What to Tell Owners Who Ask Your Advice About Remodeling

Help homeowners sort out their need so they choose the right remodeler for the right job.

May 1, 1999

Many buyers of an existing house undertake remodeling at some point. Whether their goal is to maximize value or simply to meet their household’s changing needs is key to the kind of work they should do and how much they should spend.

How can you be of help? Here’s what one expert says real estate practitioners should tell buyers and past clients who ask their advice about remodeling.

  • Decide whether the project goal is to increase value or to meet household needs. These different goals can lead to wildly different projects. “If owners have resale in mind, they don’t want to spend $50,000 remodeling a house where the median price is, say, $97,000,” says Steven Kingree, president of D&S Kustom Construction, Crystal River, Fla. Kingree is chairman of the Florida Home Builders Association Remodelors Counciland was 1998 Florida Remodelor of the Year. “They’ll never recoup their investment. On the other hand, if they’re doing it for personal needs, cost isn’t as much of a consideration.”
  • Know what you want before you ask for bids. As self-evident as this sounds, many times the homeowner hasn’t thought the project through. And that can be expensive, especially in states such as hurricane-prone Florida that have strict engineering laws. “It’s not at all uncommon for a remodeler to find that the husband and wife have very different ideas about what they want,” says Kingree. In states with strict engineering laws, which typically include those along the coasts, and in local historic areas, costs quickly mount if the remodeler has to make modifications once the initial plan is submitted for approval. “In Florida, virtually everything you do must adhere to state codes, so every time you change the structure, you have to engineer a new drawing,” says Kingree. “That costs a lot of money.”
  • Get referrals and ask specific questions. Referrals are the lifeblood of successful professionals. Recommend to the owners that they drop by neighbors who’ve recently remodeled to get their opinion not only on the quality and price of the work but also on their comfort level working with the remodeler. Did they feel OK having the remodeler in their home? Did the remodeler leave a mess? Did the remodeler create a hazard for their kids? These issues aren’t on most homeowners’ radar screen, so you can provide concrete value by giving them a heads up.
  • Know where to go for remodelers. It’s not enough to rely on neighbors who are satisfied with the remodeler they worked with. Homeowners should get two or more bids. To help them identify candidates, check with the local builders association. Many builders groups now have a Remodelors Council. Building companies that complete the National Association of Home Builders’ remodeling curriculum are designated Certified Graduate Remodelors, or CGRS. That guarantees that the company has been exposed to professional remodeling standards and codes of conduct, Kingree says. After taking bids, homeowners should check company references, the local building department, and the Better Business Bureau.
  • Find out whether the remodeler is licensed for the work that needs to be done. A remodeler that holds a residential license may not be qualified in your state to do the work if there’s asbestos or lead-based paint in the house. In some states, only a remodeler with a general contractor’s license can do work that upsets asbestos. Likewise, if the work involves reroofing the entire house, a residential license may not be enough.
  • Clarify who’s liable for what. Many states require remodelers to guarantee their labor and the quality of installation for a period of time. In Florida it’s a year. For your state’s rules, check with the state Remodelors Council or contact the local agency regulating construction codes.

Manufacturers also generally guarantee their building products for a term, sometimes for as much as five years. If there’s a defect, the homeowners will have to sort out whether it stems from the labor or installation or from the component.

Recommend to the owners that they let the remodeler buy the material and components. If the homeowner buys them and there’s a defect, that could mean paying the remodeler additional money for reinstallation. If the remodeler buys them, there generally won’t be additional charges.

Information on picking a remodeler and how to work with one is available from the Remodelors Council of the National Association of Home Builders. Contact the council at 800/368-5242, Ext. 216.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.

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