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Real Talk – Real money - Lessons Learned

My first renovation wasn't glamorous and didn't quite go as imagined. There were delays and unproductive and less-than-honest contractors who took advantage of my lack of knowledge and being an absentee homeowner.

Here are the lessons I learned during the renovation process. Hopefully, my mistakes will help you from wasting your time and money.

Ensure you have written plans, i.e., budget, designs, and permits. Sometimes you will need professional plans from structural engineers, especially if you're doing a demo. It's an expense that will save you money in the long run. Mainly the permits because there's an outside third party checking the work.

Keep in mind the following before signing the contract:

  • Make sure to check most references provided by the contractor - a seemly minor customer complaint might be a big red flag. Check for common complaints.

  • Check reviews – Angie's List, Yelp, Home Advisor, Google, BBB (note not all business is BBB Accredited). Try to find an accredited BBB contractor, especially for large jobs.

  • You can also check online court records for lawsuits and judgments in counties they do business in. The first contractor I hired had judgments in another county.

  • Verify contractor's licenses with the Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation, DPOR, in your state and make sure they are licensed contractors with no action against them.

  • Check with the county to see if you need a building permit.

  • Vet everyone – even someone recommended by family.

  • Make sure the contract has the "termination for convenience clause" and doesn't have an arbitration clause. If the contract has an "arbitration" clause, you probably will not see your day in court and will spend a lot of money on a lawyer.

  • Make sure you receive a line item budget from the contractors before the work begins in case changes need to be made.

  • Do not let the contractor start work until you get a signed W9 (if needed). This job was for a rental property, and the labor would be expensed, so the proper documents should have been signed before work began.

Try to be on-site as much as possible. Unfortunately, the person managing the project needed supervision.

Do not pay for materials without receipts or buy them yourself. Add this requirement to the contract.

Make sure your contractor knows that all changes to the original plan must have written approval, or they will not get paid. Include it in the contract or send them an email or text to ensure no misunderstanding.

Do not do business with a company that wants a large deposit upfront. Even large well-known companies. Because there's no incentive for them to complete the work on time or address any issues if they arise.

Even though you have a Fixed Price contract, pay only the days worked that week. Make sure it's in the contract to avoid misunderstandings.

Get a second opinion and/or bid if a contractor finds issues outside the original contract's scope of work. The second contractor always found problems. (add this clause to the contract if needed.) This might cause delays, but you will save money in the end.

Be prepared for delays, so don't rush the process. However, an honest, professional contractor will inform you of any delays and why.

Don't be a pushover. Believe but verify, and get another estimate if the contractor finds an issue outside the scope of the original contract.

As with any new endeavor, there will be a learning curve. However, my lack of knowledge and trust in people had a high price tag. Would I do it again, given the opportunity? Yes, I would because I love transforming homes to their revitalized functionality and beauty.

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