The ten things I like to do before making a construction decision

Renovating a home is expensive. It involves a lot of people, a good amount of time, and there are lots of unknown.

A person can’t possibly know everything regarding DOB fees, codes, electric, plumbing, framing, underpinning, reinforcements etc. And because of this you need to depend on the expertise of others.

And you can’t spend for ever cross checking what they say. Is it really true that the filling fee has a $2000 surcharge because the building lot is larger? Does it really cost $1000 to install a boiler of that size? Does code really require you to move that wall?

Sometimes, actually often, you need to just trust what the expert is saying and jump in.

There are several things that can make the ride easier, though.

The ten things I like to do before making a construction decision:

1. Take my time.
Construction is a frantic race to finish. There is pressure from everyone to decide. And if you are paying people by the day time is money. Not to mention the constant ticking clock of that monthly mortgage payment. Because of this it always feels like people expect you to make split second decisions. But the truth is they can wait. Five minutes, an hour, a day. Find a way to give yourself the time you need before making a decision.

2. Inform myself.
An uninformed decision is like flipping a coin, only there is less than 50% change you will get it right. Surf the net, cold call another expert, ask your five year old daughter. Do whatever you can to inform yourself more on the elements of the decision.

3. Do a background check.

The web is pretty fluid and if you are dealing with a bad expert chances are the web will tell you. Google their names and the company name. Or you can post on a chat group if anyone has dealt with them. Brownstoner.com forum usually gets a fast response. Ask for references and ask the references specific questions. Don’t just ask, “Is he a nice guy?”. This will help you decide if the expert’s advice is any good.

4. Start with a smaller job.

If you can’t decide yet, then buy some time by doing a smaller job that you do know about. “I haven’t decided if I’m going to hire you to install my boiler. In the meantime can you fix my leaking shower.” This won’t tell you if they can install a boiler or if their price is fair, but you will get an idea. Do they totally overcharge you on the shower or do they do a great job?

5. Get it in writing.
Don’t wait for them to write it up if they stall on this one. Even if you hand write on a piece of paper something as simple as, “I agree to install the boiler for $1000. June 20 2010” and get them to write their name and sign it. This is mostly so there are no misunderstandings later. If after the job they say that there are an extra $500 in parts you can pull out the sheet and ask them why they didn’t mention that. Ideally the sheet has AS MUCH DETAILS AS POSSIBLE. But a simple handwritten one is the easiest and fastest.

6. Get a receipt.
Any money you give them get a receipt. It doesn’t mater if it’s your mother installing that boiler. Get a receipt. Again a simple handwritten note is good enough. “[Date], Paid $200 out of total $1000 to [Name] for boiler install.” And get them to sign it.

7. Be part of the job.
Don’t show them the boiler room and disappear. Even if you don’t know what a boiler looks like make sure you stick around. Ask questions. Bring them coffee. Stay part of the process. This avoids any surprises at the end. For example them leaving a massive hole in the wall after installing some pipes. You don’t need to be a genius builder to know that ain’t right and you can stop them before they do it.

8. Use money as leverage.
Never, never, never pay all the money up front. If you can, do the payments in three parts: 1/3 up front, 1/3 right after the job, 1/3 after you have had a chance to inspect/test the work.

9. Inspect/Test the work.
If you don’t know how then get a friend to. Go over the job and ask what was done, what was put where, why. Be sure that all the things you agreed on were done. By now they might be really tired of you but who cares that’s their problem. All this can be done in a nice way anyway.

10. Be flexible. If you remain in control of the process through the above mentioned attitude then you can afford to be flexible. Sometimes the experts actually do need extra time or money. Sometimes they do make mistakes beyond their control. Most of the time they want the job to go quickly and easily just like you. In essence you are a team working together for the same goal. As long as you stay on top of it then you can keep this attitude and it makes the job a lot more fun and successful.

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This attitude does take more time and energy, but ideally it is good energy and time. And it can lessen the chances of things going sour. And that is no fun for anyone.

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