AHousemates.gif (1845 bytes) LIKE HOUSEMATES


By Linda Case

Hiring a contractor is a little like the first few months of married life [so here's your survival kit]. --The analogy isn't that farfetched. If you're about to undertake a remodeling project, you and your contractor are going to be housemates for the next few months.  However courteous these tradespeople are, you stand to lose some privacy and freedom of movement in your own home. What you gain is dust, noise and strangers.

To give you, your family and the remodeler a fighting chance at sanity, you need to have a meeting before the first wall is demolished to hash out the nitty-gritty details of life together under one roof. This preconstruction meeting is a way of meshing your expectations with those of your contractor, a chance for you to set the house rules. Unfortunately, not every remodeler knows the value of this meeting, and you may have to suggest it.

The remodeling company's production manager and the head carpenter who will work on your job should attend the meeting. In small companies, both roles may be filled by the owner. Although you have probably discussed some coexistence issues before signing the contract, now is the time to be clear on all the final details, for example -- where the trash receptacle goes, and who gets keys to the house.


Here are the issues YOU should address:

Scope: Start with a quick but complete review of work the contractor will provide by walking through the house. This may sound unnecessary if you have a detailed contract, but it's a good reality check.

Trash Or Treasure: I can't count the number of remodeling projects that have gone sour because the contractor unwittingly disposed of materials that still had value to the homeowner. Remember, when the contract reads "remove," your contractor will be reading "demolish." Point out any items you want saved, and settle up on where these items will be stored. As a precaution, attach a large note to anything that isn't to be haul off.

Living Condition: How will your living space be affected? Ask the contractor to give you a realistic assessment by walking you through the stages of work. Have they made the loss of vital  space as bearable as possible and minimized the time you and your family must do without it? Will you or the contractor moved the furniture out of the affected rooms or the dishes out of  the kitchen cabinets? Whoever does it, how much notice will they give you?

Daily Necessities: If your kitchen is going to be out of commission, can your contractor set up a temporary one with a refrigerator, microwave and hot plate in another room? Is a temporary sink feasible? If a subcontractor is going to turn off the water or power for any length of time, insist on 24-hour notice.

Liaison: It's important to know how the construction company you've hired works internally. Who is your contact on the job and in the office? Whom do you talk to first about changes or concerns? Are there pager numbers you should know?

Working Hours: Ask about the company's working hours. Some remodelers work five 8-hour days a week, others work four 10-hour days. Ask to be notified if anyone is going to work outside their stated hours. Your contractor may have some flexibility, but you'll have to show some too.

Schedule: How long does your contractor anticipate the job will take? Does this include downtime for real-life delays? You should ask for a written schedule, and then arrange regular weekly meetings with your contractor to review progress, update the schedule and discuss any other issues.

Security: Most homeowners give their contractor keys to the house for the duration of the job. But rather than having it duplicated for employees and subcontractors, ask your contractor to attach a real-estate-type lockbox to your house to store the key in. Then discuss who will be given the combination to the lockbox. There are other security issues talk over as well. If construction includes working on the second floor of your home, will the contractor make sure that no ladders are mistakenly left up overnight? Will any openings be covered with securely attached plywood?

Dust And Dirt: Conscientious contractors make skillful use of plastic, plywood and shop vacuums. They also sweep the job daily and do a more thorough cleaning at the end of each week. Still, you'll want to protect TVs, stereos, computers and other sensitive equipment. If anyone in the household is allergic to dust, let the contractor know about that up front. But keep in mind that even the most careful contractor can only do so much [about dust].

Expected Payments: Although your contract will detail the exact cost of the work and the date payments are due, the preconstruction meeting is a good time to review payment procedures. Will your contractor invoice you by mail, or just give you a few days' warning of an impending draw and expect to pick up the check? Are you clear on how any changes to the work will be handled? They should be written up as change orders. Make sure to go over the procedure before you have to use one.

Unexpected Costs: The early stages of remodeling -- especially the demolition phase -- can reveal conditions the contractor could not have anticipated when estimates for the project were worked up. These conditions typically result in an upcharge. Find out at what point in the course of construction you can anticipate that no new surprises will appear.

Bad Habits: Sometimes minor issues become major annoyances. How do you feel about workers smoking in your home? Also address loud radios, workers without shirts, which bathroom they can use and which phone is available for local calls.

Making Friends: Last, and perhaps most important, begin making friends with your head carpenter now, before he or she "moves in." Create an ally.


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