How to Not Look Like a Clueless Homeowner

Stack of weathered red bricks

How Contractors Scam You Without You Ever Knowing

You’ll be ready when he says, “Take my word for it” or makes any of these 4 other claims.

Image: Natalie Jeffcott/Stocksy United

While most contractors are honest, hardworking professionals, a few bad apples can spoil it for everyone. Here are five ways to identify if a contractor could be scamming you, and how to protect yourself:

Scam 1: I’ll Need the Money Up Front

This is the most common ruse reported to the Better Business Bureau. Your contractor explains that because he has to order materials and rent earthmoving equipment to get the job started, he needs, say, 30%-50% of the project price up front. Once you’ve forked over the dough, one of two things happens: He disappears on you, or he starts doing slapdash work knowing that you can’t really fire him because he’s sitting on thousands of your dollars.

How to protect yourself: Never prepay more than $1,000 or 10% of the job total, whichever is less. That’s the legal maximum in some states, and enough to establish that you’re a serious customer so the contractor can work you into his schedule — the only valid purpose of an advance payment. As to the materials and backhoe rentals, if he’s a professional in good standing, his suppliers will provide them on credit.

Scam 2: Take My Word For It

When you first meet with the contractor, he’s very agreeable about doing everything exactly to your specifications and even suggests his own extra touches and upgrades. Some of the details don’t make it into the contract agreement, but you figure it doesn’t matter because you had such a clear verbal understanding.

Pretty soon, you notice that the extras you’d discussed aren’t being built. When you confront the contractor, he tells you that he didn’t include those features in his price, so you’ll have to live without them or pony up additional money to redo the work.

How to protect yourself: Unfortunately, you have few — if any — legal options against your contractor because you signed a contract that didn’t include all the details. Next time, make sure everything you’ve agreed on is written into the project description. Add any items that are missing, put your initials next to each addition, and have the contractor initial it, too — all before you sign.

Scam 3: I Don’t Need to Pull a Permit

You’re legally required to get a building permit for any significant construction project. That allows building officials to visit the site periodically to confirm that the work meets safety codes.

On small interior jobs, an unlicensed contractor may try to skirt the rule by telling you that authorities won’t notice. On large jobs that can’t be hidden, the contractor may try another strategy and ask you to apply for a homeowner’s permit, an option available to do-it-yourselfers.

But taking out your own permit for a contractor job means lying to authorities about who’s doing the work. And it makes you responsible for monitoring all the inspections — since the contractor doesn’t answer to the inspector, you do.

How to protect yourself: Always demand that the contractor get a building permit. Yes, it informs the local tax assessor about your upgrade, but it weeds out unlicensed contractors and gives you the added protection of an independent assessment of the work.

Scam 4: We Ran Into Unforeseen Problems

The job is already under way, perhaps even complete, when this one hits. Suddenly your contractor informs you that the agreed-upon price has skyrocketed. He blames the discovery of structural problems, like a missing beam or termite damage, or design changes that you made after the job began.

The additional fees might very well be legit, but some unscrupulous contractors bid jobs low to get the work and then find excuses to jack up the price later. If you’re unsure whether your contractor is telling the truth about structural problems, you can get an impartial opinion from a home inspector, the local branch of the National Association of Home Builders, or even your local building department.

How to protect yourself: Before signing the contract, make sure it includes a procedure for change orders — mini-contracts containing a work description and a fixed price for anything that gets added to the job in progress. The extra work, whether it’s related to unforeseen building issues or homeowner whims, can proceed only after the change order is signed by both homeowner and contractor.

Scam 5: I’ve Got Extra Materials I Can Sell You Cheap

This hoax is usually run by driveway paving companies, whose materials — hot-top asphalt and concrete — can’t be returned to the supplier. So the crew pulls up to your house with a load of leftover product and quotes a great price to resurface your driveway on the spot.

Even if it’s really a bargain (by no means a sure thing), taking them up on the offer is risky if you have no idea who they are and haven’t checked references. And if the driveway starts cracking next year, you can bet you won’t find this bunch again.

How to protect yourself: Never hire a contractor on the spot, whether it’s a driveway paver, an emergency repairman who shows up after a major storm, or a landscaper with surplus plantings. Take your time to check contractors out to make sure they have a good reputation and do quality work.

