Simple rules can help with choice of contractor
When it comes to hiring a contractor, it takes more than getting two or three bids and going with the lowest price. In order to make sure you have covered all bases on your next project, the dos and don’ts below will ensure you are prepared with questions and expectations of whomever you hire.
Each honey-do project can have many facets to the job, so make sure everything is in writing. On the list are also ideas on what should be included in the contract.
Most of these items can be easily referenced online of course, but it is always good to get personal references as well. Just by speaking with someone who has used your potential contractor will give you a better idea of what to expect when you decide to move forward with your project.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Check with friends, neighbors and co-workers who have used a Contractor. If you can, check the work done and ask them to share their experience.
CHECK SITES YOU TRUST FOR RATINGS AND REVIEWS
Do the people have similar experiences, good or bad? Be sure to check out the contractor’s online reputation by searching the Company’s name for “scam”, “rip-off” or “complaint.”
FIND OUT HOW LONG THEY HAVE BEEN IN BUSINESS
Look for an established company whose name and record you can check on.
CHECK FOR QUALIFICATIONS, LIKE LICENSING
The state of Michigan requires contractors to be licensed and/or bonded. Check with your local building department or consumer protection agency to find out about licensing requirements in your area. Licensing can range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process. Make sure your contractor’s license is current.
BEFORE YOU HIRE A CONTRACTOR
Get written estimates from several firms. Don’t automatically choose the lowest one. Ask for an explanation to see if there is a reason for the difference in price.
MAY I HAVE A LIST OF REFERENCES
A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. Was the client satisfied, were there unexpected costs, did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the job?
How many projects have you completed like mine in the last year? Ask for a list so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.
WILL MY PROJECT REQUIRE A PERMIT
Most states and localities require permits for building projects, even for a simple one like a deck. A competent contractor will get all of the necessary permits before starting work on your project. Choose a contractor familiar with the permitting process in your city.
TRY TO MAKE PAYMENTS DURING THE PROJECT CONTIGENT UPON COMPLETION OF DEFINED AMOUNTS OF WORK
This way, if the work isn’t going according to schedule, the payments to your contractor are also delayed.
GET A WRITTEN CONTRACT
Be sure it includes: contractor’s name, address and phone number, estimated start and completion dates, payment schedule, contractor’s obligation to get permits, how change orders are handled, information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, length of warranty and any limitations, what contractor will and won’t do. Ask for a broom clause (contractor is responsible for all clean-up work).
- Knocks on your door for business or offers you discounts for finding other customers
- Just happens to have materials left over from a previous job
- Only accepts cash, asks you to pay for everything up-front, or suggests you borrow money from a lender he knows
- Asks you to get required permits
- Tells you your job will be a demonstration or offers lifetime guarantee or long term one
- Doesn’t list a business number in telephone directory or on business card
- No legal business address listed anywhere
Article provided courtesy of Grosse Ile-based Classics Construction.
‘For Sale By Owner’ isn’t as easy as it sounds
When it comes time to move into a new residence, plenty of homeowners consider selling their current property themselves. Drive through most neighborhoods, and you’ll see at least a few “For sale by owner” signs. Search the Internet and you’ll find plenty of websites aimed at helping homeowners sell without using an agent.
It’s an attractive idea. Owners who are able to market their own home can save considerable money, since they don’t have to pay an agent’s commission. If you can pocket that, you could have more to spend on your next house.
So why not give it a try? The truth is the majority of owners who try to market their homes end up listing it with an agent after several frustrating months. Why? Selling a house is far more difficult than selling a car, used appliances or anything else most people have sold before.
Many people are aware that selling a home is hard work, but they may not be aware just how hard it is to market a property, especially when you’re likely looking for your next home at the same time.
Good real estate agents work incredibly hard to earn their commissions. Many have extensive training in the intricacies of buying and selling properties. Almost like a physician, they’re constantly on call. Most work long days, including nights and weekends. In fact, weekends are among the busiest times for real estate agents, because they have to show homes when potential buyers are available.
And if people don’t show for an appointment or aren’t interested in the house, agents do not get paid for their time. Selling your own home likely means you and your family will be on a similar schedule, taking calls and setting up appointments.
