Education

Hiring a Remodeler

What You Should Know About Hiring a Remodeler

With the ongoing challenging economy, many families are choosing to remodel their homes to fit their changing needs, rather than selling their home and buying another one. Your home is likely your largest investment, and even simple remodels can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so you want to make sure you find a contractor you can trust.

As the home building and remodeling industry celebrates National Remodeling Month in May, here are some important considerations to ensure you make the right decisions when you find, evaluate and hire a remodeler.

The best place to start is the Directory of Professional Remodelers at www.nahb.org/remodelerdirectory or check the NAHBR Remodel Directory on the directory page of: www.nocohba.com. A professional remodeler will uphold the highest professional and ethical standards in the industry. These sources can also help you find a remodeler who specializes in a specific type of remodeling if you need it, such as a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) to help modify your home to better suit you as you age, or a Certified Green Remodeler (CGM) to make your home more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly.

You should also ask for referrals from friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and others who have had remodeling work done. Or, ask local independent trade contractors, building materials suppliers, architects, engineers, home inspectors, lenders and insurance professionals for recommendations.

Once you have a list of potential home remodelers for your project, do research to verify that they are appropriately licensed and have a good business track record. Look them up with your local or state office of consumer protection and the local Better Business Bureau, as well as with your state's licensing agency and the state and local building inspectors. Verify that the remodeler has the appropriate licenses and registrations, and see if they have received any complaints about the remodeler and if so, were those complaints resolved satisfactorily?

When you begin meeting with remodelers, you want to find out information such as:

  • How long they have been in business in your community?
  • Can they provide references from customers and suppliers they work with?
  • Do they carry insurance that protects you from claims arising from property damage or job site injuries?
  • Ask for a copy of the insurance certificates.
  • What is their working knowledge of the many types and ages of homes in the area, and what sort of issues could arise?
  • Do they arrange for the building permit? (The person who obtains the permit is the contractor of record and therefore liable for the work)
  • Do they provide a written estimate before beginning the work, and a detailed contract that spells out the work that will and will not be performed, protects both of you, provides a fair payment schedule contract and complies with local, state, and federal laws?
  • Do they offer a warranty? What is covered under the warranty and for how long?

For more detailed checklists for finding, evaluating and working with a remodeler, as well as other information about remodeling your home, go to www.nahb.org/remodeling.

Think Twice Before You Remodel

Embarking on a home project without the needed expertise can be very expensive and have a negative effect on home equity.

We all know someone—or maybe it is us—with unfinished projects throughout the house that our wonderful, not-so-handy spouse decided to do in an effort to save money.

True Story

my neighbor had a tree fall and crack his front porch and then, because Murphy’s Law lives in my neighborhood, a water main running under his property broke and the city had to dig it out—leaving a ravine in his front yard.

Instead of calling a contractor to rebuild his porch and fix the ravine, our neighbor decided to do the work himself. That was a year ago. Every night after work, he would come home and work on the project bit by bit. He spent four weeks trying to pour concrete.

One project is not enough for our neighbor. While he was fixing the porch and ravine, he also decided to do some siding work on the front of the house and replace his front door. His wife appreciated the cool fall morning breeze wafting in through the plastic he had set up where the door once stood for the two days it took him to finish that project because he was still pouring concrete. Finally, he finished all projects. The door looks great. The porch looks great. No one really understands why he put a sidewalk in the middle of the yard to cover the ravine, but that also looks great. The siding? Well, because the house is 30 years old just replacing some of the front without doing it all, doesn’t look so great.

Did my neighbor really save money? That is debatable. While he did not turn money over to a contractor, he turned over a lot of money to Home Depot. He spent a year of holiday weekends, vacation days, every weekend, etc to finish the work. I wonder if he took stock of how much his free time was worth.

This story is not unique. According the U.S. Census Bureau, home owner do-it-yourself (DIY) projects account for 20 percent of all remodeling done and industry professionals say that between 25 percent and 30 percent of their work comes from fixing DIY disasters.

Stop! Think about What You’re Doing

What has caused this influx of weekend-warrior DIYers? Some blame ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover; others the Discovery channel’s Monster House (you can completely renovate your home into an English pub, Australian Outback or space station in five days!) and then there is the DIY network channel that shows how-tos from electrical work to room additions to fireplace installations all in 30 minutes. The possibilities are endless…

Can you really tear out a wall and install a fireplace with chimney in 30 minutes? The laws of physics, remodeling and Elmer’s glue say “no.”

“One thing all DIYers need to know is that television shows pay an army of professional remodelers who sit off camera to plan out projects for the actors (hosts) and stand by coaching as the show is taped,” says Arthur Kriens, CGR of Kriens Construction Co. Inc., in Sioux Falls, SD. “DIY shows are not realistic, just as movies take artistic license. That is why it is called entertainment.”

