It’s mid-summer and the sounds of the season are loud and consistent. Yes, you got it, you’re hearing the whack of hammers, the whine of saws, the whirr of drills and the slap of paint brushes. With our long winters, the local contractors have to make the most of any good weather and work as fast and furiously as they can.
Having my own large project looming in the near future, I sat my contractor down to ask him a few questions. Jonathan Hoffman, who has been in this business for 35 years, tells me that renovations are by far the number one request. There is very little new construction although he builds on average one new house per year. As I’ve written in previous articles, the cost of construction, certainly in our area of the Northeast, is quite expensive which makes renovating a much more affordable alternative.
I asked him what type of renovations they do the most and he tells me that bathrooms are the number one room that customers want updated. Some want a total redo yet many simply want to upgrade the materials such as removing the tub/shower surround walls and replacing with tile. Tiling the floor may also be a part of this type of updating. New cabinets, sinks and faucets and bright lighting finish the job nicely. The average cost of this type of work can run upwards of $7,000 depending on the cost of materials and the extent of the renovation.
Another frequent request is basements. Interesting. Finishing off a basement gives a homeowner more livable square footage and is cost effective versus adding on an addition. Basements are great for those spaces that may be more of a luxury than a necessity such as the ever popular Man Cave. It’s perfect for a home gym, a TV or media room, or a family room with space for a pool table. Sometimes an extra bathroom or bedroom can be created in a basement although there are specific requirements for those types of rooms. A legal bedroom needs the appropriate egress window or door in case of a fire or emergency. Bathrooms may need a pump system to take waste water up to a septic or town system. Your contractor should know these requirements. Not sure?? Ask. Be sure to ask anyone you are considering to do work on your home if they are up on the current regulations. Are they covered with liability insurance and workers comp, do their subcontractors have their own liability insurance and can they provide proof of this coverage? Ask your friends and co-workers about who they would recommend and don’t hesitate to ask for and check references.
My own contractor (I consider Jon mine now) keeps busy with work for his long term, regular customers (like me). He also does commercial renovations, such as the one he is about to do for our new office space. Removing walls, new flooring, paint, updating bathrooms, new lights and more. Whew. Some interesting clients of his are landlords. He is called upon to refresh apartments that have been vacated by tenants and bring rental units up to current building codes.
As Realtors, we work with many local contractors and others in the field such as electricians, plumbers, etc. This time of year when they are all out straight, it can be frustrating trying to get so much as a call back from anyone. This is when it is a good idea to have a long term relationship with a contractor. So you contractors and others — return phone calls!! Even if you have to call and say that you do not have time to do a job or if you have to book it months out, just call please. This will go a long way toward building a good reputation.
The difficulty for most contractors is fitting in as many jobs as are reasonable but also working around the weather. If you need a new roof, that’s outside work that can’t be done when it’s stormy and rainy. On those days, the workers concentrate on inside jobs–bathrooms, basements, etc. Small jobs (anything under $10k) might get squeezed in on a weekend. You could find yourself with half a bathroom and your workers replacing someone else’s roof while the weather is good. It’s the only way they can possibly get all their work done in as timely a manner as possible.
Try to be patient with the process and prepare yourself and your family for the inconvenience of renovations. My bathroom, which was gutted down to the studs, was a six week process. It’s my only bathroom except for one that is in our guest house. My husband and I would hike up the driveway for our showers and other necessities, even if it was 2 o’clock in the morning. Needless to say, this was a summer job. But — I love the new bathroom and it was well worth the inconvenience.
Last but not least, I asked Jon what he would like to convey to the public. He tells me that his pet peeve is when customers try to do his job. Buying materials, trying to coordinate subcontractors and basically trying to save a nickel. You are likely to save a lot more if you allow your contractor to take care of everything. It will save you time, money and stress. On an average size job, expect to pay about half of the cost up front. This helps the contractor pay for the cost of materials and labor as he starts the job.
Hopefully you’ve already scheduled your summer renovations or at least are calling to set up your Fall ones. Winter works great too for those pesky inside jobs. Just don’t gut that bathroom if it’s your only one!!