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Get Your Plans Nailed Down

Pardon Our Dust: Remodeler's Tales, One in an occasional series

August 16, 1998|KATHY PRICE-ROBINSON

Here are five common remodeling problems and how to avoid them:

1. Problem: With a $50,000 budget, you ask an architect to design a new master suite. You love the new design, but when you put it out for bid, contractors say it will cost $80,000 to build. You must downgrade your dreams or come up with the extra money.

Solution: This is a common problem. The truth is, architects don't have much training in construction costs and usually estimate costs too low rather than too high. To prevent this:

* Put a clause in your contract with the architect that if the job is bid more than 10% over your budget, the architect will redo the plans for no charge.

* Pay a contractor, who knows better the cost of materials and labor, to work with the designer so the project doesn't exceed budget.

* Hire a design/build company, which employs both builders and designers.

2. Problem: Armed with a set of plans for a second-story addition, you get bids from three contractors, for $85,000, $125,000 and $150,000. Why the wide range?

Solution: The plans are probably not clear and specific, leaving it up to the contractor to include items in the bid that are not specified.

But with pressure to bring in the lowest bid, the contractor is motivated to leave those items out of the bid, and then blame the architect later when a change order becomes necessary. This is known as "low-balling." The solution is to have extremely clear plans, along with detailed bids so that you know you are getting "apples for apples" bids.

3. Problem: The contractor substitutes lesser materials than the ones you agreed on.

Solution: If you are working with an untrustworthy contractor, you have big problems. One idea is to hire an independent construction manager to supervise the project. The real solution is to hire the most reputable contractor possible.

4. Problem: The contractor doesn't finish the job, leaving you with a mess.

Solution: In this case, the solution comes before the problem, before the job even starts, when you thoroughly check out your contractor by interviewing him or her, talking to past customers, taking the time to go see recent projects, and checking to see if the license and insurance are valid. Rarely, if ever, will a reputable contractor walk out on a job.

5. Problem: Six months after the remodel is complete, your new skylight leaks.

Solution: By law, your contractor must offer a one-year warranty on the work. If he or she won't fix it or get the manufacturer or subcontractor to fix it, you may have cause for legal action.

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