7 remodeling tips to avoid costly mistakes

7 remodeling tips to avoid costly mistakes

New York homeowners are interested in remodeling: In the last 12 months, New York tri-state area Angie's List members have searched ratings and reviews for general remodeling contractors more than 10,000 times.

Despite a sluggish economy, interest in making significant home improvements obviously runs high. For homeowners looking to invest in their abodes, here are 7 ways to avoid mistakes that will cost additional time and money:

1. Planning
Changing your mind about materials or the scope of the project can be costly. Before you bring in contractors for estimates, be sure about what it is you’re trying to accomplish and the types of materials you’d like to use. Nearly any plan is possible — if you’re willing to pay for it.

Most construction materials come in standard sizes, shapes and colors — anything else is considered custom, and the price will be determined by how much time and effort a deviation requires. If you want high-end finishes but only have enough to pay for low-end finishes, then maybe it’s best to delay the project so you can save up for what you really want.

2. Estimates
Always make sure to get estimates for each project from at least three contractors. Going with the lowest estimate is not necessarily your best bet. And get everything in writing. It’s difficult to prove a promise when it’s verbal.

3. Licensing
In New York City and the states of New Jersey and Connecticut, home improvement contractors must be licensed. Not working with a licensed contractor can mean your home improvement professional hasn't proven they meet the legal minimums in terms of experience, insurance and qualifications.

Working with an unlicensed contractor also means you, the consumer, have less recourse should something go wrong with your project. Licensing regulations also provide an avenue to make formal complaints and, in some jurisdictions, access to restitution funds.

Verify a contractor's credentials with respective licensing boards in New York City, New Jersey or Connecticut before making a hiring decision. Other cities and towns throughout the tri-state area may also regulate home improvement contractors, so check with your local building department about license requirements.

4. Insurance
Any contractor you hire should have business liability insurance, and every subcontractor working for that contractor should be covered under workers' compensation insurance. If the contractor plans to subcontract work, make sure those companies are insured. While the contractor may carry insurance, the company that actually performs the work might not.

5. Budgeting

Many factors can cause the cost of a home improvement project to rise above the estimate. For instance, the subflooring may need to be replaced if you’re having a bathroom floor tiled.  There are instances when something may not have been visible at the time of the estimate.

Make sure you set aside at least 10-20 percent of the total project cost to cover unexpected problems. The average kitchen remodel, for instance, costs $15,000, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, which means the amount set aside for the unexpected cost should be about $1,500 to $3,000.

6. Payments
Contractors typically ask for a percentage of the cost upfront to pay for materials and cover labor expenses at the beginning of a project. However, this should never be more than 30 percent of the project's total cost.

The remainder should be paid out based on a completion schedule, allowing the homeowner to pay based on satisfactory work. Holding back some money and paying it over time also gives a homeowner additional leverage to get a project finished or to make repairs.

7. Warranty
Some defects in workmanship may not show up immediately. Make sure the contractor guarantees their work against defects. Make sure you understand exactly what is covered by the warranty and to what degree.

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