While most professional remodelers do not frown on some DIY work, all believe that many jobs should be left to professionals.

“The rule of thumb that I always live by is if a handyman service in your area such as 1-800-handyman, etc. can do the project then odds are, a good do-it-yourselfer can do it themselves,” says Bob Birner, CGR, CGB of Amazing Siding Corp. in Houston. “If they don't do it, then that is a good sign of needing a professional. We as remodelers wouldn't perform open heart surgery on a loved one without medical expertise. Remodeling is open-heart surgery for the home - only professionals should attempt.”

Still think you can tackle a big remodeling project? Bob Van Cleef, CGR, CGB, GMB, owner of Yankee Housewrights in Jamestown, R.I. cautions all motivated DIYers to ask themselves a few questions:

  • Have you ever done this before?
  • Can you dial 911 when you are bleeding?
  • How much money will you really save? (To get a true sense of actual costs of a project, take what you think it will cost in time and money and multiply by three.)

“A person needs to look at a project and what can happen in the worst case scenario and ask, if it came to a disaster can they deal with that and will they know how to fix it? Also, can your marriage survive a disastrous remodel? If you answer no, then hire a pro,” says Van Cleef.

Van Cleef and other professionals admit that when it comes to repairs and remodeling their own homes they hire professionals to do it. “I have been in construction my whole life and I still hire a pro to do work at our house because there are certain things even I wouldn’t touch such as electrical, plumbing and framing,” says Van Cleef.

Projects for Dummies

Because not all men or women are created equal, there are some projects the professionals believe can be tackled by DIYers (the outcome will depend on skill level) such as, hanging pictures, interior painting (if you have a week), changing door knobs and cabinet pulls and some aesthetic work such as installing crown moulding (but only if you are really good!).

If you are willing to put the time and energy into a do-it-yourself home remodel, Barbara Rose Peck, co-owner of S.N. Peck Building, Inc. and Case Handyman Services of Chicago advises:

  • Follow product directions. Read everything that comes with the product and take it seriously.
  • Get a detailed, illustrated home repair and maintenance book.
  • Do very careful and thorough preparation: Set everything up and protect surrounding surfaces.
  • Practice with the tools.
  • Follow safety procedures and use proper safety equipment.

But beware of taking on more than you are capable of doing both in time and skill. “The biggest mistake the weekend handyman makes is to take on a project larger than he can handle in a reasonable amount of time,” says Douglas Nelson, CR, CGR of New Spaces in Burnsville, MN. “I have talked with people who have been remodeling their kitchen for more than two years. Can you imagine not having a kitchen for two years? This is divorce court time.”

Extreme Home Makeover

While careful attention to detail and directions can help a DIYer with a successful remodel, the National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council warns against non-professionals attempting certain jobs because of the damage and life-threatening risk these projects can create. The following project should only be done by professionals:

Electrical – unless you are a licensed electrician do not attempt to rewire their home. If done improperly you can burn down your house.
“We investigated an electrical short in a bathroom fixture not too long ago and found that the homeowner had nailed down some plywood sheets in the attic for storage even though the electrical wires were in the way,” says Mike Dukate, CGR, CAPS, CGB of Dukate Fine Remodeling in Franklin, Ind. “One nail actually split the wire, making contact with the hot feed and the neutral wire and the nail became a heating element whenever the bathroom light was turned on and charred the wood all around it, it was just a matter of time before a fire started.”
Structural Changes – do not remove or add any walls or cut holes into the roof, you run the risk of compromising the structural integrity of your home and having a really big hole in your roof.
“Once we were unable to take on the repairs of a bathroom job because the homeowner and a handyman took on a master bedroom addition project and created major plumbing, tile and other aesthetic and structural problems,” says Kimberly Bednar of Plekkenpol Builders, Inc., in Bloomington, Ind. “The work had so badly disturbed the area that we were not comfortable with giving a warranty on our work without completely starting from scratch – removing and replacing the addition and all plumbing, including the fixtures.”
Plumbing – moving pipes can cause a swimming pool in your home at anytime.
“We had a plumbing situation one time where the plumbing drain pipe from the kitchen sink was installed so the water had to run uphill,” says Kriens. “The sink always was slow to drain. This DIY fix-it was discovered by the second homeowner, who sued the first homeowner after he had to pay $25,000 for the entire kitchen to be redone.”

While many projects look manageable in product fliers there is a difference between what is spent and the “real” cost generated on a project. Many of the products purchased for the DIY market, although designated by a name brand, are not always the same quality available to contractors. Also, many warranties become void by improper installation. If projects are done incorrectly, homeowners can end up with their own Extreme Home Makeover whether intended or not.

