Family Checkbook | Do homework before hiring a home remodeler

Family Checkbook | Do homework before hiring a home remodeler

Home-remodeling projects can be scary to start. Since we bought our home, my husband and I have done several significant home-remodeling projects and one of the hardest parts is deciding whom to have do the work.

After a couple of small remodeling projects where we did the work, we know we need to hire other people to do future remodeling. However, we do want to feel confident that the person we hire will do the work well and within our budget.

Before talking to contractors or others, I suggest doing your own research. What is a reasonable expectation for the cost of the remodeling or home repair work? You may need to read articles or talk to friends who have had similar work done to find this information.

Also ask yourself how much you can afford to spend. How will you pay for this? For example, do you have money saved or will you apply for a loan? If you are borrowing money, how quickly do you plan to pay off the loan?

Next, determine the scope of work you want done. For example, a kitchen remodel could include new flooring and painting or it could mean tearing out all the old cabinets and counters and starting new. The cost of these two options is significantly different.

Be specific and write down 1) exactly what you want done including the timeframe for the work; 2) the type of materials you want used; and 3) the budget and payment schedule you can manage comfortably. This will help you avoid being sold work you really don't want done.

Now you're ready to start shopping for someone to do your home improvement work. Gather names of people and/or businesses from local sources and the internet as well as friends. The Illinois attorney general's article "Home Repair and Construction" suggests the following next steps:

— Check contractor complaint records with the Illinois attorney general and the Better Business Bureau.

— Get recommendations and references. Talk to friends, family and other people for whom the contractor has done similar work.

— Get at least three written estimates from contractors who have come to your home to evaluate what needs to be done. Be sure the estimates are based on the same work so that you can make meaningful comparisons.

— Insist on a complete written contract. Know exactly what work will be done, the quality of the materials that will be used, warranties, timetables, the total price of the job, and the schedule of payments. If someone won't give you a written contract, you likely don't want to work with them.

While you're talking to different contractors, think about what it would be like to work with them. Are you comfortable talking to them? Do they answer your questions well? Will you be comfortable having them (and their co-workers) in your home? Be sure to ask their references about these questions too.

Doing your research before hiring someone helps protect you financially. Here are some warning signs of people you may not want to work with. Be wary of a person who:

— Comes to your home uninvited.

— Tells you that you need to make repairs immediately or your safety may be in danger.

— Pressures you to sign papers today or talks too quickly, attempting to confuse you.

— Offers to drive you to your bank to withdraw funds to pay for his or her work.

— Asks you to pay for the entire job upfront.

For information about how to safeguard yourself when hiring a home improvement contractor, visit the Illinois attorney general's website.

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Are you looking for a volunteer opportunity? Money Mentor volunteers work one-on-one with people who request help with personal money management. We currently have a waiting list of people wanting to be paired with a Money Mentor; your help is needed. Our next training begins Thursday; register now. Visit University of Illinois Extension's website to register for the next training and learn more about the program.

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Contact her at 217-333-7672 or

Sections (1):Living
Topics (3):Economy, Housing, People