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Renovating for the First Time PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 April 2008

Renovating can seem like a daunting task, but if you are well-prepared and know what to look out for it can be fun and rewarding. It will also add huge value to your home.

A reader recently sent in the following question:

Long DropWe are about to renovate for the first time and I would like to be prepared as possible. I would love it if you could send me a list of the most common mistakes people make when working with builders. Do you have a list of things you wish people had asked BEFORE they started building?

I’d appreciate all the advice you could share with me.

Frederick from Inspect-A-Home supplied the following excellent advice:

1. Do your homework - ask for references, talk to previous clients, did they have issues with the contractor and look at the quality of finishes. Ask the contractor for good and bad projects. A contractor is only as good as their last job. Having said that, they might be the best, but a personal crisis distracts most people so it is not a guarantee that you would get the same quality.

2. Divide the project into small phases. Most of the time the contractor starts working on everything, when they run into trouble, you can not use the bathrooms, kitchen, lounge, garage, dog house etc. Start on the smallest phase, and let them FINISH. Then you will have a good idea of the quality and whether they can keep to a time frame. If something goes wrong, the house is still in a usable condition and correcting it will be less stressful. Keep to one project at a time, that should keep the contractor honest as he knows there is more work if he performs.

Renovation3. Put everything in writing and do not assume anything. Contracts are biased towards the person that had them drawn up and there is no such thing as a standard contract, change them to suit you. Give as much details as possible I.e. fit floor tiles vs.. fit ceramic double glazed Italian tiles from the south of France, code 1234, batch 5678 as advertised on TV at CTM Canal Walk, Somerset West etc. Then there are no misunderstandings and wrong interpretations. Do not assume the contractor understands what you have in mind and NEVER pay in full until you are 100% satisfied. 100% satisfaction = 100% payment.

4. Be reasonable. You might have a awesome idea but bricks and tiles etc, are not flexible and come in standard sizes. Once you start getting fancy, expect a poorish finish. If you have to cut a tile to fit, expect it to have a ugly edge that can't be disguised easily. It is commonly accepted that we do not have skilled artisans, so keep it in mind.

5. Do not leave the contractor to his own devices. He is in it for the money and you are in it for a few years. His interest in the project will never match yours. I have inspected homes, where the couple planned and schemed for months, drawing little pictures, visiting home expos and DIY stores looking for that perfect something. To the contractor this is just another job to support his family and he does not share your excitement.  When I arrive, the dream is shattered and the sparkle is missing from the owners eyes. Nothing on this planet can put that sparkle back, protect  your dream. There is a fine line between supervision and interference.

6. You should agree on a completion date, add a week or two for unforeseen circumstances such as weather and availability of materials. Agree on a retention amount, that is paid a month or two after the project is completed, this is your insurance. If they mess up, you can use it for the repairs.

7. Don't skimp. None of us have millions stashed in a suitcase under the bed, but you usually get what you pay for. If you take the cheapest quote and use the cheapest materials, then that is what you should expect. This coins has two sides - The most expensive is not a guarantee of a good job either and the cheapest could be a new kid on the block that is competent but needs a lucky break - follow your heart. (Paint is a good example. Consider the fact that all you will see for the next few years is the paint, the bricks, mortar etc, is hidden. Quality paints give better coverage and lasts longer.)

8. I have kept the best for last. Common sense - if it looks wrong it probably is. If the explanation/excuse sounds feeble and weak it probably is. Inspect-a-Home has branches throughout SA.  Add to the contract, warn the contractor, that you will have the job inspected before final payment is made. We can advise you whether the finishes are acceptable, whether the building codes have been adhered to etc. It also keeps the contractor honest.

Thanks Frederick for supplying such a comprehensive list of things to watch out for.  You can read more about Inspect-A-Home here.

Frederick Ollewagen
Inspect-A-Home
Cell: 082 878 4366
Fax: 086 687 9950


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