Three things to know before embarking on home remodeling projects

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, March 19, 2017

George Carpenter and his wife bought their Janesville home in 2014, but they wanted to add a wine cellar to their basement.

Because a sewer backup had damaged the carpeting and drywall, Carpenter said he and his wife chose to do a “wall-to-wall basement remodeling” in addition to making a wine cellar.

The whole project took from about October 2015 to October 2016 and went relatively smoothly, which is in large part a credit to the planning they did on the front end, Carpenter said.

About four months of the project were spent on design ideas and work the couple did themselves, he said.

Michelle Reinen, director for the state Bureau of Consumer Protection, echoed this sentiment. Front-end work is vital to lay out project specifics so consumers are protected, she said.

Carpenter's biggest piece of advice for those preparing to take on larger remodeling projects is to plan ahead and make sure they get things right the first time. If that means getting a professional to do it, then get a professional, he said.

Carpenter and Reinen offered three things to know before embarking on a home remodeling project:

1. Know the scope: Reinen said a clear plan will make things easier when shopping for materials or looking for a contractor.

Making the determination of what you can do yourself and what you need to hire somebody for is also important, Reinen and Carpenter said. This decision might not only be an assessment of personal skill but also cost.

Carpenter said he and his wife took care of the painting and some smaller portions themselves, but left the framing, drywalling, electrical work and tiling to the professionals.

Carpenter said all the work they did on the front end was vital to the eventual success of the project.

“I'd say that was the most important thing and the reason I think we were so satisfied with what we got is we followed that rule,” Carpenter said.

2. Get it in writing: One of the most important parts of remodeling work is getting everything in a written contract, Reinen said. This allows for extra security for everyone involved.

Signing a detailed contract before the project begins can lay out what needs to be done, when it needs to be finished and how much it all should cost, she said. Contracts require thorough reading, she said.

Reinen said the timing of payment can vary with the size of the project. Some contractors want a partial down payment. If it's a smaller project, sometimes contractors will just wait until the end, Reinen said.

Reinen said people should request lien waivers when they make a payment.

A lien waiver is the legal document of payment and prevents a lien from being filed against the home for nonpayment, Reinen said. Receiving a lien waiver acts almost as a receipt after payment, she said, and it protects consumers from costs after the fact for materials or labor that may not have been charged initially.

Contractors must provide lien waivers if they are requested.

Carpenter said he considered costs for potential mistakes when deciding if he should complete some projects or if some things were best left to the professionals.

“Painting, if I screw up, I can redo it. With something like flooring, I want to have it done right the first time. I don't want to have to rip it up,” Carpenter said. “And if it is done wrong, it's somebody else's responsibility and somebody else is on the dime not me.”

3. Do your research: Consistent with doing work up front, Carpenter and Reinen said research was important for successful remodeling projects.

Homeowners can get multiple estimates, look at reviews, check references and research any complaints filed against contractors.

Referrals can come from family, friends or online services from state agencies, Reinen said.

Before signing up to work with a contractor, she said, call consumer protection to check if any complaints have been filed against the business.

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