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 Improving Your Home

by Kim Kinrade 

 Many homeowners are stuck with the conundrum of whether to move or to renovate. This is usually brought on by an increase in the size of the family or a change in circumstances where a large space is needed. There is always the option of moving to a larger place but his brings up many issues including location, time and money. Sometimes changing locations can turn out to be one of the worst, and expensive, moves you can make.

The next logical step is to plan a renovation and -on the bright side for those of you who are more petrified by this option - nothing can increase the value of your home like a renovation. All it takes is planning and finding the right renovating partner.

1. What Do You Want?

This is the essential question because just saying, "I want a bigger place," doesn't cut it. Itemize what parts of the home you want bigger and what features you want in your new home so you can come up with a budget. For example, you may want a new patio area with a spa tub in addition to a kitchen. In this case you may not have the money for both so you may want to spread out your desires over a couple of years. Budget always drives the project so get this in order.


2. Go to the Show!

Believe it or not planning doesn't start with home improvement book and a pad and pen. What you need first is fresh ideas and these can be found at home shows and in home improvement stores. At a home show you have dedicated people who will give you ideas on how you can redo or enlarge your space. (As well, you can get the beginning of a list of a good contractors) The nice thing about a home show is that you can get several different ideas - and the prices of cabinets, fixtures, etc.- from the people hawking their wares. And the nice thing about home shows is that they usually come in the spring and the fall.


3. Decor

Some homeowners have beautiful furnishings that require showcasing and so a renovation should take design into consideration. For others who are going to re-equip their home with new furnishings then a style should be put together so that they can tie the themes together. This is where a library comes in handy because you can spend a few hours going over home improvement magazines and books. In addition, don't underestimate the value of taking out a variety of videos on home design.


4. The Contractor

Once you have your ideas in motion this is the time to contact the people who will fulfill your desires. This may come from internet sites, a mitt-full of cards from the home show, recommendations from friends and the yellow pages. The basic rule here is to put down everything in writing that you want done so that every contractor has exactly the same parameters. For example, if you want a deck it should read like this:

  • 200 square foot deck off the kitchen
  • 4 feet off the ground
  • Pressure-treated lumber frame with a cedar deck
  • 5' garden door
  • Railings all around
  • Two sets of steps.

Now, after scoping the site, the various contractors have a basis for supplying their bid. It is best to get 4 estimates because then you will know what you should be paying.


5. The Estimates

This is the splash of cold water! It is alright to decide on what your want but now you have to pay the piper to have it all. For most of us this a crude form of triage as we carve away pieces which amount to the icing on the cake. But this does not have to be a dreary occasion. It just means that certain items have to be put off for another time.

If you have 4 estimates there is a good chance one will be very high and one may be very low. Now, just because a bid is high it doesn't mean that this contractor will do a better job. It could mean that that his or her company is in high demand. It also doesn't mean to take the lowest bid but, on the other hand in the case of a deck, the bid could come from a retiree who does handyman work with a friend and doesn't have the overhead. If it is a larger project then a licensed contractor is the only way to go.


6. Hiring Your Contractor

License: Of course your contractor must be licensed for the area which means you should do some checking with your local building inspector.

References: Check these out and go see the finished projects. Ask the owner if the project was completed and cleaned-up in a timely manner.

Better Business Bureau: It always pays to check with the BBB just to see if the contractor has any outstanding issues and how he or she has dealt with any complaints.

Time Frame: Can the contractor start and finish in a timely manner? You don't want your project drawn out over months.

Deposit: A 20-30% deposit is not uncommon although many help columns will tell you that you should not. A deposit seals the deal with the contractor so that labor can be scheduled for your project and materials ordered. In many cases items ordered cannot be easily returned without penalty. So if a homeowner suddenly had a change of mind then the contractor may be stuck with materials that he or she can't use and putting off a paying job until later.