Posted on September 16, 2017 at 10:03 PM
Mike Gant | Category: Helpful HInts

Selling Your Home: The Impact of Staging

 

How can you make your home more attractive to potential buyers? The answer is with some “home staging”. According to the Wall Street Journal, implementing some basic interior design techniques can not only speed up the sale of your home but also increase your final selling price.

It all comes down to highlighting your home’s strengths, downplaying its weaknesses, and making it more appealing to the largest pool of prospective buyers. Staging an empty house is also important to help buyers visualize how the spaces would be used, and to give the home warmth and character.

 

Cohesiveness Is Key

Make the inside match the outside. For example, if the exterior architectural style of your house is Victorian or Craftsman Bungalow, the interior should be primarily outfitted with furniture styles from essentially the same era. Prospective buyers who like the exterior style of your home are going to expect something similar when they step inside. If the two styles don’t agree or at least complement each other, there is likely going to be an immediate disconnect for the buyer. Contact your agent to help determine the architectural style of your home and what makes it unique.

There is always room for flexibility. Not all your furnishings need to match, and even the primary furnishings do not need to be an exact match to the architectural style of your home. To create cohesion, you simply need to reflect the overall look-and-feel of the exterior.

 

The Role of Personal Expression

Every home is a personal expression of its owner. But when you become a seller, you’ll want to deemphasize much of the décor that makes a place uniquely yours and instead look for ways to make it appeal to your target market. Keep in mind, your target market is made up of the group of people most likely to be interested in a home like yours—which is something your agent can help you determine.

 

Your Goal: Neutralize and Brighten

Since personal style differs from person to person, a good strategy to sell your home is to “neutralize” the design of your interior. A truly neutral interior design allows people touring the house to easily imagine their own belongings in the space—and to envision how some simple changes would make it uniquely their own.

In short, you want to downplay your own personal expression, while making it easy for others to mentally project their own sense of style on the space. Ideas include:

  • Paint over any bold wall colors with something more neutral, like a light beige, a warm gray, or a soft brown. The old advice used to be, “paint everything white,” but often that creates too sterile of an environment, while dark colors can make a room look small, even a bit dirty. Muted tones and soft colors work best.
  • Consider removing wallpaper if it’s a bold or busy design.
  • Replace heavy, dark curtains with neutral-colored shear versions; this will soften the hard edges around windows while letting in lots of natural light.
  • Turn on lamps, and if necessary, install lighting fixtures to brighten any dark spaces—especially the entry area.
  • Make sure everything is extremely clean. You may even want to hire professionals to give your home a thorough deep clean. Remember, the kitchen and bathrooms are by far the two most important rooms in a house when selling, so ongoing maintenance is important.

 

The Importance of De-Cluttering

Above all, make sure every room—including closets and the garage—is clutter-free. Family photos, personal memorabilia, and collectibles should be boxed up. Closets, shelves, and other storage areas should be mostly empty. Work benches should be free of tools and projects. Clear the kitchen counters, store non-necessary cookware, and remove all those magnets from the refrigerator door.

The same goes for furniture. If removing a chair, a lamp, a table, or other furnishings will make a particular space look larger or more inviting, then by all means do it.

You don’t want your home to appear cold, un-loved, or unlived-in, but you do want to remove distractions and provide prospective buyers with a blank canvas of sorts. Plus, de-cluttering your home now will make it that much easier to pack when it comes time to move.

 

Where to Start

Contact your agent for advice on how to most effectively stage your home or for a recommendation on a professional stager. While the simple interior design techniques outlined above may seem more like common sense than marketing magic, you’d be surprised at how many homeowners routinely overlook them. And the results are clear: staging your house to make it more appealing to your target buyer is often all it takes to speed the sale and boost the price.

Written by Tara Sharp

Posted on July 11, 2017 at 4:54 AM
Mike Gant | Category: Helpful HInts, Selling Your Home

9 Habits for a Home That Always Feels Neat and Fresh Easy tips for keeping your house clean.

How to keep your house clean infographic

Posted on May 20, 2017 at 1:00 PM
Mike Gant | Category: Helpful HInts

Make Your Renovation Less Hectic

How to Stay Organized During a Home Renovation

Posted in Houzz.com by Houzz.com

When you’re embarking on a renovation project, it’s a good idea to clear as much space as possible before the chaos ensues. Think about what you want and need in your new room, and thoroughly declutter the area. Follow these tips for clearing, organizing and storing to ensure your building work creates as little upheaval as possible.

