Many of you know me as a Realtor and former Building Contractor. Some may not know that I was previously a Police Officer and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I will combine all of my life’s experiences to convince you that every home should be protected by a centrally monitored burglary/ fire alarm. Let’s break down the components. Continue reading
Every city and town where I have worked has a set of “Zoning” rules that create a minimum or maximum standard for building within that community. I’ve heard of places where you have the local permission givers to paint your front door a different color. I’ve also taught classes in places where you can build anything you want; anywhere you want on your land. After all, it’s your land right? True enough. But what about your neighbors rights? Continue reading
Building & Remodeling
How Long Should My Roof, Furnace, and Major Appliances Last
Every Town, Business, and Homeowner should have a major capital expenditure plan. When will all the expensive items move passed their life expectancy and be a ticking time bomb until failure? There can always be an unexpected mechanical breakdown, but I’m talking about pretending a twenty year warranty roof that is thirty years old will be good for one more winter. Emergency repairs are always more expensive to fix than well planned and scheduled maintenance. Planning and scheduling also interpret into budgeting. If your crystal ball said that you would have a major roof leak, furnace failure, and refrigerator makes its final noise all in one month; wouldn’t you schedule their replacements ahead of time? I’ll go out on a limb and guess you would want each of these events several months apart. For this discussion, let’s talk about the major items in everyone’s homes.
Any residential roof that is over twenty years old is probably a “Three Tab”, twenty year warranty product. When you look up onto the roof, there are straight “water lines” that start to wear over time. Newer shingles are called “Architectural” and give the appearance of a more textured, wood like roof. Years ago, only twenty year warranty roofing products were available. Today thirty and even fifty year shingles can be purchased. The difference is the thickness or weight. I always suggest that the new roof be installed with the heavier weight shingle. If you don’t know when your roof was last done, check with the local Building Department. Roofers should be obtaining a Building Permit. Hopefully it’s in your file.
How about my furnace you ask? There are many kinds and all require a separate answer. Gas furnaces require less maintenance than oil. Each fuel may be heating “hot air” to be circulated through duct work or “hot water” to be sent through pipes to radiators. There is even radiant heat that sends hot water through pipes in the floor keeping your tootsies nice and warm. Ask your furnace repair person what they think about replacement. If they come to your house more than twice a year, it’s probably time. Although it is still a capital expenditure, then good news is that all of the new furnaces are more efficient than the old ones. That means you will be using less fuel and will probably be more comfortable!
Next stop- Appliances! Consumer Reports offers some guidelines. Dishwashers- 9 years, Dryers- 13 years, Microwave ovens- 9 years, Ranges- Electric-13 years and Gas- 15 years. Refrigerators should last 13 years and Washing machines- 10 years
Building & Remodeling
What Projects Should I Do Myself?
I have witnessed many homeowner completed remodeling projects that are impressively done without any prior skill or oversight from a contractor. I have also had to charge some other folks to rip up and throw away some portion of an ill-fated attempt at “Do it yourself”. Which projects then, should you have a try at yourself?
Let’s start with the ones that I would suggest you do not try. In this category is anything that can get you hurt or worse. The obvious example is upgrading your electrical service. This is the meter on the outside of the house along with your circuit panel or fuse panel. Plans for additional loads, including the addition of central air conditioning will likely call for an upgrade. Homeowners are allowed to pull their own Building Permits for almost everything. Most Building Officials will not however, let someone without an electrical contractor’s license, pull their own permit for a service upgrade. That’s just too much juice to play with if you have not been trained! On this same list, many folks are not comfortable with heights. Acknowledge your fears and let someone else paint the outside of your house or clean your gutters! Step away from the chain saw and let the licensed professional take down that one hundred foot oak tree that is twenty feet from your house. We all want you to go back to work on Monday after your weekend worrier activities.
