Adventures in Home Remodeling

 

Written in the January 2020 Issue

Adventures in Home Remodeling

When my wife and I moved back into our Edmond home in 2017, we knew it would take a lot of work to make our house livable again. The house was built in 1978, we bought it in 2003, lived in it for a few years, then it became a rental until I retired from the Air Force in 2017.

I’m the first to admit that I am not a handyman. I flew AWACS for 30 years, planned air campaigns, and amassed over 1000 combat hours. But I can’t lay tile, or plumb a sink, and please don’t ask me to fishhook electrical wiring behind drywall.

I hire people…professionals that know what they’re doing. Over the past two years I’ve hired contractors to: put up new siding; install 22 new windows and 4 doors; build a 1000 sq ft deck; remodel a kitchen, four bathrooms, a bedroom, the living room, and an attic. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Find and hire the right person 
This would seem intuitively obvious. I commanded small & large outfits in the Air Force and hiring the right person for the job was oftentimes my main job. Finding the right contractor was infinitely more difficult. I used AngiesList, Houzz, Homeadvisor, Google, Yelp…all of the wonderful tools available on a computer. In the end, I found the best people the old-fashioned way - recommendations from friends and neighbors…and other good contractors. If you find a contractor you like, ask them for recommendations. Good contractors like to work with each other.

Never pay in advance
Our first major job was the kitchen remodel. Our kitchen was still 1970s vintage with an original, built in Amana Radarange. These days I like to tell people that we have a $30K kitchen that cost me $45K. After an extensive internet search, numerous bids, interviews, and checking of references, I hired a company with a slick office, replete with cabinet displays, tiles, sinks, countertops, etc. Upon signing the contract, they wanted 50% up front, another 40% at the mid-point of the remodel, and the final 10% upon final inspection.

It was a disaster. Our kitchen took nine months to complete. Weeks would go by and I’d never hear from the contractor. Sub-contractors complained about the general contractor, and one of the subs put a lien on my house because Adventures in Home Remodeling By Mustafa Kujo my contractor hadn’t paid him yet. My only leverage was the 10% I hadn’t paid. The kitchen was finally completed (I withheld payment until I received lien releases from all subs) and the contractor is now bankrupt…no surprise there.

Insist on a detailed breakdown of costs in the bid and the scope of work in the contract
I finally found an awesome general contractor after asking our siding guy for recommendations. The difference in the bids and contract that he gave me compared to our kitchen contractor was astounding. He broke down and finely detailed all costs, the scope of work for demolition, electrical, painting, hauling off debris, framing, cabinetry work, dry wall, tiles, etc. He also took NO MONEY UP FRONT. We set up a payment schedule based on phasing of work completed. I hired him for every other job in my house!

Make allowances in your budget and schedule for changes
No contract survives first contact with the sledgehammer. Especially for older homes, there will always be unanticipated changes once you find out what is behind the wall or above the ceiling. And you will likely want to change things as you see the work progress, maybe different fixtures, lighting changes, materials, etc. So…

Keep the lines of communication open and clear with your contractor
They should ALWAYS freely and easily explain to you what they are doing and why…if not, they may be the wrong contractor. If the changes are made, have them draft a contract addendum detailing the scope of the change and the cost. Both of you should sign a copy.

Make the best of the turmoil
We’ve had strangers destroy and rebuild parts of our home on and off for 20 months. It’s not very pleasant to have dust everywhere, hammering, sawing, and drilling, but we kept our eye on the future by going out to eat, going to the movies often, and planning the guest list for Thanksgiving dinners. No matter the job, remember that it will have an eventual end date.

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