You will also find that some potential buyers may be uncomfortable or unwilling to look at a house without their agent and may not consider the home you’re trying to sell yourself.
It’s also sometimes hard for people selling their own home to figure out the right price for their property. Some owners, especially those who have lived in a house for decades, may be unaware of just how much local property has increased in value. They may give up thousands in profits, possibly more than any agent’s commission, by setting their sale price too low.
Other homeowners may believe their house is almost “priceless,” and set a figure so high they scare off any potential buyers and refuse to accept fair offers from those who do express interest.
Even if you are aware of what homes are selling for in your neighborhood, there are many variables that contribute to a home’s price, including things that may not be visible from the street. This all relates to what is perhaps the biggest problem for people who sell their own homes: the inability to look at their property objectively. It’s hard to think of the place you have lived in for years, and possibly raised a family, as a “product” that’s competing with similar products — homes — in the area. But for shoppers, that’s exactly what it is.
It means you have to know how to stage your home so potential buyers can see it as their own. For example, pictures and other mementos generally should be kept to a minimum. If a house appears cluttered or too “lived in,” it could turn off buyers by making them feel like they’re just walking uninvited through someone else’s house.
An outsider with a trained eye can help point out areas that need to be improved that you may overlook. Professional real estate agents typically also have a large budget to help homes sell. Advertising, the Internet, even professional contacts, can all mean more potential buyers — and possibly a higher selling price.
It should be added that some people do successfully sell their home themselves. But for every person who does manage the complex task, many others only end up frustrated and disappointed.
Harry Cassidy is an associate broker at Real Estate Unlimited in Allen Park. Questions can be sent to 7614 Allen Road, Allen Park, MI 48101; or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Wood planks = warm walls
(BPT) For centuries, hardwood planks have been the ultimate material for residential floors. Combining exceptional durability with unrivalled good looks, oak, walnut, cherry or other solid-wood floorboards add value and beauty to any home they grace. But these days, handsome timber planking is not only found underfoot, but also on the ceilings and walls of many stylish houses, whether newly built or freshly renovated.
“Timber beams and wood paneling have always played important roles in historical and contemporary residential design, and continue to do so,” said Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center, www.hardwood-info.com. “But in addition to these classic applications, we’ve seen a strong trend toward the use of floorboard-style wood planks on ceilings and walls. Homeowners are finding it’s a great way to create interiors that are clean and modern yet still have a traditional warmth.”
New York-based interior designer Laura Bohn agrees.
“I’ve installed wood-plank ceilings in many projects, both in the city and the country,” she said. “The ceiling is often a forgotten surface, but I like to think of it as the fifth wall in a room – a blank canvas that can enhance the architecture of a space.”
A case in point is a vacation home in Aspen, Co., where Bohn used tongue-and-groove red oak planks on the floors and living-area ceilings.
“It’s a big, sprawling house,” Bohn said. “Using the same materials underfoot and overhead gave the spaces added unity.”
In some rooms, the wood ceilings extend past clerestory windows to create covered porches that link the interior of the house to the mountain landscape outside. More drama is provided by the natural light that streams through the clerestories and across the ceilings, changing the look of the red oak boards throughout the day.
Rebecca Ascher, principal at Ascher Davis Architects in New York and Newport, R.I., points out that only large, high-ceiling rooms can accommodate such visually distinctive overhead treatment without being overwhelmed.
“This is especially true if you’re using strongly characterful hardwoods like walnut or hickory,” Ascher said. “In smaller, lower spaces, a plank ceiling with too much personality can feel oppressive. In those situations, I would probably specify something simple like poplar beadboard finished with a light, natural stain. That would look crisp and airy, adding visual interest while remaining pleasingly low-key.”
Home renovators discovered that installing new wood floorboards overhead is not only a surefire way to refresh an interior — even change its character entirely, if so desired – but also an effective method of covering old, damaged ceilings with relative ease.
“Tongue-and-groove can be installed directly over drywall, plaster, and other ceiling materials,” Ascher said. “Just make sure it is securely attached to the joists underneath.”
Similar decorative and architectural transformations can be achieved by covering existing walls with wood planking. A feature wall clad in honey-colored oak or some other distinctive hardwood can give a room focus, bringing a sense of organization and intention to what was previously an amorphous or confused space. It can also add warmth, color and texture to sleek, modernist interiors that can sometimes feel chilly or austere.
