What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Contractors

When you’re building or renovating a home, having the right team on your side makes all the difference.

Building or renovating a home is a complex project with plenty of moving parts. Even if you’re planning to take a DIY approach, it’s likely you’ll need some help from contractors along the way. Here’s a guide to the types of contractors you might enlist to help you complete your dream home.

General contractors

If you think of a general contractor like a general in the military, you have the basic idea of what a general contractor does. Like a general leading a military campaign, a general contractor organizes the strategy of a building or remodeling project. The general contractor decides when to bring in the plumbers, electricians, and roofers; makes sure they do their jobs correctly; and checks details, like ensuring that the carpenters install the porch handrails according to code.

Especially if there is no architect involved, the general contractor ensures that the building permits are in order and that the project is legal — meaning that it is being done to city or country building codes. (If it isn’t, your city’s building inspectors will make you redo it. Ouch!) Like a military general who is ultimately responsible for the success of a campaign, the general contractor is responsible for the outcome of remodeling project.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are specialists who work under the direction of the general contractor. Subcontractors include plumbers, electricians, tile setters, carpenters, framers, roofers, painters and cabinetmakers, among others.

Ideally, they show up at your construction or remodeling project when they are needed. If the subcontractors are reliable and efficient, the pace of your project continues to move steadily along, and it is finished when it is supposed to be. If all that happens, it is usually because a good general contractor has been overseeing their work.

Owner as general contractor

Homeowners who are skilled at organizing multimillion-dollar sales campaigns at their office or at running three local volunteer organizations in their spare time sometimes like to act as their own general contractors. There is no law that says you can’t. As a rule of thumb, general contractors charge about 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the job, so acting as your own general contractor can save money.

But before you leap into the general contractor role, consider whether you really have the time, expertise, and patience to run a remodeling project, especially a complicated one. How much time can you spend on site? Can you take phone calls at unexpected times of the day?

The one thing you can count on with any remodel is that something will go wrong at some point. It may not be a big deal, but it will mean making new arrangements, often on short notice, and rearranging schedules for subcontractors and suppliers.

This could mean dozens of phone calls in a single afternoon. It could mean running around hunting down some piece of hardware or building material that is needed on site right now. If this sounds like fun, you may have what it takes to act as your own general contractor.

Design/build firms

An alternative to hiring a general contractor or acting as your own is to hire a design/build firm. Design/build firms are companies that offer start-to-finish building and remodeling services. They employ architects or designers as well as the skilled builders.

A design/build firm essentially offers the services of architect, general contractor, and subcontractors. The obvious advantage to using these firms is that the entire project should be a fairly smooth operation, since the firm takes responsibility for everything.

While general contractors, subs, and independent architects can, in the worst scenarios, blame each other for mishaps and toss the responsibility for correcting the mishaps back and forth, design/build firms know the buck stops with them. They have to make it right.

Carpenters

If your home improvement project really is as straightforward as installing a wall of built-in bookshelves in your living room, your best bet is probably to find a good carpenter or cabinetmaker.

People who bill themselves as handymen may be fine at installing new light switches or doing minor carpentry, but, as always, ask to see some of their work. If you want your new bookshelves to look like elegant additions to your living room, find an expert in cabinetry.

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Source: zillow.com

How to Make Your Apartment More Eco-Friendly

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There are a lot of perks to apartment living. They’re generally easier to maintain, can be more affordable than a house, and are great short-term commitments for those always on the go. However, one of the drawbacks to apartment-dwelling, particularly if you’re an environmentalist, is often the limited green actions available. Whether you rent or own your apartment, it can be difficult knowing how to get involved in sustainability efforts. However, eco-friendly changes can be applied everywhere, including apartments.

