Home Remodeling Agreement/More Info

Home Remodeling
Additional Information

Selecting a Remodeling Contractor
Once you have decided to remodel, the most important decision you will make is picking a remodeling company.  No matter how attractive a low estimate may seem, a remodeling contractor who is unskilled or dishonest can end up costing you more than money through delays and damage to your house.

The best source to find a qualified remodeling contractor is through friends and neighbors.  Talk to people who have had remodeling work done to develop a list of prospects.  You may also want to visit with your architect (if you have one) and your banker.  

Builders often specialize in certain types of jobs.  For example, some do only kitchens, bathrooms or additions.  It is not a good idea to hire someone who specializes in kitchens to do add a family room.

Once you have made a tentative decision, consider the following before making your final choice:
-Have you seen the builder's work, both completed and in progress?  The builder should be willing to identify customers that will talk to you.  Check the quality of work and materials.  Ask other home owners if they are happy with the work, if the builder stuck to his or her estimate and if the work was performed on a timely basis.  Pay closest attention to projects that are similar to the one you plan.

-Does the have a permanent business address?  Beware of builders that move frequently or claim simply to be "new to the area."   Some unscrupulous builders move from town to town, particularly when severe weather or market conditions have created a short term need for builders.  It takes roughly three years or more to establish a sound business and develop a record with suppliers and bankers.  While those new to the remodeling business may be suitable, make sure your investigation leads you to conclude that the person can and will do the job.

-Does the remodeling contractor have all of the licenses and permits required in your jurisdiction?  Requirements for licenses and permits vary greatly.  Check with your local building codes administrator or licensing authority to see what the builder should have, and then ask to see the required licenses.

-Does your local Better Business Bureau have any record of complaints?

-Does the remodeling contractor have worker's compensation and general liability insurance?  Make sure the builder is properly insured, or you may be liable for construction related accidents at your house. This insurance will not protect you from a builder who runs out of money and cannot finish the job.  It may be possible to get a bond for protection from these risks, but such protection may not be available or may be too costly.

-Is the builder easy to work with?  It is important to pick someone that you are comfortable with and is easy to talk to.  Remember that you will be under the same roof for an extended time, and that communication problems can lead to delays and added cost.  Look for someone who you feel you can work with.

-Will the remodeling contractor sign a contract with appropriate promises about costs and delivery dates?  Steer clear of anyone who says a written contract is unnecessary or who refuses to promise you that the project will start and end on time at a reasonably determinable price. A builder may insist that you use his or her form.  In that case, review this form carefully to make sure the builder's form of agreement is adequate for you.

Bids and Specifications

A reputable builder should be willing to give you a legally binding bid of the cost to do your job.  Avoid estimates that do not guarantee that the work will be done at the quoted price.  It is recommended you get three bids for most jobs.  However, if the job will cost $50,000 or more many experts suggest five bids or more.  Request written bids that include projected starting and completion dates.  Be wary of any bid that is substantially lower than the others.  This often is a signal that the builder is inexperienced or desperate for business.

Most builders prepare bids based upon preliminary specifications and will not commit to a price until the specifications are finalized.  Remember that a bid and the ultimate contract are only as good as the job specifications.  Be as precise and complete as possible when developing those specifications.  For example, if the builder must paint a room, specify the brand and type of paint and how many coats are to be applied.  Plumbing and lighting fixtures, flooring, insulation, hardware, material types and manufacturers, and other details must be carefully considered.  If the specifications are incomplete or lack detail, the builder may claim that some work or material is not a part of the project and will cost you more.

Zoning, Homes' Associations and Building Permits

Before beginning a remodeling job, it is very important to make sure you have all the necessary clearances and permits.  You should check for the need for permits or other special requirements in at least three places:
-Zoning and other local rules - Zoning regulations generally restrict the types of structures and uses of those structures in a given area.  Your city or county may have zoning rules or other regulations that limit your ability to remodel your house.  For example, the local rules may restrict the number of rooms, the total area, number of garage spaces, or other items.  Check with your local zoning administrator to see if any such restrictions apply to your project.  If zoning problems exist, you may be eligible for a "variance" to complete your project.

-Homeowners' Association - Your house may be a part of a development that is governed an association of the development's homeowners.  These associations usually have some rules that affect an individual owner's ability to remodel a house.  These rules are usually designed to preserve the character and design of the neighborhood and thereby maximize the value of all of the homes.  For example, there may be rules that require certain architectural styles or restrict building materials or colors.  These rules may be enforced in court by the association and should not be taken lightly.  Consult your association's rules before beginning your remodeling job and, if your plan does not comply with those rules, follow the association's procedures for review and consideration of projects that do not comply.  

-Building permits - Even if your city has no zoning rules, it is likely that it requires permits for substantial remodeling jobs.  Building permits are designed to ensure that construction meets minimum standards for safety and habitability, but are also often used to regulate the style or use of a construction project.  Be sure you have all required construction permits before you start.  Otherwise, you may find your project delayed or have changes forces upon you by your city's permit administrators and inspectors.

Federal and Local Law Protection

Federal law requires that a homeowner be given written notice of their right to cancel a contract within three days of signing, without penalty, provided it was solicited outside the contractor's place of business or trade premises.  A contract solicited in the home may be canceled under this law. Many states have similar "cooling off" laws. 

Working with a licensed contractor may provide substantial benefits if problems arise.  Some state and local governments have established funds, financed by license fees, to give consumers a source of money for repairs when the contractor was at fault.  Make sure your contractor is licensed, and if problems arise, check with the state and local consumer affairs office for help in resolving problems.    

Some states place limits on a builder's right to request or accept a certificate of completion until the job is completely done.  Call your state's office of consumer affairs, office of the attorney general or your lawyer for more information about laws that may apply.