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10 Tips for Hiring a Home Remodeling Contractor


With the U.S. economy facing the lowest home sale statistics in 15 years and home values continuing to slide in many regions, it's not surprising to hear that housing trends point towards a large percentage of American homeowners looking to improve and maximize their existing property investment versus buying a new home. When deciding to undertake a remodeling project however, there are several invaluable tips to keep in mind as you discuss your home make-over with potential contractors.

Through advice and stories shared by both contractors and consumers,, a blogging resource for homeowners, discovered 10 important tips on how to find a trustworthy home remodeling contractor to help ensure the right person or company is hired for your next home improvement project.

Tip #1: Does Your Contractor Have Proof of Insurance?

Ask the contractor to have his insurance company mail or fax a copy of his current contractor insurance card to you. If the contractor can't do this - stay away. Why? If there is an accident at your home, you are then liable. This also applies to any sub-contractor or employee that the contractor may use - those individuals should have active insurance cards faxed or mailed to you as well.

Tip #2: Did You Check References and See Photos?

Ask for at least three references - with two of them being for the same type of project you are planning - and then call the references. Additionally, ask the contractor to provide photos of previous work, especially for the same type of project. If he produces lawn and garden photos and you're planning a bathroom remodel, you may want to check out another contractor.

Tip #3: Does Your Contractor Take Debit or Credit Cards?

Besides your ability to earn a few points, bonus miles, or cash back on your project, a good sign that a contractor is financially savvy and has a bank behind his business is his ability to take debit and credit cards. This doesn't just apply to big contracting companies. Many small, one-man shops will take cards if they have a good relationship with their business bank or credit union.

Tip #4: Manners and Appearance?

If the contractor drove his vehicle to your home to give you an estimate, take a look at the way he keeps the equipment and vehicle. Are things clean? Neatly arranged? If not - that's a big warning. The way a contractor treats his tools is a direct connection to how he'll treat your home. During the initial meeting, does the contractor present himself in a professional way? Do you feel comfortable around him or his employees? They will be working in your home after all.

Tip #5: Clean Up Policy?

Ask about the clean-up policy. For example, if your home improvement is a multi-day project, will the contractor be cleaning up at the end of every day or will he leave the dust, wood chips, and other mess laying there for day #2? The more mess in your home - the more it gets tracked around. Many homeowners find themselves with mouths gaping wide after the contractor has left for the day and their floors and home are dirty and messy around the project area.

Tip #6: Will the Contractor Put It In Writing?

Is your contractor willing to put both his bid and the scope of work in writing? If not - walk away immediately. You'll be surprised how many homeowners have been duped by contractors who verbally tell you what's included in their scope of work, but will then, in the middle of everything, require extra money to finish the remodel, thus holding you hostage with an uncompleted home project.

Tip #7: Availability?

Can the contractor get the job done in your timeline rather than his timeline? There's nothing more frustrating than if a contractor tells you that a job will be done by a certain date and then it isn't . On the flip side, if you can't find a good contractor that's willing to commit to your timeline, your expectations may be too high and you may need to adjust your timeline.

Tip #8: Does Your Contractor Use "Subs?"

Does your contractor plan on doing everything himself? Or will he "sub out" work to the "trades?" For example, if you are remodeling a bathroom, you may need a plumber, electrician, and carpenter. It's okay if the contractor subs work out to these specific trades - it shows he wants the work done right.

Also, it's fair to say that you can expect your contractor to make money off the trades, or other sub-contractors, by marking up those quotes for the project. That is a standard practice to help the general contractor recover costs in the time it takes to manage the schedule. If you don't want to spend the extra money on your contractor marking up the trade quotes, then you should prepare to project manage the remodel yourself, but know this may limit your options on contractors willing to work with you.

Tip #9: Quoting & Billing Procedure?

Ask the contractor about his quoting procedure. Will it contain general information, or will it be specific? For example - most contractors will charge you for a fuel surcharge, material up-charges, waste removal, labor, etc. Some will show you these exact costs in a line item invoice, but others roll it up into one big bill. How much detail do you want? You should clarify that with your contractor upfront.

Also - what is the payment or billing policy? Is money required upfront? If so, go back to #1 and #2 above to make sure you have the contractor's references checked and have a copy of his contractor's insurance.

Tip #10: Did Your Contractor Get the Permits?

Ask your contractor to take care of the permits. Although permits cost you money, the inspection process is meant to protect you from poor workmanship and to make sure that everything is being built to code.

