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Houston - Home renovation and remodeling

The project of remodeling a home is a challenge in any country, imagine undertaking it in a country that is not your own! Few suggestions on how to minimize the risks in Houston.

Aside from using your own experience, being new in the country means that you are problably lacking the much needed local knowledge. Remodeling is a grey area in the construction field. Although some progress has been made construction business is not strongly monitored, which translate into a situation where pretty much anyone can decide to print a business card and get into business, as there are no compulsory certifications nor stringent requirement if you limit yourself to working with homeowners. 

You can decide to use an interior designer or directly with a construction company. Some companies will provide an integrated approach delivering everything from architect drawings, interior decorators, materials, construction, but be warned that they might retain the copyright on the architect drawings, which means if you decide to have bids from other construction companies you will have to have another set of drawings done independently. So before entering in any agreement with a company providing the full gamut verify the fine prints.

Here are few tips if you decide to go ahead and embark on remodeling your home in Texas (laws are different in the various states of America).

Rule N. 1 is YOUR responsibility to protect yourself and you can do that by asking the right questions, here some leads.

Is the company licensed and insured, what is the amount of liability insurance they carry? Ask to have a copy of the insurance policy.  Remember that a Surety Bond is NOT liability insurance)

How long the company has been in business and can they provide references for past jobs?

How many jobs do they have in the make?

Are they familiar with municipal planning or zoning officials in your area?

Are some of the crew members employees of the company or are they rely solely subcontractors?

If as a general contractor they are only supervising how much time they plan to spend on-site on a daily basis?

Do they have Workman’s Compensation Insurance (although it  is required by the majority of States if they have employees, Texas law does not require workers´ compensation. However, as a customer you may require the company to carry it.? If the answer is yes, ask for copies of their insurance coverage to verify. Make sure of it as you don’t want to let your Homeowners Insurance become their claim for coverage.

How long have the employees/subcontractors been working for them?

Are the company subs licensed and insured and can the company provide proof if they are hired?

How much time a company rep wil spend on my job each week, either on site or in planning?

What is the planned routine for job site cleaning at the various stage of construction and when closing the job?

What is the estimate for completion time? Will the company accept a penalty in the contract for delays? 

How is the company set up: as a corporation or sole proprietorship? Who are the principals? Where is your office address?Beware of post office box address only!

Has the company ever had any law suit or disciplinary action filed against them by any state or local agency or a home owner? If so, what was the reason and how was it resolved?

Does the company currently have any pending legal action against it? 

What the company best and worst customer would say about them?

Has the company been doing business under a different name in this state or any other? Has any of the principals ever filed bankruptcy? 

For some of these answers you might want to verify the truth of the statement with the court. 

The process is best repeated several time as you would need at least four estimates to have a solid idea of the benchmark cost.

Many company would not issue to you an accurate estimate, which contains a very detailed description of material and quantities involved item by item, and some would want to charge you for providing it , a cost that will be waived once you decide to select their company.

It is your choice if you accept to pay for the estimate, and you can accept if you feel particularly strong about that company, but it is not standard practice and you can decide to keep looking for companies that do not require it, which is the vast majority.

Check with your neigbours if they have a suggestion of a good construction company or a horror story to share (a name to steer away from).

As a rule of thumb once you have defined your budget and the extent of your work, double the budget. Reality has that after the beginning of the work you might want (or have) to rethink the scope of your intervention. In fact once the house is under siege by the workers, the attitude will soon become "while I am at it I might as well do also..." 

Define the scope of work "at large" which means having a ballpark figure of all costs for work that might be added at a later stage.

Always always always shop around and compare costs for materials, although it might lenghten the duration of the project it might save you a significant amount of money. Once you have identified a product , if the quantity is important, do not forget to check the prices on the internet as well.  In fact the shipping costs can reduce the competitive advantage of the pricing online if you need to ship small amounts. You can then ask your contractor to purchase the material at wholesale price.

Be creative in your approach to unpredictable difficulties and seek always solutions that minimize your costs.


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