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Home Improvement

The Five “Be’s” of Home Improvement

Want to do your part as a homeowner to keep your home improvement project running smoothly? Get a rundown on your roles and responsibilities with the Five “Be’s.”

BE THOROUGH

  1. Get competitive bids from at least three sources.
  2. Read bids thoroughly to be sure all contractors have quoted using the specific brands and types of products you prefer and included all the work you want done.
  3. If bids need to be revised, make sure each includes a revision number and date; again, read revised bids thoroughly to ensure they accurately reflect the changes you requested and that nothing was accidentally dropped from the previous versions.
  4. Interview the contractors you’re considering hiring; among other things, ask:
    • how long they’ve been in business
    • if they specialize in certain types of home improvements
    • if they personally will oversee the entire job or turn over day-to-day activities to a project manager; if the latter, ask to interview the project manager
    • who and how many they employ as sub-contractors
    • if they can provide additional services you may need, like interior decorating or design advice
    • what local suppliers they work with to source supplies and materials, like flooring, countertops, lighting, woodwork, painting and landscaping
    • when they can start your project and how long it will take to complete
  5. Check out your contractor’s ratings, reviews and credentials through the Better Business Bureau and your local Chamber of Commerce and make sure he/she is licensed to operate in your area and fully insured.
  6. Get multiple references from your contractor’s prior customers and ask for pictures of the work they did.
  7. Ask local suppliers who work with your contractor about their history with him/her, including what’s gone right, what hasn’t and comments the contractor’s other customers have made to the suppliers.

BE SPECIFIC

  1. Get everything in writing in your contract and read it thoroughly before signing:
    • a home remodeling cost estimate for all material and labor costs
    • scheduling
    • who will be performing what services and when
    • proof that the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured and that all permits have been or will be secured
    • how your contractor or project manager can be reached during the day, after hours or in an emergency
    • payment schedules
    • how project changes and additions will be handled
    • completion date(s)
    • how overtime work, cost overages and delays will be handled and who will pay for them
    • how material and delivery mistakes will be corrected, by whom and who will pay for them
    • who will arbitrate any disagreements or breaches of contract
  2. Secure a lien release from the contractor to protect yourself from liability if he/she fails to pay subcontractors.
  3. Establish ground rules for who can enter your home to work, where and how they’ll get in, when they’ll arrive and depart each day and whether they’ll be leaving your home for lunch or other breaks.
    • You and/or your partner should arrange to personally admit workers, at least early on in the project, until you’re comfortable with the schedule and confident in the workers’ integrity, honesty and respect for your ground rules
    • Avoid handing out keys to your home-they can easily be lost or duplicated if they’re being passed around to several people on your project.
      • Better: install an exterior keypad to open the garage door and create a unique entry code to be used only by the contractor or project manager who will be at your home every day to admit workers.
  4. If weekend or evening work is necessary, discuss how your contractor will coordinate it with your family’s activities.
  5. Decide how your existing flooring/woodwork/walls/appliances and other personal property will be protected during construction and who will pay for damages.
  6. If you or your family will be gone for extended periods during the project, decide how your contractor will schedule work to keep your project on track.
  7. Clearly state and, if necessary, prominently post all house rules, especially:
    • if smoking is allowed and where
    • if doors must be closed to prevent pets from entering the construction area or escaping outside
    • which washroom facilities are available for workers’ use
    • if workers can enter any other part of your home—say, your kitchen—to store lunches or get water
    • if there are any restrictions on the type or volume of music they can play during the day
    • if children, babysitters, neighbors or household employees like nannies or housekeepers will be entering and leaving during the day
    • where workers can park their cars or trucks to not block family members from entering or leaving your garage or obstruct or complicate your neighbors’ access to their homes
    • who will remove packing materials, construction supplies and other garbage from your home and how often; if you have regularly scheduled garbage pick-up days, tell your contractor when they are and if your garbage receptacles can be used to dispose of their refuse

BE CONSIDERATE

  1. Introduce yourself to workers and call them by name; while in your home, treat them not only as employees but as guests.
  2. Ask about their families, their interests or why they chose to go into their trade and remember their responses so you can converse comfortably.
  3. If you’re cooking or baking and have extra food, offer some to your workers—an occasional plate of fresh-baked cookies will make you a thoughtful and popular homeowner.
  4. If you see behavior or hear language you don’t condone, tell your contractor or project manager immediately and have them take any disciplinary measures—don’t berate individual workers, especially in front of their peers.
  5. Home improvement projects can test your nerves—but if someone makes an honest mistake or a supplier delivers the wrong product, don’t take out your frustrations on individual workers. Again, tell your contractor or project manager immediately and have them correct the problem.

BE OBSERVANT

  1. If the work site is safe and accessible, pay regular visits to check your project’s progress.
  2. If you see or sense something that isn’t right or could pose a danger to your family or another part of your home, tell your contractor or project manager immediately and have them stop the work until it’s resolved. It’s much easier to install new drywall, relocate plumbing or electrical wiring or repaint walls earlier in the process before other work makes it difficult or impossible to correct the mistake.
  3. Keep a running list of loose ends and communicate regularly with your contractor until they’re all completed.
  4. Be aware that your home improvement activity and traffic may attract unwanted attention. Thieves might presume your home’s entrances aren’t well monitored during construction, or that the arrival of new appliances and furniture presents an open invitation for theft. Arrange for your workers to use only one entrance to your home—usually through your garage—and lock all other doors and windows and keep shades drawn in the area where work is going on. If you see unfamiliar or suspicious vehicles or people in your neighborhood during construction, alert your local police department as well as your contractor and sub-contractors to be particularly vigilant. Police may increase patrols through your neighborhood to ensure added safety.
  5. Don’t jump on every tiny flaw you see—it’s probably something that will simply be corrected by future work.
  6. Be observant—but don’t be a constant presence hovering around the work site or the workers. They’re skilled professionals and shouldn’t be micromanaged—let them do what they do best.

BE APPRECIATIVE

  1. Skilled craftspeople take great pride in their work and genuinely want you to be pleased. Many have spent years in apprenticeships honing their skills and are justifiably proud of them. When you see excellent craftsmanship, painstaking attention to detail and other examples of great work, show your appreciation—especially in front of their peers and supervisors!
  2. If you have a design question or are undecided about something—say, an intricate ceramic floor pattern, placement of accent lighting or the best paint color for baseboards—ask the person doing the work for their opinion. Chances are, they’ve seen or been involved with similar projects and can offer a fresh perspective or money-saving approach you haven’t considered. You don’t have to take their advice, but they’ll be thrilled you asked—and that strengthens your working relationship.
  3. If you have a design question or are undecided about something—say, an intricate ceramic floor pattern, placement of accent lighting or the best paint color for baseboards—ask the person doing the work for their opinion. Chances are, they’ve seen or been involved with similar projects and can offer a fresh perspective or money-saving approach you haven’t considered. You don’t have to take their advice, but they’ll be thrilled you asked—and that strengthens your working relationship.
  4. If you love the results and have enjoyed working with your contractor and his/her team, DON’T HESITATE TO OFFER THEM A RECOMMENDATION! Word-of-mouth endorsements are a powerful business-building tool that are always valued when they’re earned.

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