Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Succesful Renovation

1. Planning Renovations
Any project will be more successful, given well-defined goals. In every household project, the following three points can be applied:
FORM: What do you want it to look like?
FUNCTION: What do you want it to do for you?
COMPATIBILITY: What factors exist that might limit what you can do, and will the finished product look good on your house?
Once you've completed this part of your homework, it's time to decide if you'll built it yourself, hire a contractor, or be your own contractor and perhaps sub-contract some of the work. Sub-contracting may sometimes seem to over-complicate things and even look wasteful, but just remember - some jobs can look deceivingly simple until you actual get into the nitty-gritty of them. A general contractor's job is to co-ordinate and orchestrate the whole schmozzle to completion.
2. Finding A Contractor
My card...The process of finding a good contractor is essentially the same, whether you decide to hire a general contractor, or one or more sub-contractors. The best reference for a contractor is word of mouth from a satisfied client. If you don't know anyone who has had renovations or repairs done in the area you need, look for work trucks or signs in your neighborhood. Knock on doors, and ask the homeowners if they are satisfied with the work being done. Once you contact a contractor, ask for references, and follow through by calling their previous clients with a set of questions that will give you the information you are looking for.
The following are samples of questions that could be asked of any reference:
1. Did the job come in at the ,?
2. Did the job come in on time?
3. Was the work site left clean each day?
4. Was the quality of the workmanship satisfactory?
5. Was the quality of the materials used satisfactory?
It is always recommended that you talk to more than one company, so that you have a basis for comparison. Listen to their technical information, and note their customer relation skills. If the contractor doesn't do a very good job of communicating with you before you hire him or her, there may be a higher likelihood of miscommunications during the work.
Sometimes the best companies will be very busy and you will have to wait for their services. Other times, good companies may have time slots between large projects that smaller jobs can fit into. Ask what the company's schedule has been like for the past 6 months to a year. Reputable companies are usually busy all year round in any economic situation.
3. The Estimate, or Quote
Meeting the Contractors
Remember that the contractor you choose could be spending a lot of time in your home, so look for someone you feel at ease with. You should meet individually with each potential contractor. Be prepared to discuss products and designs; know what you want and how much you can spend. Take note if the contractors are on time, if they listen and answer questions, willingly give information about their company and their customers; and if they seem to have any aversion to your ideas.
The Estimate
This is where you'll likely make your choice of contractor. Each potential contractor will present a proposal, including design and cost information. Review the estimates, ensuring that they accurately relfect your wishes, and make comments and/or any changes that are required.
How Are Jobs Estimated?
Work that involves structural changes to the home, custom designs, or enlargement of some of the mechanical systems is typically quoted by the job. It can be very difficult for a contractor to know exactly how much time an intricate custom job will take, particulary if a number of trades are required, and the different parts of the job are interdependent.
Get it in writing!Simpler, straightforward jobs are often quoted by the square foot. Examples are laying sod, painting, roofing, drywall or refinishing floors. The quoted price will typically be set to include everything (ie. labour, materials, travel, etc.).
Smaller jobs may also be quoted buy the hour, and if the job is fairly routine, such as installing addtional electrical outlets or drywalling, the figures are typically in line. In this situation you will pay the tradesperson for time, plus the cost of the materials used in the project.
The Final Design and Quote
If you have a contractor with good references and the estimate looks good, you now need to get a firm quote, including final designs. The design should include detailed specifications for the work and the materials to be used.
(Another option is to have an architect or designer produce the plans and ask the contractors to bid on the job, based on these plans.)
Make sure the final specs are accurate and reflect your wishes, and make your final comments and changes. After you accept the final quote, the cost of further changes will likely be added to the job. Ask how long the stages of the work will take, so that you can monitor progress.
4. The Paperwork
Cash is King, however...
... take care, lest the cash deal of the century turn into the mistake of a lifetime! One reason for cash payment is the avoidance of paperwork and taxes. Taxes and other legalities aside, the absence of contracts and permits can be extremely risky.
Ooh, I love to save money!Cash contractors often don't pay Workers' Compensation fees, and you could be held legally responsible for any worker injured on your property. If the contractor gives you the product warranty cards, you'll be covered for defective materials provided they were properly installed, but don't expect good follow-up service on a cash deal. You would also have difficulty supporting any legal actions without any paperwork. The overall quality of a project may be compromised in the absence of paperwork, and cash paid in advance (rather than by cheque) will be all but impossible to retrieve if things go sour.
Building, plumbing and electrical codes may require that all or parts of your project be performed by licensed tradespeople, and sometimes licenses are required to obtain the permits. If the tradespeople aren't licensed, the contractor probably isn't insured. And if your contractor isn't insured, then depending on the nature of the job, neither is your house while he works on it.
The Contract
Agreements in writing are less vulnerable to miscommunications, than are verbal ones, and far easier to enforce. Some of the points included in a good contract are:
1. Full job description, including all aspects of the work; demolition, renovation, reconstruction and finishing.
2. Material specifications, including type, model, number, color, and size where applicable, and who's supplying what.
3. Start and finish dates.
4. Payment schedule; 40/40/20 is generally acceptable.
5. Permits, and who's responsible for obtaining them.
6. Clean-up and trash removal.
7. On site behaviour.
8. Change order clause: Have any changes to the original job specifications in writing with a requirement that you "sign off" any change before the work is performed.
9. Arbitration: Aree how disagreements will be handled before the work begins.
10. Contractor's insurer and policy number.
5. The Work MORE POWER!
Problem Avoidance: If you've carefully chosen your contractor, and made adequate preparations (including making the site ready for the trades people and workers), this part should be easy! The actual work should closely follow what was written into the contract, however you still need to monitor the ongoing project, and in some cases you'll be required to make additional decisions. There are often unforseen difficulties, or you may simply wish to ask for changes as the work proceeds.
Site Preparation: Remove furniture and stored articles from the work area, and cover carpets and other items that may not be moveable. It is in your own best interest to make arrangements for storage, clean-up and refuse areas convenient to the work area.
Project Coordination: Effective communication is the greatest secret to successfully completing any project. Maintain regular contact with your contractor(s) so that the unexpected can be dealt with expediently.
Hidden Conditions: A thorough inspection performed in conjuction with estimation should preclude any major changes, however there are structural and mechanical conditions initially hidden from view, which even the most experienced renovator may not be able to predict. Be prepared to negotiate changes for "hidden conditions".
What to do if a problem develops:
1. Bring all problems, perceived and real, to the attention of your contractor(s).
2. Is it major or minor? If minor, and the contractor is present at the time, discuss it and negotiate a resolution. If it's minor, and/or looks like it can wait, start a list of minor observations that you can bring to his or her attention when appropriate.
3. Major problems should be dealt with immediately. If your contractor is not present at the time, make every effort to contact him or her as soon as possible. This may avert furtherance of the problem.
4. Given that your contractor responds satisfactorily, carry on. If not, try again and if necessary, write a letter. If you still don't get satisfaction, look to a third party such as the Ontario Renovators Council or the Ontario Home Builders Association. These agencies should be approached only if you are certain that a resolution cannot be achieved with the contractor. Legal counsel should be an absolute last resort. There's no use making a mountain out of a molehill, and thereby delaying succesful completion of the project.
THE BOTTOM LINE:careful contractor selection + a good contract = successful job


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