That is what Texas-based Cornerstone Architects did in a contemporary Austin residence. The decorative temperature of the master bedroom – a coolly elegant arrangement of steel and glass, polished concrete and white plaster — was raised a degree or two by turning the entire wall behind the headboard into a magnificent expanse of burnished walnut boards.
Installing hardwood planking on existing walls has become even easier in recent years with the development of self-adhesive boards.
“All you need is a wall surface that has been primed or painted and is clean, dry, and relatively flat,” said Jack Shannon III of Rustick Wood Co. in Tenn., one of a growing number of manufactures producing sustainably grown, stick-on hardwood boards.
“Our solid wood boards are available in a variety of finishes, ranging from the refined to the rustic, to fit different styles of home décor.”
The 5-inch wide planks come in lengths between 2- and 5-feet and can be applied in many possible patterns – classic end-to-end horizontals and verticals, graphic herringbones and chevrons – the homeowner’s imagination is the only real limit.
Visit www.hardwoodinfo.com for more about residential design trends and other applications and products using American hardwoods.
Think ‘smart’ to add value to your home
(BPT) Fresh paint on the walls, professional staging and an asking price that ends in 999 — when you’re selling your home, you’ll do whatever you can to help it stand out and sell faster. Because the National Association of Realtors is predicting modest growth for the 2017 real estate market, as a seller you want every edge you can get. And on the heels of the popular Consumer Electronics Show in January, perhaps that edge is a smarter home.
“Smart home features are designed to make homes more convenient, appealing, secure and energy-efficient — all of which are bonuses when you’re trying to sell a house,” said Geoff Lewis, president of RE/MAX, LLC. “Sellers who want to move their homes faster may benefit from adding smart features that make their properties more appealing to tech-minded buyers.”
According to IHS Markit and CNBC, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide last year. That’s a 64 percent increase from 2015.
Here are six trending smart home features that might catch buyers’ attention and help sell your home faster:
- Keyless/remote entry door locks – Have you ever left the house and worried that you left the front door unlocked? If your home is equipped with a keyless/remote entry door lock – available from multiple manufacturers – you can use an app on your smartphone to lock the door from wherever you are. Some manufacturers make versions that will also send a text or email to your phone when the door opens. Locks that can be programmed with multiple entry codes also allow you to see who comes and goes and when.
- Smart lighting — From lighting automation that allows you to control lights remotely and wirelessly, to energy-efficient LED bulbs that can change color to match your mood and decor, lighting has come a long way. Some smart lights work in tandem with home automation systems to allow you to turn them on or off, or even dim them, from an app on a smartphone or tablet. Others require no communication hub and can be controlled directly from your mobile device. You can also put some smart bulbs on timers (using your wireless device), sync them with certain TV shows or movies, and integrate them with security cameras and thermostats.
- DIY security systems — Don’t want to sign a contract or deal with complex security systems? Install-it-yourself security systems are affordable and offer security features like cameras, sensors, motion detectors and alarms or sirens, without the need for a security service to monitor them.
- Smart appliances — The Internet of Things (IoT) — everyday objects that have network connectivity — includes a growing list of smart appliances. Many manufacturers are offering washers, dryers, refrigerators and other home appliances that can communicate with you – and each other – wirelessly. Many can be controlled remotely from your smartphone – so if you leave the house and can’t remember if you turned off the stove, you can check in and turn it off using your smartphone app. While appliances aren’t always included in a home sale, they do make for interesting features that keep your home top of mind to buyers.
- Smart plugs — One of the easiest, most affordable smart home upgrades you can make is to add smart plugs to your home. These Wi-Fi-enabled plugs fit existing outlets and can be controlled from a smartphone app. Plug anything into a smart plug, like lights or a television, and you can turn it on or off remotely, track energy consumption, or even create an on-off schedule.
- Temperature controls — Programmable thermostats were just the beginning; today’s home temperature controls are even smarter. Like other smart home features, smart thermostats can be controlled remotely from your mobile device. You can program them to make automatic temperature adjustments and then use your smartphone to override the program like turning up the heat on a particularly cold day. Some smart thermostats learn from household behavior and adjust the temperature to meet your family’s needs and save energy, while others adjust based on the number of people in a room. And several can now be operated via voice-controlled virtual assistants.