It’s important for the sake of our future here on Earth to begin taking green actions to help minimize the negative impacts on the environment. For those living in apartments, getting started on making your living space more eco-friendly is easier than you think:  

Construct with Mother Nature in Mind

The best place to start is at the beginning, right? If you’re an apartment owner or landlord, it’s important to prioritize constructing any new apartments with the right materials. Some of the best sustainable building materials to use include:

  • Reclaimed Wood: Reusing materials like reclaimed wood is a perfect way to cut down on waste and reduce production costs. Reclaimed wood also typically has a lot of character which only helps make each of your apartments more unique while also being sustainable.
  • Bamboo: The thing that makes bamboo a great sustainable material choice is its rapid growth rate. Bamboo is ready to be used in just six years and when it’s of high quality and sold by reputable dealers, it’s extremely durable and long-lasting. It’s also one of the more affordable options to pick from. 
  • Green Insulation: Unlike traditional insulation that’s made from synthetic materials, which can be damaging to the environment, green insulation is made from recycled materials. From old denim to sheep’s wool, green insulation is a great substitute for fiberglass insulation and more.

Making the initial decision to build with sustainable materials benefits the environment long-term by reducing the overall negative impacts. It also can help save future tenants money on utilities thanks to sustainable building materials like green insulation helping to reduce energy use. It may be more expensive at times to pick the sustainable option over the non-sustainable counterpart, but it’s worth the cost.  

Don’t Shy Away from Pre-Owned Appliances

Appliances breaking down or not working properly is a common issue for tenants and owners alike. Moreover, many apartments still have the same appliances they were built with decades ago. While certain types of appliances were definitely built to last regardless of age, for the most part, many are now inefficient and that can be costly. As pointed out by General Contractors License Guide, “Not only do inefficient appliances waste energy, but they can also cost you extra money. A 21-cubic foot refrigerator using 750 watts of power costs an average of $27 each month to run, which can add up fast when you factor in additional energy use each month.” With that being said though, don’t be temped quite yet to toss out your old appliances. 

While it may depend on where you live, there is likely a used appliance business you can and should utilize. Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity have numerous stores you can contact. They will not only replace broken appliances with functioning ones but will also take your old ones away and repurpose them. The appliances these types of businesses have are typically lightly used and worked on to be good as new. This reduces the overall impact on the environment by increasing better energy usage functions, minimizing waste, and providing more materials to be re-used.

Small Changes Have Big Impacts

Wanting to make some green changes to your apartment is understandable as we begin learning more and more about serious environmental threats and problems. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s easy to overload yourself when taking on major eco-friendly projects and renovations. Furthermore, it’s not always possible to make those apartment-altering changes. While big green actions are certainly important, small, everyday green actions are just as essential in regards to the planet’s health. Try incorporating some of the simple green actions found in things like eco-friendly apartment guides if you’re unsure where to start. It may feel perhaps ineffectual, but changing your habits to be more conscious of the environment is a great way to make a difference, regardless of where you live. 

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Source: blog.apartminty.com

Curbio Review: Renovate Today, Pay When You Sell

Last updated on October 23rd, 2019

A startup named Curbio wants to help homeowners sell for more by improving their properties before they go to market.

The twist is that the homeowner doesn’t have to pay for the renovations until settlement, meaning cash on hand isn’t an issue.

The Problem Curbio Wants to Solve

Curbio benefits

Say you want to sell your home, which you’ve lived in for the past 30 years. You think it looks great, but after a real estate agent stops by and chimes in, you get a rude awakening.

Apparently, the abundant doilies, giant draped windows, pink garage door, and outdated bathrooms and kitchen aren’t as fashionable as you thought.

You’re told the home you expected to list for $650,000 is better off being listed for $549,000. Ouch.

So do you chance it and defy the real estate agent’s best intentions and list for more, only for the property to stagnate on the market?

Or do you do as they say, lower the price, and then hope it sells, despite the many improvements needed?

Both scenarios probably don’t sound very appealing to the seller, and even if a buyer comes along, there’s a good chance there will be repair requests to get across the finish line.

