How to choose a builder for that home-remodeling job

If you're planning to remodel your home and a contract job is intended, choose a builder who is familiar with remodeling. Some builders specialize in reconstruction, others in new.

It is unfair to you, the owner, to give a builder "on the job" training. Also, it may be costly.

Tailor the capacity of the builder to the size and nature of the job. Small builders are better equipped to do little jobs, just as large contractors can better handle big projects. Reconstruction takes a heap of savvy. A hungry contractor may do a better job for less money than one who is tyrranized by too heavy a workload.

The main thing here for owners to heed is that they make progress payments only to 90 percent of the work performed; and then require evidence from the builder that all his bills are paid before writing a check.

How much fee should you pay a builder for a home-improvement job?

If the contract is on a time-and-material or cost-plus basis, 15-25 percent profit and overhead may be in line. Large jobs often earn a smaller contract percentage fee than small ones.

If the project is competitively bid, preferably select two or three prequalified builders. Too long a bidder list is often counterproductive.

Afford the bidders a reasonable time to prepare their bids. Open the bids in the presence of bidders at a stipulated time and place. Award the job to the lowest responsiblem bidder. If the low bid is too low -- say 20 percent or more -- beware. Simply, red flags are flying.

Investigate why the bid is so low before accepting it. The builder may have made a mathematical mistake or he might really be able to do the job for that much less money than the others and still show a profit.

In the first instance, the award to the next low bidder may be justified; in the latter, proceed with the low bidder if all the red flags have lowered.

Too many owners are tempted to take the low bid regardless of its comparative lowness. If the builder is losing money on the job, it may suffer in quality and scope. Then, the owner may find himself in unpleasant hassles with the belabored contractor.

If your state requires licensing of contractors, avoid using unlicensed ones.

This is not to say that all licensed builders are perfect; far from it. It merely says that illegal building is more problem-prone than legal projects.

Bear in mind from the very first that remodeling in almost every instance will cost more than the owner, architect, or builder expect. Even when the plans and specifications are thoroughly detailed, invisible items will pop up during reconstruction, assuredly adding to the cost.

A 25 percent or more contingency fund is not excessive and may not even be enough, especially in older project remodeling.

A deliberate attitude of fairness by the owner may serve to maintain harmony with an honest builder far more than continual yow-yowing, suspicion, or nitpicking about the work.

Honeysuckle attracts more bees than prickly pear cactus.

The nature of a construction contract is simply this: After hiring a builder, the owner has to trust him.m Therefore, an owner should choose only a trustworthy builder; and then trust him during the construction.

This is not to say that owners should blindly accept or overlook poor workmanship by the builder. They should ask questions and identify imperfections or inadequacies in the work. Sometimes the engrossed builder cannot see the forest for the trees. Alert owners may need to tactfully or meaningfully remove the builder's blinders.

Obviously, an owner should avoid the other extreme of being a nuisance on the job.

It goes without saying that a homeowner does not proceed with bidding or building until he has in hand adequate plans and specifications for the proposed work. He should choose an architect or building designer who is familiar with reconstruction and its peculiarities.

Minimum plans, however inexpensive, are usually disastrous. Twenty-twenty experienced architectual foresight is essential to success. Avoid sketchy plans as well as drawings prepared by an amateur. They may only trigger a problem and result in unduly high construction costs.

Good builders aspire for perfection in their work. But alas, builders are nearly as human as owners.

If a project is of some magnitude, it may be well worth the 1 percent fee to bond the builder.

In a nutshell, heed the red flags!

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