Thursday, September 24, 2009

Renovating in a Recession

As I'm typing this the house next door is being completely renovated - actually they tore it down and are rebuilding - and the sound of nail guns popping away is constant. And there are three other renovations within a couple of blocks from us under way in the last couple of months. So at least in my neighborhood contractors are working, albeit not in the way it was during the hey days of refinancing.

I've written an article on renovating in a recession, which you'll be able to link to and read at the end of this blog, the theme being that more than ever homeowners need to protect themselves from ending up with an unethical contractor.

Just stating "renovating in a recession" sounds silly given the fact that recession denotes a lack of money, but there are going to be those folks who are beginning to remodel or rebuild their home out of necessity. Natural disasters such as wild fires and floods as well as those fortunate to be financially set to do so, but perhaps waited to see how the economy would play out. Either way, a heightened sense of being smart about doing all the important research, knowing what needs to be included in a contract and choosing a contractor wisely are even more critical during these challenging times.

I see articles that are geared towards encouraging homeowners to strike up deals with contractors whose businesses have been hit hard by the recession believing they are willing to cut their profits to get the job. The fact is that contractors can indeed pass on savings such as lower material costs but they have to pay themselves as well. Any contractor that promises thousands of dollars in cost reductions (this includes labor) isn't being truthful and that shouldn't be the basis for your choice in a contractor. Far from it. If you read through my site, you'll know what you need to look for and do and certainly in my Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners I stress these points in a lesson format that takes you through all the elements, but never is it about getting a great deal.

Unless you define a great deal as getting quality workmanship, having an ethical contractor who is transparent in his business practices and communicates with you on a regular basis, giving you an opportunity to ask questions and address concerns. That's what I call a great deal and something most people overlook or fail to understand, and that it doesn't come with every contractor out there.

I've written an article entitled "Renovating In A Recession: Why It Could Cost You More If You Don't Protect Yourself With These 7 Key Clauses In Your Contract".

I've taken some of the points I cover in my "Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners" and stress these in the article. You can read the article by clicking here: Renovating In A Recession.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Avoiding Shoddy Home Constrction Defects

A Consumer Reports investigation conducted a couple of years back found that 15% of new homes built during the booming days of building and renovating had serious construction defects. That's probably doubled in today's climate given the length of time these homes have been on the market and the time it takes for defects to show up.

Industry types attribute this to the "face pace" and frenzy that was on going and the lack of skilled workers presented challenges. But builders and contractors alike took advantage of these non skilled workers aka, Mexican immigrants - some legal, some not - hiring them to do jobs they should not been involved in performing due to insufficient training. Add to this low paying wages and little to no supervisoin and you have a recipe for disaster. So it's no surprise with the rise in foreclosures being scooped up by home buyers that they're also facing a myriad of construction defects.

You can read a report from that addresses the most common problems to look for when purchasing a home here:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What The Downturn in Residential Construction Has Given Consumers

Last week I spoke with a contractor - whom I hired to do some landscaping that requires the buildup of two small walls - not retaining - with some grading and backfill. Not a big project by any means but we got to talking about the current state of construction and how his business is surviving the downturn. According to him, they are doing OK but his phone isn't ringing off the hook as it did in the years past. They have also scaled down to their original "trusted" choice of subs they've worked with for years and the other sub contractors they brought in during the booming days are now gone.

On that subject, we talked about the difficulty many contractors ran into with taking on new subs that they didn't do any background checks on - because they were too busy to do so - and very often it came back to bite them in the form of shoddy work and complaints from homeowners. Which is why homeowners need to do their own checking on the subs their general contractor chooses and include in the contract that they must be licensed and insured, separate from the contractor himself. Using this contractor as an example of some one who ran an ethical business and prided himself on producing quality work, once he chose to deviate from his usual practice of vetting his new subs to bring on for the added workload, he ended up taking the hit and spending money to correct the problems created by the new workforce. And that's a lesson he learned and when things pick up he states he will be more careful in his choices and make the time to vet new subs. But clearly, that's a problem I've heard from other contractors as to their available pool of so called "skilled" workers. And that's another area where educating the building workforce on meeting industry standards and quality workmanship needs to be fostered on a local level. But does the industry care enough to raise the bar and the need for greater education? If so, it certainly hasn't worked so far. Complaints against contractors for shoddy work is still the number one complaint with national consumer organizations.

Finally, the contractor made an interesting and likely correct assessment of todays' still standing and thriving -albeit much more leaner - contracting workforce. And that is given the downturn and lack of demand for residential construction those contractors - licensed or not - have left the area or have taken on other work as their only interest was to cash in on the renovating boom of years past. These guys were not interested in building a sound business and creating a solid reputation in their communities. A lot of these characters easily got licenses or registrations and jumped on the bandwagon and started basically ripping consumers off. And there were far too many of them; I don't care what anybody says the proof is in the complaints and resulting messes left behind by these con-men and I was sickened by the numerous complaints I received over the last nine years. And the contractor not only agreed with me but shared some stories he witnessed of these so called contractors taking advantage of unassuming homeowners.

It is my intention with the help of my Home Remodeling Boot Camp For Homeowners that the next round of an up tick in residential construction will yield more educated consumer swho ultimately can help themselves avoid a construction nightmare and mitigate the most common problems most homeowners make.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Debunking Conventional Thinking When Hiring Contractors

Over the last year I have had frequent discussions with a construction consultant discussing various ways in which we could help consumers understand the need for educating themselves on the risks and realities in residential construction. For himself, locally with consumers and me on a national scale.

