Courting Contractors

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.”

Dr. Alvin Adell’s remodeled and expanded kitchen, fitted with heated flooring and premium appliances, hosts many dinner parties and is the center attraction in his home.

“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.”

Master bath with spa comforts, including heated flooring, jacuzzi tub and multi-head shower, adds value.

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,

Master suite build-out with walk-in closets, fireplace and patio, positioned over the two-car garage.

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.


Previously published.

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StyleSheet: Exotic Blooms

Tropical flowers deliver drama,

Sean Drakes arranges a few cues

Roses and chrysanthemums are rather ordinary when compared to the durable form, dramatic height and shape, and vivid hues of exotic blooms.  Francis Queeley, originally from St. Kitts & Nevis, has been a floral shop owner over 22 years.  She has designed arrangements for the Trumpet Awards, Tyler Perry and a Super Bowl.  The next time you place an order with your favorite florist, or plan to design an arrangement yourself, she suggests you consider these useful pointers:

Francis Queeley, owner of Island Flowers.  Photo:

ODD NUMBERS RULE:  For an effective display gather stems in odd numbers.  For instance, Queeley would use one orange Asiatic Lily, three red-orange Heliconia and five green Anthuriums to build an arrangement.  “I stick to using three colors when arranging tropicals because they’re already so brilliant.”

KEEP LONG STEMS:  The drama and beauty of exotic blooms is in their height, explains Queeley, who owns Island Flowers in Atlanta’s Midtown district.  She amplifies scale and drama by setting florals so they are one-and-a-half-times the height of the vase they’re in.  To keep stems upright, Queeley creates a grid across the mouth of the vase with clear, waterproof florist’s tape.  Then she inserts stems into the spaces of the tape grid, this way stems are braced and kept upright by the tape.


EXTEND LIFE SPAN:  Queeley recommends changing the water in your arrangement every other day, that’s the trick to making your exotic blooms live longer.  Add three drops of bleach per pint of water as a substitute for cut flower food.  Bleach mimics flower food and kills bacteria.  Potted exotic flowers require less water than popular houseplants.  Bromeliads and Lady Slipper Orchids should be watered once weekly.  “Over-watering makes soil rotty and is the most common care mistake.”  A Phalaenopsis Orchid’s bloom can survive for five months if watered twice weekly.  When the petals drop it takes watering consistently to revive the next batch of blooms.

To grow your interest, visit Florists Review and  The American Horticultural Society.  Over 160,000 flower enthusiasts gather in London each May for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, the most decadent feast of flowers and floral art on the international show circuit.  Join a local horticulture group for the benefit of seminars that discuss industry trends and to participate in friendly floral arranging competitions.


Previously published.

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