“An old trade contractor of mine always said, ‘It is hard to beat a man at his own trade.’ And there is a lot of truth to that,” says Don Novak, CGR, CAPS, GMB of Novak Construction Co in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Most people discover that their estimate of how long a project will take is soon shaken when they realize they have bitten off more than they can chew. Usually it costs more for a good remodeler to undue any damage than it would have to hire the professional in the first place and forgo the ‘I told you to hire a contractor, but NO you wouldn’t listen.’”

Remember, DIY projects should be fun. If you don't see it as fun, then DDIY (don't do it yourself). If you have already created a DIY disaster that needs fixed or you value your time and money, hire a professional to do the work by contacting your local NAHB Remodelors Council to find a professional remodeler in your area. Also, the Remodelors Council has a free online resources for consumers titled How to Find a Professional Remodeler at www.northerncoloradoremodelers.com

Designations - What they mean to you

With spring in the air and a change in seasons, you may be thinking about making a change at your home. Along with this thought process comes several questions whose answers are not always the easiest to find. For example, how do you find a remodel professional that are trained in green building or accessibility concerns? Who do you call or where do you start the search process for a trained professional?

First you need to visit www.northerncoloradoremodelers.com, the newly created website for the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers of Northern Colorado. This site was created to help people understand the remodeling process and provide a tool to help find a local and professional remodel contractor. Throughout this list of members, you will find that several have designations behind their name. Hopefully, the following will explain what each of those titles mean (other than alphabet soup).

To start with, what does Certified Graduate Remodeler or CGR mean?
Certified Graduate RemodelerThe CGR designation indicates that a remodeler has completed the requirements of the CGR professional designation program, which includes educational credits, prescribed business standards, and experience. To maintain the CGR designation, contractors must complete a continuing education requirement every three years. These requirements include attending remodeling or business-related seminars, trade shows and education programs. Alternatively, a contractor must obtain another professional designation within the three-year period. When you hire a CGR professional, you can be assured that they meet the NAHB standards of business practice, have a proven track record of successfully completing projects, have completed relevant educational requirements, and pledge to uphold the CGR Code of Ethics. If nothing else, you know that a CGR professional has knowledge in the remodeling industry and will be able to address any questions or concerns your project may face before you start the project.
The second designation you’ll come across is CAPS, or Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist.
Certified Aging-in-Place SpecialistA CAPS professional’s goals are to provide a safe and accessible home for all abilities and ages of life. They are trained in unique needs of the senior adult population, in home modifications for individuals that don’t want to leave their existing home as they age. These contractors perform common remodeling projects, yet they have the ability to find solutions to common barriers for people with limited abilities.
You can also think of a CAPS professional as a service provider rather than a products provider. Most Americans over the age of 55 would like to continue to live in a familiar environment throughout their maturing years. With the CAPS designation becoming more prevalent, you’ll also find designers, architects, and health care consultants going through the same training process as remodeling contractors. Part of the training process includes modifications to existing showers and baths (providing grab bars or changing the countertop height) to accommodate the need for accessibility. The CAPS professional can perform simple tasks, or help you design a home from scratch to make sure the universal design is considered at in every aspect of your project. Having a CAPS professional on your design team allows you to rest assure that the strategies for universal designs are met, techniques in the building process go over and above code practice, building aesthetics are enriching and not institutionalized, and that you to maintain a barrier free living environment. How should I modify my home to make it more comfortable? Is there a way to make my home more accessible or more maneuverable? A CAPS professional is the best choice for you if you’re asking about your remodeling project.
The third and final designation is becoming the fastest growing title; CGP or Certified Green Professional.
Certified Green ProfessionalA CGP professional has taken courses from the University of Housing and has at least two years in the building profession. The training teaches builders and remodelers alike the need to consider energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, use of sustainable or recycled products, and indoor air quality considerations in the design process. A CGP professional always staying up to date with the ever changing political climate and making sure consumers are aware of rebate programs or tax incentives that are available through local, state, and national government programs. These professionals also understand the importance of community involvement and the need to reduce waste in the local landfills. The goals can be accomplished by understanding building methods that require less materials, generating less waste, incorporating green practices into development plans, provide recycling for onsite materials, and most importantly, providing knowledge about products that consume less energy. If you would like to begin a green project, consider a CGP professional.

In closing, these designations are important for professionals to help distinguish themselves from other builders and remodelers. Please visit our website for a list of professional contractors located in Northern Colorado who understand the value of continuing education and are ready to do their best job for you. May you have success with your building project this year? Hopefully this has helped clear up any alphabet soup confusion when it comes to selecting a contractor.

Jeffrey J. Schneider, CAPS, CGR, CGP - Jeffrey Schneider is President of Armstead Construction, a professional remodeling company located in Fort Collins Colorado. Jeff is also past-president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado and a past Chairman of the NAHB Remodelers of Northern Colorado.