“Many of these smart home features are surprisingly easy and affordable to install,” Lewis said. “Sellers who are open to the idea of investing a little money to possibly help get a speedier sale, may want to consider adding the smart features buyers will be looking for in 2017.”
If you’re thinking of selling your home, find more helpful information at www.remax.com.
‘Clean’ showings get best results
(BPT) Real estate experts agree: dirt and clutter are the anti-staging elements that can send buyers running for the door before they ever think of making an offer. Prior to staging your home, invest some time in deep cleaning it, paying attention to everything from the front walk to the garbage disposal to the air inside your home.
Once you’ve created a clean foundation, follow through with these quick cleaning tasks before showings:
Sweep in front of the house
A pot of flowers on the front step is great, but they won’t look that welcoming if dirt and debris are visible too. Thoroughly sweep front walks, stairs and entryways, and don’t forget to clear cobwebs above the door. Put away any children’s toys or gardening tools that may be in the front yard. Hide trash and recycling containers out of sight.
Freshen the aromas inside
Pet and cooking smells are major turnoffs for home buyers, but even if your house has neither, freshening the indoor scent can have a positive effect on a buyer’s mood. However, you don’t want to saturate your home in overpowering, chemical-based scents, either. To deodorize more naturally, try cleaning with essential oils. Mix 2 teaspoons of Aura Cacia Main Squeeze Essential Oil Blend, 1 3/4 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon of Borax and 1/4 teaspoon of unscented liquid soap in a 16-ounce bottle. Before a showing, use the mixture to wipe down kitchen counters, leaving behind clean countertops and a fresh, energizing citrus scent.
Speed clean the kitchen
Now that your counters are clutter-free, sparkling and smelling good, just a few more tasks will get your kitchen ready to show. Wipe away any fingerprints on appliances, and put away all pots, pans, dishes and glassware in their proper place. Store pet bowls out of sight, give the floor a quick sweep and dry the interior of the sink with a paper towel.
Put your best foot forward in the bath
It’s tough but critical to keep the most-used room in the house looking its best. You probably used your bathroom to get ready this morning, so wipe down surfaces to ensure no hair or debris lingers. Check the mirror for spots and wipe and dry the sink. If the bathtub or shower doors show signs of recent use, dry them off. Store used soap, shampoo, scrubbies, loofahs, wash cloths and towels out of sight.
Nothing says “show home” like fresh vacuum tracks in the carpet! Just before you leave the house for a showing, give carpets a quick pass with the vacuum. Before you do your other last-minute cleaning tasks, mix 1 teaspoon of Aura Cacia Petal Power Essential Oil Blend with a cup of baking soda and sprinkle on carpets. After 10 minutes, vacuum away the powder and leave a light, refreshing floral scent behind.
Take out the trash
Go through every room with a trash can and make sure it’s empty. It may not seem rational, but many buyers will equate trash in a waste basket with an untidy home. It’s especially important to empty trash that may stink, such as in the kitchen. Remove trash, store it in a sealed receptacle outside the house, and give potentially stinky trash cans a refreshing shot of sweet basil and lavender aroma with a DIY garbage pail pod.
For more home care ideas and essential oil recipes, visit www.auracacia.com.
Tackle these chores before you move in
(BPT) You found the perfect home, so it’s not surprising that you want to move in as quickly as possible. However, there are some projects that are best done when the house is still empty.
So, consider completing the following seven items before the moving trucks arrive.
- Painting. A fresh coat of paint can instantly update a room, and it’s common to buy a home knowing you will need to paint several rooms or the entire house after the sale. However, painting is best done while every wall is accessible and there are no worries about getting paint on furniture or rugs.
- Changing locks. Now is the time to change the locks on your new home to eliminate the risk of any former keyholders accessing your new space. Do this even if you know the former keyholders because you never know who they shared keys with. This fix is quick, inexpensive and it provides you with peace of mind.
- Flooring updates. Redoing a floor is always easier when the floor is empty. Whether you’re choosing to redo wood floors or lay tile before you move in, tackling this process now also allows you to keep wood and tile dust off of furniture and collectables.