What can I do, you ask? Eliminating anything that can hurt you or others, I suggest you go for it! If you try to replace some door trim or a rotten window sill and it still looks like umm.. lousy; what have you lost? You call a contractor and they’ll take the old stuff away and make it look much, much better than new! If it looks good, you will have something to brag about for a lifetime! Tile that looks poorly and is ordered removed by a higher authority in your house; is a slightly more expensive mistake. It will take more man hours of demolition to get the contractor back to a starting point.
Many folks have asked me about building a deck themselves. With a little coaching, a rectangle single level deck is actually one of those projects that people with limited experience can complete themselves. My follow up question is one of available construction hours. If I estimate that two carpenters could complete the proposed deck in two weeks; that equates to one hundred and sixty man hours. Assuming (incorrectly) that Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner can work together and have the same tools and skills as my carpenters; “When can you invest that kind of time?” is my follow up question. Sandwiched between children’s activities and work; most can carve out two hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday for the project. That’s twenty weekends’ folks! If you can do it, go for it!
Building & Remodeling
Which Remodeling Projects Get The Best Return On Investment
What remodeling job has the best return on investment? According to the National Association of Realtors, in their Cost vs. Value report; a deck addition is the winner and will yield an 85.4% return. I have to assume that this is a substantial deck on a house that did not have one already. Decks can vary greatly in design and materials used and both will impact the price. They do however provide additional outside living space especially when it is family party time in the favorable weather.
The next two on the list are a major kitchen remodel and a bathroom remodel at 78.1% and 78.3% respectively. Kitchens and baths are the places where you can really exceed the budget if you are not careful. Your contractor will be asking a lot of questions to establish these budgets if they have not already been drawn and specified by an Architect. Custom made or out of a cardboard box (i.e. “stock”) cabinets? Granite or laminate countertops? White generic or stainless steel appliances? There is nothing better in the oooo and ahhhh department than a brand new kitchen. Just remember that it will be completely out of service for a couple of weeks and be sure to stay within your budget and not get starry eyed over the new and improved products.
A master suite addition was suggested at a 69% return and a family room addition at 68.6%. I like to think that additions define themselves based upon the current owner’s needs and financial resources. As the family grows, and the bread winners income(s) increases; the need for additional space becomes obvious. How additions are going to be placed on the house lot becomes a discussion of zoning regulations, septic or sewer, as well as many other subsurface issues. Your contractor will be able to guide you through that.
The last item on their list was a new roof at a 67.4% return on investment. This is more a need to have issue in my opinion. Folks aren’t putting on new roofs because it’s a good investment; they are calling a contractor because it is at or past its life expectancy!
Building & Remodeling
What must be written in your construction contracts
Home improvement contractor complaints have held the number one slot in Department of Consumer Protection’s list of bad boys for many years. Not surprisingly, our state legislators have reacted to provide additional safeguards for their electorate. Both home improvement contractors (remodelers) and new home contractors have to be registered with the state in order to practice legally. There are eight specific requirements in the statutes that make a contract legal. I will use the statute regarding home improvement as it affects a greater number of consumers.
Each contract must be (1) in writing, (2) signed by the owner and the contractor, (3) contains the entire agreement between the owner and the contractor, (4) contains the date of the transaction, (5) contains the name and address of the contractor, (6) contains a notice of the owner’s cancellation rights (you have a three day right of cancellation) (7) contains a starting date and completion date, and (8) is entered into by a registered salesman or registered contractor. Each change in the terms and conditions of a contract shall be in writing and shall be signed by the owner and contractor.
Now let’s move onto the practical part of number three above. This is the description of what will be done and what materials are to be used and cannot ever be specific enough for me. If you are having wood floors installed, the contract should not say only “wood floors”. What species of wood? What width, how is it is installed and finished? If the Owner is to purchase some part of the remodeling or addition puzzle, these items should be written specifically into the contract.
A start and completion date is required on the contract! That does not mean “I start in about three weeks, and finish… ummm, when I’m done” These are real calendar dates folks! I admit that I am honest with my clients and add a week or two on the end for “just in case”. But this is all up front with my clients and written with their knowledge and consent.