This situation is all too common, and perhaps one of the reasons why iBuyers like RedfinNow and Zillow Offers have surged in popularity over the past few years.

The sell “as-is” thing worked when the housing market was on the up and up, but now that price gains have moderated, home buyers are looking for a better product.

And it just so happens that many properties going to market are like the aforementioned, in need of some serious TLC after years of neglect.

While an iBuyer will purchase your home as-is, they won’t do so at a premium. On the contrary, they’ll likely give you a lowball offer AND charge fees for repairs and so on.

Ultimately, none of these options are great solutions for the savvy home seller looking to capture maximum value for their property.

That’s where Curbio comes in, a company that describes itself as a “pre-sale renovation” company.

In a nutshell, they make renovations easier and more accessible for home sellers looking to boost their property’s value before listing it.

Curbio is comprised of licensed and insured general contractors in each of the markets they do business in, who also have connections to a network of vetted subcontractors.

Additionally, their team is stacked with experienced real estate agents, house flippers, and designers who know how to get maximum ROI on renovations.

You often hear that most home renovation projects don’t actually pay for themselves.

Curbio uses its expertise and proprietary technology to take the guesswork out of the equation and make the right improvements buyers in your area seek.

They refer to it as helping home sellers “flip their own home,” instead of accepting a lowball offer, only to see their home flipped months later by a savvy investor.

How Curbio Works

Curbio example

Assuming your home is located in one of their service areas, which currently includes Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, DC, Houston, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tampa, you can request an estimate on their website.

They say they generally operate within a 40-mile radius of those cities, and expect to add Boston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle over the next several months.

After submitting your property details, Curbio will provide you with a free estimate of proposed renovations to make your property more marketable, and importantly, more valuable.

The extent of the work will vary based on your home’s needs, but can range from kitchen and bathroom remodels to roof repairs, flooring and HVAC replacement, mold remediation, and more.

However, it should be noted that Curbio does have a $15,000 minimum project size.

With regard to pricing, Curbio says its uses a proprietary database of pricing data, which consists of national pricing from similar projects, adjusted for local markets. They believe this results in fair pricing.

Once the work begins, you’ll have a full-time general contractor who manages the project, along with an on-the-ground project manager to oversee the renovation work.

They will share real-time photo, text, and video updates to homeowners and their real estate agents via the Curbio app to see how the work is progressing.

Speaking of progress, Curbio aims to complete renovations a lot quicker, with projects about 60% faster than the average contractor thanks to their vast network and technology.

That reduces downtime and keeps agents happy, who may not want to work with a home seller who needs months to get their property to market.

What If My Home Doesn’t Sell After Curbio Makes Improvements?

  • Home must be kept on the market until it sells
  • With a 2% price reduction every 30 days if not sold during that time
  • You can also pay Curbio directly for their work if you want to end the deal
  • May make sense to shop around for other bids to see how Curbio pricing stacks up versus the competition

Now some of the what-ifs one needs to consider if using Curbio to make renovations.

Since they’re doing the work upfront for no charge, on the basis that they’ll get paid at closing, your home eventually needs to sell.

And they state their decision to take on a project is based on the homeowner’s equity in the property.

My assumption is they want you to have a healthy amount of it to allow for a flexible sales price.

Curbio does have an arrangement in place to ensure the properties do sell in a timely manner.

They say they’ll wait as long as it takes to get paid, and won’t charge additional fees or interest charges during that time.

And while there is no time limit, they do require that the list price be reduced by 2% after 30 days on the market, and an additional 2% every 30 days thereafter.

You must also agree to leave the home on the market until it sells, unless you choose to pay Curbio directly for their work.

The obvious downside here is that there’s no guarantee your home will sell for enough to cover the cost of renovations performed by Curbio.

But they seem confident that homes can sell for enough post-renovation to result in a healthy ROI.

I’m also curious if you can reside in the home while the work is being completed, or if you need to vacate the property.

