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Get Your Money's Worth with a Good Contractor

Whether replacing a broken front step or building a family room addition, most homeowners realize that any improvement requires spending money. However, savvy consumers also want value for every dollar. To ensure that your money is well spent and that your project is a complete success, heed the following advice:
  • Plan well. A finished project will only be as good as its design. Without appropriate planning, problems can arise that will lead to unanticipated expense.

  • Establish the level of quality you desire. A contractor needs to understand your expectations regarding workmanship and products to be utilized. If possible, show him or her a completed job, similar to your own, which you admire.

  • Create a detailed contract. This should include the scope of the project, including the materials and, where applicable, hours of labor that can be anticipated. This document should also explain the timetable and payment schedule as well as include the types of products that will be used with make and model numbers. The responsibilities of the contractor and any subcontractors also should be covered.

  • Get several bids. You can request bids from three contractors. Be sure to compare "line" items against each other. For example, the cost of labor, materials, and products should be differentiated, not lumped together in a bid. Don't necessarily be tempted by the lowest bid. Remember: You do get what you pay for.

  • Ask your contractor to assign his best workers to your job. And, request, if possible, that they stick with your job from start to finish. Your job will proceed more smoothly and subcontractors will do better work if they feel "ownership" of their part of the project.

  • Make sure the bids include allowances in dollar amounts for items such as light fixtures and appliances which you will purchase yourself. This will help you be aware of the complete budget.

  • Have your contractor go to his "high volume" resources for products, if you are not buying them yourself. He or she might know less expensive vendors than your architect or designer, if you have one.

  • Replace existing fixtures in kitchens and baths, if possible, rather than relocating them. Moving plumbing, electrical, and gas lines is labor intensive and requires additional materials.

  • Select kitchen cabinets carefully. It has been estimated that 50 percent of the money you invest in your kitchen will go toward cabinets. Those that have received the seal of certification from the Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturers Association must have passed nearly 60 tests for quality.

  • Avoid unnecessary change orders. Once the contract is signed, it is expensive to make changes or additions. Any work not specified in the original contract results in extra costs. And do ask for a cost estimate in writing for each change or addition, before you give the go ahead for the work in .

Fun Fact: When remodeling 78 percent of homeowners hire a pro; 18 percent do the work themselves. A small percentage, 4 percent hire a contractor but then buy their own materials, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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