your contract – Far too often, I see homeowners who do not realize they have waived rights, waived their ability to recover damages, agreed to arbitration, or failed to specify each party’s obligations.  Make sure you understand your rights and obligations.  Oftentimes, consulting with a legal professional at the outset helps you to avoid these issues.  
  5. Set a deadline with room to spare – We know COVID-19 can ruin even the best of plans.  But many homeowners do not realize that supplies are not endless, labor shortages happen and contractors can be delayed through no fault of their own.  If you need the renovations done in time for the holidays but never set a firm deadline, a contractor will have some wiggle room to complete the project.  Setting clear deadlines or providing incentives for a contractor to complete a project timely may help you and the contractor complete a project on time and on budget.  
  6. Completion does not mean the work is finished – Usually, contractors place deadlines on “substantial completion.”  In construction, that does not mean perfection.  There can be touch-ups or repairs (called a punch list) that take additional time to complete.  Have you placed deadlines on these repairs or left it open-ended?  Without a “final completion” deadline, your internal clock on a renovation will be extended by 30 to 90 days on average.
  7. Set a routine – Do you have kids?  Who is taking them to school?  What about walking your dog in the morning?  Having a contractor show up at 7 a.m. when you are running out of the house either creates havoc or prohibits you from leaving to attend your next business meeting or kid’s recital.  Moreover, if you are working from home like so many, how will you schedule your conference calls with the sound of a hammer or drill in the background?  Keep this in mind when planning the renovation.  
  8. Communicate with your lender – If you are financing the renovations, has the contractor been in contact with the lender and has the lender approved the contract documents?  Who has control of the financing and pays the draws to the contractor, you or your lender?  If you object, who resolves the objection?  Work with your attorney, lender and contractor to navigate these issues.  
  9. Have a plan when the project turns sour – Oftentimes, contracts do not include language governing defaults.  Indeed, most people do not have an appetite for litigation—it is far more expensive than the renovation itself.  However, it is essential to plan for the possibility.  If there is a dispute over costs, does the contract allow for review by a different contractor or are you bound by the contractor’s cost?  Do you have a fee provision if you have to litigate?  Or perhaps the homeowner and contractor should allow the architect or engineer to resolve the dispute.  Keep these in mind—preparing for the worst but expecting the best is a great motto for renovations.
  10. Make sure you have lien release when you pay – Frequently, homeowners or lenders pay without obtaining a partial or final lien release.  Make sure you obtain a release from your contractor for each payment you make, and if it is the final payment or draw, obtain that final lien release waiver and affidavit from your contractor.  If a payment dispute later arises, having a waiver is a valid and complete defense to a lien claim.  This protects you and your property from a lien foreclosure action.

Last but not least, enjoy the process.  The renovations will enhance your property in both style and value—and you will have your contractor (and these tips) to thank!  For this and more, our construction team is here to help.  Feel free to contact our Board Certified Construction lawyer, Joseph “Joe” Etter, or others at Englander Fischer for further information.

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