The reporter’s kitchen in November 2017, shortly after she and her husband closed their first home.
If you think updating your garish 1960s kitchen is just a matter of paint and appliances, think again.
Home renovations modernize your home, potentially make it more energy efficient, and can improve its curb appeal when you sell your home.
The problem is that an overhaul of your home can often be more complex – and more expensive – than originally planned.
Consider that a minor mid-range kitchen remodel — in which you replace the front of your cabinets and replace countertops — costs an average of $22,507, according to Remodeling Magazine.
A major kitchen renovation costs about three times as much ($66,196) and often includes a new island, updated appliances and custom lighting, Remodeling found.
Darla Mercado’s kitchen in October 2019 during gut renovations and before cursory inspections.
Patrick S. Coyle
A gut renovation, where contractors tear down a room down to the studs, could also uncover a host of unexpected issues that will add to the bill.
My first floor kitchen and bathroom have been in the process of being renovated for about four weeks, including new flooring. Some of the surprises we discovered include an improperly installed window and faulty plumbing in the shower.
“Someone might say, ‘Let’s redo our bathroom,’ and they live in a house that was built in the 1950s or 1960s,” said Frank Lesh, a retired building inspector and spokesman for the city. ‘American Society of Home Inspectors.
“Something downstream of that could affect the work in progress,” he said. “For example, if your house was built with steel pipes, which was common in the 50s and 60s, those pipes tend to corrode.”
Here’s what you need to know before renovating your home.
1. Do your due diligence
Shop around for your project with several contractors to get an idea of the price range for your renovation.
Check the background of your contractors and make sure they are licensed in your state and locality.
Licensed contractors are typically required to pass an exam, pay licensing fees, be bonded, and carry insurance for property damage, liability, and workers’ compensation.
“Make sure everyone is licensed and insured,” said Daniel Lorch, a real estate agent in Teaneck, New Jersey. “The last thing you want is for someone’s electrician to work in your house and get electrocuted.”
“If they don’t have insurance, they can sue you,” he said.
2. Review your contract
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Contract details should include an estimated start and end date, payment schedule – never pay your professional the full amount up front – and details of the contractor’s responsibilities, including whether cleaning and garbage removal are included.
The agreement should also detail the scope of the project.
Beware of red flags, which include a provision for the builder to substitute materials. “They might say the materials are of a similar quality, but often they’re not,” said Douglas Miller, a Minneapolis real estate attorney.
Your contract should specify how change orders — additions to the project — are handled and paid for. These work updates must always be made in writing.
Finally, be on the lookout for arbitration clauses, where you’ll give up your right to sue your builder, Miller said. “Don’t accept arbitration,” he said.
3. Make sure they get permits
A couple is working on home renovations.
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Typically, state and local jurisdictions require contractors to obtain permits for large projects, including renovation and new electrical and plumbing work.
This way, your city’s building authority can inspect the work and make sure it meets safety codes.
Your city inspector will “close” the permit if the project is up to code.
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Failure to obtain the proper permits and fail to go through the inspection process could mean that your new project is plagued with structural issues.
Worse, your landlord’s coverage likely won’t pay for damages related to work done without a permit.
Additionally, “open” permits – where the building authority has not approved the completed project – could interfere with the sale of your home.
4. Avoid privileges
Depending on the state you live in, your contractor or subcontractors may be able to file a construction lien against your home if they haven’t been paid.
Liens can prevent you from selling your home and prevent you from refinancing your mortgage.
Protect yourself by getting an affidavit of construction from your builder, the retailer who worked on your property, Miller said.
Then get a lien waiver — where the contractor waives the lien on your home in exchange for payment — and paid receipts from all parties who worked on your home, he said.
A little leg work can save you a lot of heartache. “You can even call the contractors and verify that they’ve been paid,” Miller said.