- Roof repairs. Roof repairs are a must. If the home inspection revealed any damage to the roof, make the necessary repairs before moving in. Choose a contractor experienced with the type of shingles your home requires. Several of the largest shingle manufacturers have programs for contractors who meet certain qualifications, like TAMKO Building Products’ Pro Certified Contractor program. Homeowners can easily locate a TAMKO Pro at www.TAMKO.com/find-a-pro to get their project started.
- Removing popcorn ceilings. No one likes these. We’re not sure anyone ever did, but alas, they are a common sight, especially in older homes. Popcorn ceilings (and walls) are easy to remove, but messy. Use a spray bottle to moisten an area, then scrape the texture off with a towel. Clean-up will be much easier if you complete this project before introducing your furniture to the space.
- Fix leaks. If left untreated, water leaks can do serious damage to furniture, rugs, flooring and other valuables. Leaks can also lead to secondary problems like rotting wood, mold and mildew. And let’s be honest, no one wants to live in a house where you can’t use the water, so address plumbing issues before you move in.
- Child and pet proofing. Careful child and pet proofing can protect your babies (furry or otherwise). Gates at the top and bottom of stairs, outlet covers and locks on cabinets, drawers and any other place chemicals or medicines are kept, can help make your new home a safer place.
As difficult as it can be, sometimes delaying your move-in by a few weeks can save months of frustration in the long run. So don’t wait, because the sooner you start, the sooner you can start your new life in your new home.
To learn more about how you can use TAMKO building products in your next home project, visit TAMKO.com.
Exterior fixes yield higher ROI on sale
(BPT) Renovation season is approaching. Do you know what home improvements will give you the best return for your money? Here’s a hint: step outside.
You might assume upgrades to interior spaces like kitchens and bathrooms have the best payoff, but most home improvements don’t return 100 percent of their value at the time of resale. Those that yield the best return on investment for the most modest costs are generally exterior improvements.
Outside the box
Interior projects like a minor kitchen renovation or bathroom upgrade return a decent percentage of your initial investment when you sell your home — about 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report. However, they can also cost tens of thousands of dollars.
By contrast, exterior projects like adding a deck or replacing a garage door deliver similar high rates of return, but for far less cost. Adding a composite deck can cost around $17,000 and yield an ROI of more than 65 percent, while a garage door typically costs less than $2,000 and returns nearly 77 percent of your investment when you sell.
In fact, six of the eight improvements with the best ROI on Remodeling’s report were exterior projects, and their average payback was nearly 75 percent.
Top exterior projects
Here are popular exterior projects that offer high ROI, according to the Cost vs. Value report:
- Roof replacement — A midrange roof replacement costs approximately $20,000 and returns nearly 69 percent of the investment. What’s more, a new roof helps protect your entire home from weather damage and can improve curb appeal.
- Composite deck addition — Costs vary, but remodeling bases its evaluation of ROI on a cost of about $17,000. At that price, adding a composite deck delivers ROI of 65.2 percent. Of course, the value of your deck will depend on many factors, including the quality of the building products you choose. Capped board composites, like Envision Decking by TAMKO Building Products, are gaining popularity. Envision Inspiration, the latest in the TAMKO collection, was introduced in late 2016, and features striking color patterns for a visual effect that’s as appealing as the financial ROI of composite decking.
- Siding replacement — Another exterior feature that protects the whole home and greatly affects its curb appeal, new siding can cost around $14,500. When you sell your home, that new siding will recoup about 76 percent of your initial investment.
- Garage door replacement — Older garage doors may lack modern insulating qualities and a shabby-looking door can drag down the look of your home. Replacing the garage door costs roughly $1,700 and returns nearly 77 percent of that amount at the time of resale.
- Steel entry door — The single exterior home improvement with the greatest ROI is also one of the cheapest and easiest to do. Replacing a wooden door with a steel entry door will run you about $1,400 and you’ll recoup more than 90 percent of that cost when you sell your home.
Exterior home improvements not only enhance your enjoyment of your home and help maintain its security, but they’re also the first things potential buyers see when they pull up to the curb. When you want to make cost-effective, high-ROI improvements, making exterior upgrades is money well spent.