Be systematic. Start sifting through your cupboards and bookshelves. If you need to pack up a room or two, now is a great time to assess what’s lurking in the back of your cabinets.

Pack frequently used items into transparent storage boxes. Label them clearly and move them to another room. They’ll be out of the way of dust and builders, but still easily accessible.

Items used less often can be packed in cardboard boxes and stored out of the way. Pack them carefully and label each box with the general contents. It’s a great idea to take photos of the box and label in its new location, so you can easily find things during the renovation or when you’re unpacking after the work is complete.

 

Organize 1: Hannah Brown, original photo on Houzz

 

Consider your needs. If you’re planning an interior remodel to change the way you use your space, think about why you want to change the layout. Do you need a safe play area for young children, or maybe a small office space to facilitate working from home?

Provide your designer or architect with as much information as possible about how you want to use your space, so he or she can make it really work for you. A good professional will listen and provide a solution tailored to your requirements. In this dining area, for example, the designer has incorporated neat wine storage beneath the bench seating.

Look at the space objectively. Once you have an idea of how you want your renovated space to look, you can plan your decluttering strategy. Take a few photos of your room and look at them with a friend or relative whose opinion you trust. Talk about what you need to take out to achieve your desired look. This will help motivate you as you declutter, getting rid of everything that doesn’t contribute toward your goal.

Also, think about whether you want to take on the mammoth task of decluttering yourself, or whether it’s worth calling in a professional organizer to help you declutter at the outset.

 

Organize 2: ZeroEnergy Design, original photo on Houzz

 

Use storage that moves. Plastic storage boxes on wheels will come in very handy, as you’ll probably be moving things around to give your builders access around the house.

If you’re planning a bedroom refurbishment, you’ll need to be selective about which clothes and toiletries you pack away and which you want to keep on hand for the duration of the improvements. A portable covered clothes rail and some lightweight drawers on wheels can store a capsule wardrobe and keep your clothes dust-free.

Think about daily routines. Most home remodeling projects involve some disruption, so plan ahead for changes to your daily routine. If you’re having your kitchen renovated, you could think about setting up a mini cook station elsewhere in the house. This could be something as simple as a table and microwave.

Related: Search for Console Tables

Alternatively, you could arrange to stay somewhere else for a while. Pets might also need a place to go; ask a friend to help out or research reputable pet sitters in your area.

 

Organize 3: Kelly Hoppen London, original photo on Houzz

 

Store valuables securely. While it’s important that you trust your builders, there will be periods during the renovation when your home will be left unlocked. It might possibly be without windows, doors and even walls at some point. In addition, a stream of tradespeople will be coming and going. So take precautions and keep valuables in a safe in your home, or in a deposit box off-site.

Make some room. Almost any renovation project will require you to be living in fewer rooms than usual, and these areas will probably need to be multifunctional. If you’re not going to keep all your room furniture when the work is finished, it’s a good idea to pass pieces on or sell them before the work starts. Decluttering prior to the renovation means you’ll have fewer items to move, pack, store and unpack once the work is finished.

If you’re planning to use a garage or loft for storage during the project, check in advance that large items will fit through doors and openings. Also, make sure you’ve cleared out sufficient space for the furniture to fit. Alternatively, you could rent a secure storage locker while the renovation is taking place.

 

Organize 4: The Posh Shed Company, original photo on Houzz

 

Don’t forget the outside. If your project involves some external work, do that outside decluttering you’ve been putting off. Clear away all those items you’ve left outside to deal with in the future, as the future has now arrived! Rent a dumpster or a van and get rid of your accumulated junk. If it’s not junk, add to your project budget by selling your unwanted possessions.

Gather everyday essentials. With all the disruption of a home improvement project, it’s crucial that you don’t lose essentials such as your keys, phone, chargers, project paperwork and tape measure. Consider setting up a special workstation to keep these necessities on hand.

 

By Hannah Young, Houzz

Posted on May 17, 2017 at 2:54 PM
Mike Gant | Category: Helpful HInts