You can always get an estimate from Curbio and then collect multiple bids from other contractors in your area to see how they all stack up pricing wise.

The downside is you’ll need to pay the other contractors upfront, though I’ve created a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of paying for home renovations via many different methods.

One could also argue that you should enjoy your home renovations before selling, so doing them early on may be more beneficial from a happiness standpoint.

The ideal situation is making renovations that benefit the homeowner while they’re in the property, and pay off once it comes time to sell.

(photo: Marco Verch)

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

New Construction: Tips for Working With a General Contractor

The general contractor is the conductor of your home-building project. If you pick the right general contractor (GC), construction of your new home will be harmonious, with all subcontractors playing their parts in sync. Here’s how to get the band together:

Traits of a good general contractor

Picking a general contractor is a little like finding a mate, a combination of legwork and luck. And since we’re talking about relationships, not every GC and client will click. But there are some general GC qualities that will make the project run smoothly.

Communication: How long does it take for the GC to return your first call? If he doesn’t get back to you within 24 hours — after all, he’s trying to win your business — don’t expect prompt responses after you’ve signed on the dotted line and the work has begun.

Manner: This is personal. Some clients need a lot of handholding. Other clients aren’t looking for a new best friend and just want a straight shooter who delivers information in as few words as possible. When you interview GCs, make sure your personalities match. You’ll be spending a lot of time together over the next several months: Make sure you look forward to the interactions.

Referrals: Ask for at least three, satisfied customers who will take your calls and discuss their experiences with the GC. During your chats, ask what was the best and worst things about working with the GC — and pay special attention to the “worst” category, because that’s what will affect your building experience, too. Ask if the GC stayed on budget and met deadlines. Ask how the GC handled problems and change orders, which invariably crop up during every project. Ultimately, ask if the customer would hire the GC again, a clear sign of support.

Online lists: If you’re a member of a neighborhood listserve, ask the group for GC recommendations. Often, word gets around a neighborhood about who’s good and bad. Also, websites like Angie’s List maintains reviews of GCs and subcontractors.

How to work with a GC

Working with a GC is a partnership that depends on everyone playing their role. A lot of money and moving pieces are at stake, so it’s important to clearly state expectations up front.

Contract: When building a new house, GCs usually work under two types of contracts.

Fixed price: The GC estimates the cost of the project, including their supervisory fee, and you know what to expect from the beginning. Fixed-price contracts usually provide a budget for each part of construction — tile, flooring, plumbing fixtures — that guide homeowner selections.

Cost plus percent: Sometimes complicated designs are hard to estimate upfront. Cost-plus contracts charge clients the actual cost of materials and labor plus a percentage, which the GC or builder takes as profit.

Communication: Nothing is more frustrating for homeowners or GCs than waiting for calls to be returned. At the beginning, exchange phone numbers — cell phone, home phone and work phone — so each is reachable in an emergency. Agree on how often you’ll touch base — daily, weekly? — and when’s the best time to call. It’s a good idea to place a whiteboard and marker on the job site to add questions and comments.

Payment: Every project should have a budget and a payment schedule that’s often coordinated with bank draws. Make sure you agree upfront on how much you’ll pay at the beginning, middle and end of the project. And make sure you keep back 10 percent until all your punch list problems are solved at the end of the project.

Change orders: Some choices seem good on paper, but look terrible in reality and need to be changed. Whenever you change your mind about anything, you should fill out a “change order,” essentially a contract amendment that states the change, how much it will cost and how it might affect the schedule. The order is as mutual agreement that must be signed by both parties. If the change order alters an architectural feature, like room size or shape, attach new blueprints to the change order.

Finishes: Waiting around for clients to pick finishes is a top GC complaint and a schedule buster. Agree at the beginning on a finishes schedule and budget. Many GCs will write into contracts that they will pick finishes if the client doesn’t make timely choices.

Source: zillow.com