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September 1999 Issue
Remodeling
by Jenny Wojcik
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Scary word, remodeling.

I know of a woman -- a designer and interior decorator no less -- who has remodeled 27 houses and lived in 16 of them WHILE the remodeling was being done. I cannot imagine what sort of intestinal fortitude that takes. I just know that I have (barely) lived through one remodeling effort.

It is June as I write this, and I must admit that this is my escape from the final madness of this project. You see, it all began in the summer of 1998. Innocently enough, my husband and I decided that we needed a 2-car garage. Piece of cake, right? We’ve supervised the building of two new homes in two states, so while we weren't experienced at remodeling, we knew building. Same thing? Not even close.

Our house was built in 1949, was updated, renovated, and improved since then, but it never had a garage. There was room on our lot, there was a little money that we’d scraped together, and there was certainly the need to cover our vehicles from the salt spray and hot summer sun that goes with living on the coast of Florida. Armed with all that, we went to town hall, got the specifics on zoning and permitting, and decided we would get going.

We planned to hire an architect, but since we knew basically what we wanted to do, we sketched it out for the city. I won’t even bore you with the details of getting approval from them -- it was no less than a nightmare. Fast forward to October and two (expensive) sets of blueprints later, we were approved to build.

Certain that our problems were behind us, we sought bids. Believing that comparison shopping is always best, we requested bids from 5 contractors. With the American economy, the stock market and building all on a roll, we were fortunate to actually receive two of the five bids, but that took 6 weeks plus.

We signed a contract with a licensed, bonded, and recommended general contractor (GC) on January 8, 1999. We finished the "six, to worse case eight-week project" this week. So for more than 5 months, I have lived and written and worked around not only a physical mess, but an emotional one as well. I’ve learned so much from this experience. I now understand the pros and cons -- and I think I can save you some grief should you ever decide to remodel. Now please understand that I am not against remodeling projects. It is usually cheaper than purchasing and moving to another home, and if you, like we, love the home and location you are in, you have no desire to move. I would just like to give you a few pointers that have been learned the hard way.

  1. Research your town/city/county/state zoning regulations and file for permits from your local municipality. Don’t spend a dime that you don’t have to before completing this step. If the city requires drawings, find out how detailed they have to be and then provide that -- nothing more, nothing less.

  2. Hire an architect -- a detail oriented architect, who will be available to the builder should questions arise. When you meet with the architect, give him/her complete information about what you want, where you want it (if you know) and what you want the end result to be. Review and approve rough sketches before having final plans drawn.

  3. Get recommendations from friends, neighbors, and building officials about reputable builders/contractors and then call on them with blueprints in hand for an estimate on your job. Give them two weeks (no more should be necessary) to return their estimate to you.

  4. Get detailed estimates in writing, and request a start date and completion date. If the GC/builder cannot provide you with that, look elsewhere. If they are willing (and they should be) to give you start/end dates, advise them that the contract that you will sign will include a penalty clause for completion beyond the agreed upon date.

  5. Be as honest and forthright as you can with the contractor about the number of bids you have requested. (Competition is a good thing.)

  6. Review each bid carefully. Compare them on an "apples to apples" basis, i.e., drywall cost to drywall cost, not just the bottom line estimate. Make sure all your bids cover the same scope of work and then follow your instincts. Make sure that every item included on the blueprints are included in the estimate. (We had a driveway specified on the blueprint that was never estimated -- wonder how we were supposed to get in that new garage?) Money and time are not the only factors to consider in making this decision. You will virtually LIVE with this contractor during the course of your remodel, so make sure it is someone honest, available, reputable, dependable and most of all tolerable.

  7. Before you sign a contract (and you have to have one) read and review everything several times. If there is anything you don’t understand or agree with, speak up and work it out. Negotiate the points that you feel strongly about, and make sure that the contract covers everything you expect. Do not overlook things like finishes, punch lists, cleaning up the work area, and remember, you have a choice here. Don’t be intimidated.

  8. Clarify how additions/changes will be handled by both parties. If you specify that both homeowner and builder sign a change order, then also specify that the cost and extra time involved be ON that change order. That way everyone is on the same page.

  9. Your contract should include an agreed upon payment schedule. My contract was cost plus, meaning simply that we agreed to a markup percentage on everything the GC provided. That allowed us to see the actual billing that the contractor received from the sub-contractors and suppliers.

  10. Make sure your contract includes the stipulation that all sub-contractors be licensed and bonded for the work they will perform on your property, otherwise you could face fines, penalties and lawsuits.
During new home construction we took a lot of things for granted that you just cannot do with remodeling. For instance, we assumed (we all know about that problem) that with remodeling, everything would be "finished" to the point that we had specified. Wrong again.

When old meets new, there is a "connection" that is necessary. That "connection" in my house has been the proverbial albatross around my neck. Being a do-it-yourselfer, and being extremely shocked at the cost estimate we originally received for the project, I opted to do all the painting, plus put down my own flooring tile. My assumption was that there would be a sub-floor -- I also assumed it would be level -- from which I would prep and lay the final flooring.

It isn’t level. That’s the floor guy’s job - and I’m the floor guy. When you tear something apart, you run the risk of finding "surprises". Actually, I think you always find surprises. In our case, it was an outdated plumbing system called "Orangeburg" and poured concrete that seemed to go on forever in my yard. ("Ca-Ching, Ca-Ching" said the cash register.)

I’m familiar with the pros and cons now. I think I had both working on my garage. Am I happy with the end result? Absolutely.

Will I remodel again? I don’t think so.

Should you? Sure. Just take up a collection, read this again, and then go for it.

DÉCOR DATA: NEWS TO USE

    In the past few months, we’ve explored Traditional, Country, and Contemporary "styles". The fourth, Eclectic, is self-defining. It is a plethora of color, texture, pattern, and fabric that is incorporated into one unique and very individual style. Eclectic integrates old and new, mixed prints and florals, creating a vibrant, layered look that varies from room to room.



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