Did you notice that “Change orders” didn’t deserve a number? It would have been number nine. Although specifically spelled out in the Statute, it only got a mention and not one of the required eight to make a contract. Change orders are generally the source of most of the disagreements between owners and contractors. If you are reading this as an owner or contractor, I strongly advise you to require that ALL change orders are in writing and signed by both parties. This is what you get in addition to the contract, for this amount of money. Sign here and we both get a written copy. This is also a good place to spell out what this change will do to the schedule. End the potential disagreement about “I thought you said…” I’ve done some Expert Witness case review and testimony in court, generally against bad boy contractors. This item deserves its own number!
Building & Remodeling
How Much Does A New Home Cost?
Many times in my twenty six years in the construction business I had been called by someone looking for a house in the area. They have all looked at many and liked very few. Their thoughts then went to new construction. “Maybe we should design and build the house of our dreams” they think aloud. “Let’s call a builder” they decide. So my phone rings and the question of the hour is “How much does a new home cost”? Those that have done some research and don’t really want to tip their hand will ask “What is your average square foot building cost”? There is no easy answer to this one. I ask in return “How much does a new car cost”? All are reliable transportation with four wheels. When shopping for a new car, you have already defined your budget by going to the Audi or Honda dealerships. Even then, you need to match your desires with your budget.
The largest impact on the price of the new home is not actually part of the home. The choice of building lots will likely have the most dramatic effect on the overall price. A line item called “Site development Costs” will vary with a greater percentage, from one lot to another, more than any other single cost. Comparing lot A to lot B will go something like this. Is there subsurface rock (Blasting) required on one and not the other? Is there a sewer available? If not, you must install your own septic system. A sewer system hookup may be a few thousand dollars where most septic systems are ten thousand dollars or more. Let’s stay with just septic system variables for a minute. What is the ground water height shown on the “deep test pits”? What is the soil quality shown on those same “test pits”? Those two factors have a tremendous bearing on the design of the new septic system. You may have to truck in thousands of yards of approved septic gravel… or not. We are talking hands full of thousands of dollars here folks! Confused? We haven’t even gotten to pour the foundation yet! Many times the more expensive building lot is the better deal after your builder and engineer have looked at the details. Insert lesson one here… Involve the builder before site selection has been finalized!
Now the easy part. Let’s design the house! Square is less expensive then curves or angles. Formica is less expensive than granite. Stock cabinets are cheaper than custom ones. Stop! “I don’t want a cheap production house! I want the kitchen and bathroom of my dreams” you say. I get it and agree. That makes the question “How much does a new home cost” simply too complex to answer. Your selections should be yours and yours alone. Want a state of the art, high efficiency, heating and cooling system? You got it! Here’s how it can really be done.
Always start with a realistic budget that is agreed upon by you and your builder. Remember that everything going into the house is brand new. The overall price for a new home will be much higher than that of an equally sized thirty year old home. Involve the builder early in the process and keep getting his input during the architectural design process. There is no use in having an architect design something you love but can’t afford!
Building & Remodeling
What You Should Expect During The Remodeling Process
You have saved and planned. You have decided once and for all do go for the remodel of your dreams. You have called your contractor, and made plans to start on the first of next month. While you and the contractor wait for the building permit to be issued, you and your family contemplate “What should I expect during construction”? Hopefully your contractor has truthfully discussed this with you during contract preparation. In case you are still in the dreaming of the project stage, here is a reality check in advance.
A friend of mine, a remodeler out west, sent me a one page PowerPoint slide entitled “Funk Chart” This graph shows the emotional highs and lows, of all of the participants, from the beginning to the end of the project. The contractor remains on the same plane throughout as this is just another day at the office. The Owners in his example, start off very excited but drop to the bottom of the chart as the noise and dust begins. They slowly get back to the top of the chart as the finishing touches are complete.