By following these 10 tips for hiring a home contractor, you'll feel more confident that you've found the right contractor for your remodeling job.

Cost vs. Value: Stretching Your Remodeling Dollars

by G. M. Filisko



Creating a memorable first impression with home improvements pays off, according to Remodeling magazine's 2010-11 Cost vs. Value Report. And most of the top projects don't require a major investment.


In cooperation with Remodeling magazine, we bring you the average cost recouped for 35 home improvement projects.


How We Get the Numbers

Construction cost estimates are generated by HomeTech Information Systems ( of Bethesda, Md., which takes into account construction commodity data and labor cost information from a nationwide network of remodeling contractors. The company prepares a detailed construction estimate for each project and then adjusts this baseline cost for each city to account for regional pricing variations. However, project costs are based on estimates for hypothetical projects, with no reliable way to accommodate local and short-term fluctuations in supply and demand. Resale value data for each project are aggregated from estimates provided by REALTORS®. E-mail surveys were sent to some 150,000 appraisers, sales agents, and brokers in the summer of 2010, and more than 3,000 participated. Respondents were instructed not to make judgments about the motivation of the home owner in  the decision to undertake the remodeling project or to sell the house.


Using the Data

The Cost vs. Value Report provides an accurate snapshot of the national housing market, but it can’t be applied accurately to an individual remodeling project for a particular address. Resale value is one factor among many that a home owner must take into account when making the decision to remodel. Although the costs used in the report are based on itemized estimates, the projects are hypothetical. When comparing the data to actual remodeling costs in your area, small differences in the scope of a project or quality of finishes and accessories can dramatically affect the price. Although the distinction between "midrange" and "upscale" projects provides a range of pricing, it can’t account for extreme variations in pricing that many markets experienced in 2010.


2010-11 Trends

Slumping home values pulled the overall cost-to-value ratio down to its lowest level this decade, extending the downward trend that began in 2006. In fact, the slide from 63.8 percent to 60.0 percent in costs recouped is a slightly greater than last year’s 3.5-point drop. Projects were more affordable to complete, with construction costs down 10.4 percent overall, but those lower costs were overmatched by a 15.8 percent drop in estimated resale values, the biggest decline in the last eight years.


TOP 5: First Impressions Matter

Looking to convince dubious sellers that smart upgrades are worth it? This year’s Cost vs. Value Report, by Remodeling magazine, provides ample support. The annual survey uses input from REALTORS® in 80 cities to rank home remodeling projects according to those that bring the greatest cost recovered at resale. And looking at the five projects that topped the list, it’s clear that first impressions really do matter when sellers list their home.

Big-bang projects can make or break a sale from the moment potential buyers exit their car. A midrange entry door replacement brings the highest payback at a national average of 102.1 percent, followed by a midrange garage door replacement, at 83.9 percent, and an upscale redo of the siding at 80 percent of the cost. Step into the home, and a midrange kitchen remodel recoups an average 72.8 percent. Gaze into the backyard, where a wood deck addition also generates a 72.8 percent return.

Also noteworthy in this slow-growing economy is that four of the top five projects are "midrange" projects aimed at budget-conscious sellers. If sellers still balk at the price tag, take note of our tips for completing the projects on a tidy budget.


PROJECT 1: Entry Door Replacement (Steel)

Cost $1,218

Resale value $1,243

Cost recouped 102.1%

What this project entails: Remove an existing 3-foot-by-6-foot-8-inch entry door and jambs and replace it with a new 20-gauge steel unit, including a clear dual-pane half-glass panel, jambs, and an aluminum threshold with a composite stop. The door is factory finished with the same color on both sides. Exterior brick-mold and 2.5-inch interior colonial or ranch casings in poplar or an equal choice are prefinished to match the door color. Replace the existing lock set with a new bored lock with a brass or antique brass finish.

A new entry door can make a big splash, but only if it complements the style of the house. "The biggest mistake people make is to choose a door that doesn’t match the neighborhood or home," says Donnie Worley, broker at RE/MAX Real Estate Service in Sanford, N.C. "You won’t recoup the money at resale, and it might look funny. For high-end homes, leaded glass may be appropriate. But in a more moderately priced home, a regular steel door painted in a color that complements the home’s trim will make a bigger impact."

