Home Improvements

Getting Your Money’s Worth on Home Improvements and Keeping the Change

So you've realized that you need a bigger boat since your family has begun using hand signals to avoid collisions. You're flipping a home before it flips you. Or perhaps your roof needs to be replaced because you can't seem to find any more pots to collect rain water. Homeowners and property investors alike, all reach moments when home improvements are simply inevitable. And unfortunately, it isn't always fun.

During this exciting time, anticipation is high, and initially, your tendency may be to focus on all of the positive benefits of completing your new project. After all, the excitement is what probably drove you to make the decision in the first place. Or maybe not. Perhaps it was your spouse who's been begging for years, or your tenants at the courthouse. If that's the case then you're a bit more advanced and lucky for you, these emotions will no longer be mentioned in the next paragraph.

Once you begin considering the costs, the plans, the time, the mess and the stress of completing your new project, your cheek muscles will begin to tire from holding that smile. Your face will soon begin to change, resembling that of a puppy dog, which will become a permanent mask that you will wear until the day your project is completed. You may find yourself reminiscing about a previous disastrous project, or if this is your first, perhaps you begin to hear the echoes from horrific contractor stories-compliments of your friends and neighbors.

The fact is, you can avoid most problems, stress and financial setbacks when undergoing home improvements by taking a few simple precautions.

Hiring a contractor for any project should not be a decision that you can simply "leave to the pros". Unless you're extremely passive, collect your money from trees in your backyard, or both, chances are you will want to have at least moderate control over the project. And most importantly, control over the funds that you'll be pouring into it. In order to avoid most problems associated with home improvements, you must get involved early, before it's over your head.

Below is a general guide that should aid you in holding on to that smile without jeopardizing Johnny's college fund.

Get your home improvement ideas down on paper

It's time to move all of those wonderful ideas from the gray matter into some fresh white paper. Get yourself a grid notebook and a pencil, and draw out a sketch or diagram. Don't worry, you don't need to learn CADD and check it for proper scale, just draw it out to the best of your ability. At this point this will be used simply as a visual aid. Doing this will also ensure that you to consider certain obstacles that may need to be addressed before moving forward.

Discuss Your Home Improvement Ideas 

Before standing on a chair and dictating your project plans to the ones who will be directly impacted by them, consider sharing your ideas first. Whether this will be to your family members, or if an investment property, to your tenants or real estate agent.

First, begin explaining the reasons for your project, and then the benefits. You'll want to be able to share the same excitement you felt when you first thought about the project. This will get their attention and more feedback since they are now part of the plan. Bring all of your sketches, and let everyone have a look. Don't forget your pencil, and make sure it has a fresh eraser at the end. You'll be amazed to learn all of the different questions and ideas that come out of doing this. Although hard to accept, at the end of this meeting you may even end up with a much better idea, very different from your own.

Now will be a good time to discuss finances and set a budget with your spouse or anyone who may be financially affected by the project. Come up with a reasonable figure and an absolute limit to your budget.

One, two, three...

Now that you have compiled enough information for a rough draft on why the project is needed, let's discuss what is needed.

With some simple research on the internet or at your local home improvement store, you should now create a list of different materials or products that you might consider for your project. This will help you get more educated on what is actually available. Gather this information on your notebook and list everything by preference and cost- to show the impact on your budget.

Next, find out what the requirements are for your project. You may need to pull a building permit through your city or state. Don't do anything without it. If you are caught with a permit you may be forced to completely tear down your entire project, at whatever stage you're in. You don't want that to happen. Again, this information can be easily located and sometimes ordered through the internet.

If you live in a closed community, check with your home owners association, they may also have bylaws which you may be required to comply with.

Sub Total.

Contractors usually purchase materials at wholesale prices, which is usually between 10% to 20% cheaper then the retail price quotes you may get, so you're much better off having the contractor provide the materials themselves. But even if you don't plan on purchasing the materials, it is a good idea to add them all up at this point. This figure will provide you with excellent insight on cost. If necessary, touch up your specifications so that you know how much of what is necessary. The more precise the specs, the more accurate your material costs will be.

Putting The Home Improvements Together.

Most home improvement projects are labor intensive. This means that much of the costs associated are a direct result of hiring someone to put it all together. This is of course, on of the most important pieces of it all, since without it, all you're left with is an overly erased piece of grid paper with chicken scratch. The process of selecting a contractor is crucial, and there are many things you should consider doing before hiring.

Everyone has got Something to Say.

Friends and neighbors can certainly provide positive (or negative) feedback on local contractors. But don't settle for just that alone. Just because things worked out well for your neighbor, does not mean that they will for you.

Today, with a few simple clicks of the mouse, you can go from being a novice to an expert consumer in a matter of minutes. Go online and visit websites that offer descriptive business profiles and customer reviews. This will give you a much better idea on who to consider and who to stay away from. It's like having multiple neighbors now, providing you with feedback for free! Consider the length of time the business has been around too, you don't want your project to be the first of its kind for a contractor. Also consider visiting the Better Business Bureau to review information on any contractor you're considering. You'll have access to review any complaints (or compliments) made by prior customers, again providing you with excellent free information.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Home Improve!

Once you've selected two or three potential contractors, gather up all of your information and reach out to each one for a free quote. This process is called RFQ, short for Request for Quotation. You will want to provide as much detail as possible in order to get an accurate figure back from bidders. Schedule a time when bidders can meet with you in person to review your details and the actual work site. Don't forget to include a date when quotes are due, so that you're not sitting around waiting to get them all back.

After all your hard work and research, there's no greater feeling then knowing what you're talking about. Make sure the contractor understands that you've done your homework. Use your newly acquired terminology with them and be clear about what you know and what you expect. Your new skills will help you tremendously when your project is quoted and during any negotiations. You should feel confident that you'll be getting what you pay for.

Make sure that you request the following documents from all bidding contractors:

  1. A current copy of their License & Insurance
  2. Proof of Workman's Compensation
  3. Customer References (be sure to take the time to contact each one!)

Choosing the Best Quote 

Once you've received all your quotes back, it's time to compare them. Each should include detailed information such as the description of work to be performed, cost of materials, cost of labor, estimated completion time, warranties on any product and labor and of course the price quote for your project. Although the quote isn't an actual contract, it should cover most of what you should expect to see in the actual contract.

Although price usually weighs the heaviest when selecting your contractor, remember that cheapest isn't always better. There are many factors that you should consider before making your selection. Review each one closely.

Done Deal.

It's finally here! Time to get moving.

When meet with you contractor, you will be required to sign a contract. It is a good idea to have a copy of the original quote document handy. All of the items and any amendments you discussed with the contractor should now be in your contract, along with much more detail. Verbal agreements are not acceptable, so make sure you take the time to review it all and make sure it's in writing. Consider having an attorney review your contract for large projects prior to signing it.

So there you have it. With a simple combination of gathering, sharing, planning and learning, you can in fact complete a very smooth and successful home improvement project. While minimizing unnecessary stress and maintaining that wonderful smile, all the way to the bank.


About The Author

Paulo Poco is the author and president of http://contractorsCIRCLE.com, a contractor directory website.