If you are able to move out of the house for the duration of the project, you can skip to the end of the article. The reality for most of my past clients, is that they will leave for work each and every morning with a team of construction types already on the job and come home to find significant changes. Different phases seem to go fast or slow to the Owners. Demolition and framing are immediate gratification tasks and appear to go fast. Sheetrock taping seems to go slow. This is a three day process that can take much longer when it is humid. New wood floors and tile appear to go quickly and finish work and trim go slowly.
The biggest obstacle for both the Owners and contractor is DUST. (Those of you that have already done this are shaking their heads). No matter how well the temporary barriers of plastic are installed, the dust seems to get everywhere. At least one hour at the end of every “demo” day on my jobs is cleanup time. Sweep, vacuum (not with the Owners vacuum!), mop… whatever it takes… every day! Still the little dust buggers come out of hiding after we have left and end up with a film everywhere. I won’t pretend that I have an answer for this except to make you aware of an industry problem in the customer service department (No worries, I wear that hat too!)
In order to graphically outline what, and what will not be accomplished each day; I give every Owner a day by day schedule of construction. You will know in advance what tradesman is coming to accomplish what task. The Owner is also included on the schedule, with selection deadlines of various materials. If you are not able to make a selection by the deadline, you can see that it will impact the overall schedule and delay celebration of a beautiful new remodel and no dust!
Building & Remodeling
The differences between Contractors
Engrained in every consumers head is the thought that “You must get three quotes” when planning a remodel, addition, or new home. I have a belief that there is an implanted chip in all of us that is already pre-loaded with this kind of information before we are born. Why else is this such a widely held belief and no one can explain why? The theory in its basic principle is correct. There will be one bid high and one bid low. So now what??? Obviously throw out the high bid because he’s trying to rip you off. Throw the low bid out because he probably missed something and go with the middle bidder??? What if the high bidder was the only one to include everything you wanted? Let’s back up…
Almost all commercial buildings and most new home construction projects are designed and drawn by an Architect. Those twenty or so pages of blueprints along with a one hundred or so page specification book outlines and describes every door handle, paint application, and siding selection; how it should be delivered, stored, installed, and finished. During the first meeting with a Homeowner for an addition or remodel, we usually stand in the back yard and point. “I want it here, and about this big, and not too expensive.” Are all words that were pre-loaded and must be uttered at least once in everyone’s life. The problem is lack of detail.
May small remodels or additions are not drawn by an Architect. If the Homeowner did have the foresight to hire an Architect, the Contractor is generally only going to be given one page of a “Print” and no “Spec’s”. Asking multiple Contractors to “bid” on these one page prints, will result in bids that will be priced upon what the contractor thinks you want or has a personal preference to install. No wonder the bid prices are so different!
How then, dear reader, do you get a fair price for small work that you want done on your home? I suggest that we go back to the principles that our great grand parents must have used. Trust and reputation. If someone has been in the remodeling business in one of our small towns for a long time, I would hope that they are not over charging or under delivering. The word would get around… Most of us have a good sense of first impression. You don’t want your Contractor driving up to your house in a Porsche or a truck dragging its tailpipe. Neat appearance and being on time to your appointments may help you decide. The contract paperwork should be in compliance to State statutes, neat, clear, and especially detailed. Everything you want should be part of the written contract. Make no assumptions that something is included. Most contractors will write what is not included and review that with you to be sure you concur.
Building & Remodeling
Consumer Law in Connecticut- Lesson 101
When you first got your driver’s license, you had to take a test to show your proficiency. Unfortunately, this is not so with builders and remodelers. Home Improvement Contractors (Remodelers) and New Home Contractors do need to have a registration from the State to work legally for consumers, but all they need do is fill out a form and mail in a check. No test or even a letter of competency is needed. The good news is that part of each of those checks goes into a Guarantee Fund for ripped off consumers. In order to qualify, you must have hired a contractor that was registered at the contact signing and have a court judgment that is uncollectable. The funds are limited but it is still some assurance that some lost money may be reimbursed. You can check State licenses online at https://www.elicense.ct.gov