Sellers can get their money’s worth with online research before a purchase, says Peter McCluskey, owner of McCluskey Construction, Realty, and Loans in San Francisco. "Identify the type of steel, whether the door has been primed with a rust inhibitor, how many coats of finish paint have been added, and whether it’s insulated and if so with what insulation rating," McCluskey says. "An alternative to finish paint is powder coating. It’s more like glue than paint and generally better than nonpowder coating."

Finally, thoroughly inspect the door before buying and installing it. "Steel doors can dent easily, and you can’t fix dents," says Taylor Joe Goldsmith, vice president of marketing and sales at Joe Goldsmith Construction Inc. in Lakeland, Fla. "Make sure the door is in good condition before you purchase it."

Replacement projects have always performed better in resale value than other types of remodeling projects, partly because they’re among the least expensive.  


PROJECT 2: Garage Door Replacement

Cost $1,291

Resale value $1,083

Cost recouped 83.9%

What this project entails: Remove and dispose of the existing 16-by-7-foot garage door and tracks. Install a new 4-section garage door on new galvanized steel tracks; reuse the existing motorized opener. The new door is uninsulated, single-layer, embossed steel with two coats of baked-on paint, galvanized steel hinges, and nylon rollers. 10-year limited warranty.

Home owners should be careful when choosing a garage door because it’s easy to buy a more expensive product than what’s necessary. In many cases, a basic door will do the job, McCluskey says. "There are a few standard garage doors priced around $600, and installed they might be twice that," he says. "If you want something that looks like a carriage door, expect to pay three times as much."

Sellers should also consider how potential buyers might use the garage. A selling point for garage tinkerers might be windows or upgraded insulation. "Lots of people don’t even park vehicles in their garage but instead use it as their workshop," says Goldsmith. "In the winter, an insulated door will knock the edge off of the cold and will also keep the garage cool in the summer."

Windows allow in natural light. "That’s pretty important and often overlooked," McCluskey says. "Windows aren’t typically a large extra expense, costing about $100 extra. But they make an enormous difference in the usability of your garage. If it’s dark inside, you can’t do anything without opening the door."

Another potential selling point is a belt-driven garage door opener, which costs about $100 more than a chain-driven model. "A chain drive is really noisy," McCluskey says. "With a belt, you can hardly hear the door move."

This project is a new addition for the 2010–11 report, in recognition that curb appeal continues to play a strong role in a home’s resale value. 


PROJECT 3: Siding Replacement

(Fiber Cement)

Cost $13,382

Resale value $10,707

Cost recouped 80.0%

What this project entails: Replace 1,250 square feet of existing siding with new fiber-cement siding, factory primed and factory painted. Include all 4/4 (1-inch) and 5/4 (1.25-inch) trim using either fiber-cement boards or cellular PVC.

"Siding materials can vary widely, so home owners should be sure they’re getting actual cement siding, rather than pressboard or other composite materials," says McCluskey. "Look on the Internet at the specifications on the various cement siding products. There are no standard materials, so you have to know what materials are being used so you can compare apples to apples."

Home owners should also ask siding contractors how much of an overlap, called the "lap," there will be on each board. "This is one of these ‘duh’ things," says Goldsmith. "I live in a historic district, and I’ve seen homes in which the lap is three inches, which gives siding a wood look, instead of the maximum lap of six inches. Those home owners are wasting materials. Ask how big a lap contractors will use and whether it would save on materials and lower the cost to increase the lap."

Finally, home owners should consider prepainted siding, which they can then tout to potential buyers. "That can save home owners money," says McCluskey. "They won’t have to have the siding repainted every few years."

Since it was added to the survey in 2005, fiber-cement siding replacement has ranked first among projects costing $5,000 or more.


PROJECT 4: Kitchen Remodel  (Minor)

Cost $21,695

Resale value $15,790

Cost recouped 72.8%

What this project entails:  In a functional but dated 200-square-foot kitchen with 30 linear feet of cabinetry and countertops, leave cabinet boxes in place but replace the fronts with new raised-panel wood doors and drawers, including new hardware. Replace the wall oven and cooktop with new energy-efficient models. Replace laminate countertops; install a mid-priced sink and faucet. Repaint the trim, add wall covering, and remove and replace resilient flooring.

"Too often, home owners overimprove their kitchen," says Adam Bosworth, a sales associate at Peggy Parker Real Estate LLC in Norwich, N.Y. "That’s not cost-effective unless they’ll stay in the house a long time."

To save a good chunk of money on a kitchen remodel, keep your existing electrical wiring and plumbing in place, Bosworth says.

