Stave off remodeling headaches

While home remodeling activity is down, it’s not out — especially in the kitchen and bathroom.
Over the next 12 months, 54 percent of homeowners are planning a remodeling project and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) plan to do at least some of the work themselves, according to Consumer Reports’ latest poll on home remodeling. The most popular types of work include painting (56 percent), designing (39 percent) and flooring (34 percent).
The recent economic downturn has forced 67 percent of homeowners to rethink their plans, with the biggest changes including doing work themselves (42 percent), fixing or sprucing up what they already have (39 percent) and remodeling in phases (36 percent). The biggest reason consumers are cutting back on remodeling is because they simply do not have the money (42 percent).
Funding for home remodeling stems from a variety of places, but two out of three (66 percent) homeowners pay for their projects with their savings. Others plan to cut back on travel and entertainment (29 percent), while one out of five (21 percent) are using a home equity or other loan.
Ninety-one percent of homeowners have already gotten their hands dirty with either a repair or remodeling project. But not all repairs or remodeling projects went smoothly for DIY respondents, with more than one-third (34 percent) having at least one regret stemming from trying to fix a broken appliance or installing tile, floors or cabinets.
The nationally representative telephone poll was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. More than 1,000 interviews were completed among adults aged 18-plus.
Top 5 remodeling headaches
According to the poll, the most popular remodeling projects for homeowners are kitchens (19 percent) and bathrooms (17 percent). In another survey, CR asked 6,000 readers to reveal what went wrong when they remodeled their kitchens and baths and how much those mistakes added to the overall cost of their projects. Here’s how to avoid their mistakes and save:
1. Don’t rush in. Changing plans is the most common but costliest remodeling gaffe, adding $1,500 to kitchen projects and $650 to bath remodels. Be sure to leave time for research and create a comprehensive plan, listing every product.
2. Prepare for the unexpected. There’s a lot going on behind the walls. Unexpected water damage was an issue with 17 percent of bathroom remodels, while structural problems caused headaches for 10 percent of kitchen projects. A good contractor will be able to anticipate, allowing the homeowner to budget accordingly.
3. Don’t chase the lowballs. Contractors are lowering their profit margins due to the tight market, but they often make up their costs in labor or other areas. Readers who went for the lowball ended up spending a median of $1,500 extra for labor on their kitchens and $1,000 extra on their bathrooms. Don’t sign a contract with a lot of open-ended amounts for products and materials — these are called “allowances,” in contractor speak.
4. Get the paperwork in order. Have the contractor attach copies of his up-to-date license, insurance and workers’ compensation policies to the written contract. He should also get permits and provide a lien waiver when the job is done; this will keep suppliers from contacting the homeowner for unpaid bills.
5. Focus on the boring bits. Specifying lighting and trash cans isn’t much fun, but it’s critical to the process. For example, the proper exhaust fan will prevent mildew in baths and vent odors in kitchens.

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