A first-time home remodel almost
becomes a costly nightmare
“Hands down I was sold on the house when I stepped onto the deck and saw the beautiful meadow and creek,” recalled Alvin Adell, M.D. “I was sold on the setting, the house itself needed some love.” For Adell, 46, an attending anesthesiologist, the appeal of his 3,200 square-foot Center Hall Colonial in Colts Neck, New Jersey includes being a 60-minute train ride from New York City and Atlantic City, and 35 minutes from Newark International Airport. “I travel often, convenient access was a major selling point.” In April 2000 Adell began financing the TLC his home needed. His remodel project had three priorities: create the feeling of a luxe spa on a homey scale in the master bath, build-out a secondary level for the master suite (with fireplace, walk-in-closets and patio), and modernize the kitchen with a heated flooring system and open floorplan onto the dining room and deck. “I love to grill,” shared Adell, “sometimes in the winter, so easy access to the deck is important.”
“One of the best things was to work with an interior designer [Beau Boger] who knew where everything needed to go, [my] designer worked with the vision of existing furniture,” said Adell. “I went around with my interior designer to pick the materials together.” Adell considers his style to be traditional based with contemporary African and Asian accents.
Contractor selection. Through referrals Adell sourced three contractors to interview, he requested references and visited one site for each contractor screened. He “checked with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints, and made a subjective assessment,” said Adell, “to see if I would be able to trust that person in my home when I’m not there.” “One contractor was low-balling, I visited hardware stores to gauge the price of materials and knew it was impossible to do the job with his bid, he was eliminated. Low-ballers eventually add costs or skimp.” Adell established an account at Route 18 Lumber so his contractor “didn’t have to [shell-out] upfront money on materials and have to wait to be reimbursed,” said Adell, “and I didn’t have to worry about him overcharging me for inferior materials. Invoices came directly to me and I qualified for acontractor’s price on materials.”
Budget for surprises. Even with layers of pre-screening you may not be exempt from costly misjudgments. “Firing a contractor midway is one of the worst things you’ll have to worry about,” said Adell. “It delays [project completion], contractors hate to come behind another contractor midstream to correct work. In their mind, they know you’re vulnerable, so a $10,000 job could cost $50,000.” In Adell’s case, he waited till the “big hole in the back of my house was sealed” then consulted his attorney to be certain he would be clear and free to fire his contractor for ‘changing design decisions, hiring substandard subcontractors, shoddy workmanship, and for being grossly behind schedule,’ though the contract lacked a timeline stipulation. “I would find mistakes laid in concrete; [contractor removed] an oak hardwood floor that was never supposed to be replaced.” David Jaffe,
staff VP legal affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, said, “a ‘time is of the essence’ clause elevates the value the homeowner places on time, the contract can be terminated on the grounds of breach if the timeline is missed [however this can be] negated [if another clause pardons contractor] for delay due to reasons beyond his control.” In hindsight, Adell said, “I would have found a contractor who has in-house plumbing, carpentry and electrical, which means if the general contractor actually employs those three craftspeople they have more control over their schedules, if the general contractor subs it out to individual contractors and the general contractor runs off schedule he’s at the mercy of the subcontractors.” A full-service contractor is generally more expensive. Research resources, project guidelines, and educational seminars are available through the National Association of Home Builders.
Adell credits his astuteness to a reading list comprised of Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 (Meredith Books; $34.95), Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest Association; $35.00), and Architectural Digest. “Share your ideas with others,” said Adell, “you never know how their input might turn out to be a brilliant contribution.”
One year beyond his projected deadline, Adell’s investment tallied a conservative $200,000—more than $50,000 over budget. Recently, his property appraised at $1.2 million, which redeems the unsavory portion of his first home renovation.
© SEAN DRAKES
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