And one of the areas I would like to shine some light on is the notion that everyone suggests homeowners to do -myself included - when vetting their contractors. Here it is:

Consumer agencies and home improvement sites who offer tips to homeowners on how to properly vet their contractor always suggest that the homeowner visit an ongoing project that the contractor has going. OK, well what will that tell the consumer? Do they know what they are looking for and why? Do they understand anything about constructing a house? How important is this in the scheme of things that is important for the consumer to do in their research?

Using our case as an example, we went to a project the contractor from hell supposedly had going and the walls were open so that you could see the studs, joists, brackets and essentially the guts before everything was sealed with the drywall. There were no windows or doors installed yet, but my husband with a background in construction knew what he was looking for but me - not so much. I relied on his expertise. The only thing that could be construed as a red flag - and probably was given our experience with the contractor from hell, was that we had gone by the project three different times over the course of several weeks and no one was ever there working or otherwise.

So the lesson here for the consumer is, with all the other factors that must be researched and considered when preparing to get your project underway ,visiting the job site of someone else's projects tells you little to nothing about the contractor or even how it will translate to your particular project unless you're schooled in construction practices. Otherwise, you're clueless as to what you're looking at and so I have to consider this one suggestion for homeowners as pretty much worthless in the overall vetting of your contractor.

There are so many other essential and critical areas to discern that will truly help the homeowner to achieve a more positive home remodeling and building project and I'll touch on those in future blogs.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mandatory Arbitration Clauses / Construction Defects

Mandatory Arbitration is the worst clause a consumer can agree to as it strips them of their rights to a jury of their peers. And it's no surprise that Construction arbitration firms were either created by or with the help of major homebuilder associations, causing an immediate conflict of interest. I found an article on this subject that is a must read for any one entering into a contract to either renovate or build a home:

Home builders Stack Deck Against Buyers With Arbitration: New Report shines light on unscrupulous practices

Also, construction defects are beginning to rear it's ugly head around the nations a a result of the building frenzy in the late 90's and 2000.

Fallout from the 90’s Housing Boom: Construction defects begin to appear

Monday, June 22, 2009

Introducing a Construction Consultant Familar with Home Remodeling Nightmares

This past year I've pretty much devoted my time to putting together the Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners in an effort to really get consumers involved in doing as much homework and research in the areas that will ultimately determine the success or failure of their project. The last 9 years of counseling the "walking wounded" that have ended up on my site asking for help with their horrible situations really motivated me to create the Bootcamp. There were some common themes throughout all their stories that, had they known about in advance, would have saved them from a construction nightmare. And the same holds true for my own nightmare 10 years ago. If I knew then what I know now, well, I guess the site would never have been created. With that said, it was my intent - and still is - that my experience and those of others could help homeowners avoid the pitfalls that we experienced

One of the points I bring out not only on my website but in the Bootcamp as well is finding a reputable Construction Consultant or Home Inspector that you can bring in at specific milestones of your project. This is a third party who can advise you on any challenges or questions you may have going with your contractor and renovation project. You can read more about that in detail on my site as well as in the Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners introduction page.

On the subject of Construction Consultants, I was contacted by a consultant out of New Jersey about a year and a half ago who found my website and wanted to introduce himself and let me know that he was very much in agreement with my views even though we come to it from different experiences. His name is Mark Trapani and the owner of Contracting Smart. And so we started a dialog and began exchanging information and ideas on what we could do within our own respective businesses to help consumers make better choices in contractors as well as educate them on the risks and realities of renovating an existing structure. Not to mention key components needed in the contract, spec sheet and complete transparency for all parties. Mark also is vested in educating contractors and architects in the business of contracting and how they can contribute to a better outcome with their clients.

We're now talking about developing a joint venture together and I'll be sharing more about that here on my blog. Until then...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Launching the Home Remodeling Boot Camp For Homeowners

OK - so it's been nearly a year since I've blogged on the Remodeling Lessons Learned blog but it's been in the interest of creating a new feature for the site. True too, construction has been hit hard in the slowing economy and the resulting job losses have been great. I've spoken with a number of contractors the last 12 months who are really hurting and those with employees that had been with them during the fat times had to be let go. Fewer folks are renovating or building new homes and banks aren't lending. Grim to say the least.

But with that said there are those folks who out of necessity - fire, floods, water damage - that will be looking to remodel, repair, or reconstruct their homes as the economy begins to show glimmers of coming back around, albeit slowly. And that is actually beginning to happen.

In my neighborhood there are a number of homes undergoing renovations and on recent walks two new remodeling projects have popped up this week. Sure, it's not like the frenzy we've all witnessed in the previous 8 to 9 years of building and remodeling created in part by the banks' "loose lending" and refinancing during those years but it shows that people are beginning to show some confidence in spending their hard earned money.

But I want to get back to what I mentioned earlier in this blog post regarding the new feature I've been working on the past 12 months. And that is is "Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners" which is comprised of 12 core lessons that takes the homeowner through specific informational steps, downloads and links to relevant sites to help them understand the potential risks in construction projects, how to protect themselves, what to include in their contracts, what they need to consider including in their specifications sheet and the importance in doing so and much more.

I'll be touching on each of those core lessons in the Home Remodeling Bootcamp For Homeowners on this blog as well as what prompted me to create the Bootcamp in the first place. And I'll also talk about a new working relationship I've been forming with a Construction Consultant / Engineer / Contractor whose view of the construction industry as a whole is similar to mine. You'll learn more about him and his work in future blogs.

But for now, welcome back. And that goes for me as well ;-).