4 steps to avoid a ‘remodel gone wrong’

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Sep• 03•09

Stairway A recent article on Bankrate.com, nicely written by Margarette Burnette, lists four steps to make sure you don't end up with a nightmare remodeling story to share at dinner parties. Sure, a nightmare remodel makes for some lively minutes of banter. But really, in the end, you want a successful remodel. If you need something to talk about at dinner parties, focus on the goofy things your kids or pets did.

Here are the four steps mentioned in the article. Let's see if they make sense:

1. Research before the job starts

Yes, yes, yes. I concur. If there's one thing I've heard from homeowners over the years, it's this: "We should have done more research before we started. We didn't really understand the process." And the trouble is, when you lack knowledge, you lack power. So how do you learn about remodeling? Buy books on remodeling, or check them out of the library. Look for contract-it-yourself books. Even if you will hire a contractor, you should know what a contractor does. Research the heck out of materials and appliances and new products. The bigger your potential remodel, the more time you should spend on this.

2. Document everything

Yes, again. Write notes for every meeting you have with the designer or architect, the contractor, subcontractors, the building department officials and anyone else. Memory is funny and faulty. We all forget what was said or twist the facts to conform to our wishes. Create a notebook where you keep everything having to do with your remodel: notes, receipts, warranty information, contracts.

3. Raise concerns immediately

Definitely. You don't want to appear like a nag. And you don't want to let your emotions take over. But if something seems wrong, bring it up sooner rather than later. Sometimes the success of your communication is all in the tone of your voice and the way you phrase your concern. I'm partial to these phrases: "I have a concern about something. Is this a good time to discuss it?" Or: "I'd like to get some clarity on this." Or: "I'm not sure this element of the remodel is what I wanted." These might sound like a weak way of addressing a contractor. But civility is always the best course. Trust me on this.

4. Escalate if necessary

Be careful with this one. Yes, you should certainly take legal action if you've got a lot of money involved and the work is simply awful. Likely, you scrimped on steps one and three above. I'll tell you that it's very rare for a person who has thoroughly researched a remodel beforehand — the process, the best contractors in town, the right materials, the most talented and ethical subcontractors — to get into trouble. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it's rare. You really don't want to end up here, where you're turning to expensive lawyers and getting involved in a drawn-out legal battle. The grief and stress are unimaginable. Your main concern should be to avoid putting this step into action. So, steps one through three should be your focus.

And, having said all that, happy remodeling!

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