Another idea: Considering painting your cabinets instead of buying new ones, advises Jude Herr, broker-owner of Boulder Area Realty in Boulder, Colo. And while many home owners opt for laminate flooring that resembles wood, Herr says ceramic tile is a smarter option. "With a laminate, you may get a negative reaction," she says. "You can buy nice ceramic tile for the same amount of money as wood laminates."

However, do consider a laminate countertop. "The most cost-effective way to give a kitchen a better look is with a laminate," says Jeff Carbone, a general contractor and sales associate at Coldwell Banker Premiere, REALTORS®, in Southington, Conn. "The selections today are very impressive, with many mimicking quite well the look of marble, granite, or other natural stones."

Finally, to save money, do some of the work yourself. For example, tell your contractor that you’ll remove the cabinets, advises Bosworth. "Ask your contractor to let you know when he’s done with the drywall," adds Herr. "Then do the painting yourself before cabinets are installed, patching nail holes or scratch marks later. That will save you the cost of painting, and it’s easier than painting afterward, when you have to work around the cabinets."

The minor kitchen remodel may carry a high price tag, but it’s a relatively inexpensive face-lift to what many buyers consider the most important room in the home.


PROJECT 5: Deck Addition (Wood)

Cost $10,973

Resale value $7,986

Cost recouped 72.8%

What this project entails:  Add a 16-by-20-foot deck using pressure-treated joists supported by 4-by-4-foot posts anchored to concrete piers. Install pressure-treated deck boards in a simple linear pattern. Include a built-in bench and planter of the same decking material. Include stairs, assuming three steps to grade. Provide a complete railing system using pressure-treated wood posts, railings, and balusters.

A new wood deck can look stunning, but if not done correctly it could turn into a drawback to buyers. Home owners should also be sure a new deck isn’t too big or small. "Home owners can add an 8-by-8-foot wood deck, but it’s so small the space seems useless," says Bosworth. "Or they can put on a deck that spans the length of the home. That’s great for entertaining, but they’ll never recoup the cost."

Bosworth also recommends that sellers who need to save money choose a contractor who’ll let them do some of the work. "Have the footings poured by a professional and maybe the frame put together by one, too," he says. "But anybody who knows how to use a screw gun can put in the floorboards and railings."

Adding a natural stain can be a final selling point. "I hear constant complaints from home owners about having to stain the deck every year," says Bosworth. "Colored stains like darker browns and reds wear very unevenly. Natural stains wear more evenly."

Before any work begins on the new deck, make sure that permits are in place. "Home owners should check with their local code enforcement department," Worley says. "People who work [in the department] will often give them free advice to help owners avoid mistakes. They may even provide copies of building codes so home owners can be sure railings are the correct height and vertical slats aren’t too far apart or close together, potentially dangerous for children or pets."

This project is considered essential rather than discretionary in many markets, particularly in neighborhoods where every home has an outdoor living space.

From the year 2000 to 2010, the Ulster County population, as determined by the US Census Bureau, increased from 177,749 to 182,493, a 2.7% increase.  That was a slightly larger increase than for all of New York State, where the increase was 2.1%.  From the year 2000 to 2010, 10 of the towns and the one city had an increase in population, and 10 of the towns had a decrease in population.

From the year 2000 to 2010, the number of housing units in Ulster County increased from 77,646 to 83,638, a 7.7% increase.  All of the 20 towns and the one city in Ulster County had an increase in the number of housing units.

If you look at the chart that accompanies this article, you will see that in 19 of the 20 towns and one city that make up Ulster County, the percentage increase in housing units was larger than the percentage increase in population.  Only in New Paltz and Shawangunk, did the population increase at a higher rate than did the number of housing units.  For New Paltz, the probable reason for this difference is that students are counted in the Census as Ulster County residents, and the number of students attending SUNY New Paltz has increased over the past 10 years.

You may be wondering why the number of housing units increased 5% more than the population increased, which resulted in the number of persons per housing unit in Ulster County decreasing from 2.29 to 2.18.

I suspect that one of the reasons the number of persons per housing unit has decreased is that the birth rate has been decreasing.  I think the main reason for the increase is that many more people are living in Ulster County on a part-time basis.  Ulster County has become a prime location for weekend homes, and the occupants of these homes are not counted in the population statistics, as their primary residence is out of county.  As the birth rate continues to decline, and the number of part-time residents increases, there will continue to be a higher increase in the number of housing units compared to the growth of the population. 

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Laurel Sweeney
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty
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