Avoid Kitchen Remodeling Blues

Q. My wife and I have decided to renovate our 70's kitchen and don't really know where to begin. What do you suggest?

A. For starters, the more visuals you can give a professional, the better they will serve you. If you haven't started collecting tear sheets from magazines and begun to amass a little scrapbook of your own for ideas and inspiration, it's a good idea to start doing so.

The most common questions I'm asked are, "Who do I hire first? Do I need an architect? Can a carpenter redo my kitchen?" Many General Contractors (GCs) are actually what they call design/build firms. If you've chosen this type of firm, you don't need to hire a separate architect. This type of GC will not only design your structure, but will also outsource the structural design and land surveying tasks. If you're renovating your existing kitchen (or bath) versus adding square footage to your house by way of an addition, land surveying isn't necessary. Confirm this with your contractor.

Personal bias notwithstanding, bringing in an interior designer during a renovation is invaluable. GCs honestly don't want to be bothered helping their clients decide whether they should choose Giallo Santa Cecelia or Uba Tuba for their granite countertops, and they shouldn't. A good designer will help you make these choices and help keep the GC and his/her subs on schedule - this is a win-win situation. You can also START with an interior designer. Many have established relationships with Architects and GCs, so they act as the point person, or Project Manager, and help bring in all the other personnel you'll need to get your job done.

Many General Contractors offer kitchen (and bath) renovation as a specialty. If you decide to go this route, make sure you're clear on the process. Do they offer both custom and readily stocked lines of cabinetry? Is there a showroom where they'll send you to pick out cabinets and case goods, as well as faucets, sinks, showers, toilets, light fixtures, and flooring? Or can you decide to buy these items on your own at a home improvement store? Make sure your expectations and those of the GC are the same.

The other way to orchestrate a kitchen (or bath) renovation is to go to a firm that specializes in such. Many have retail storefronts with elaborate showrooms of "sample" kitchens and baths. They almost always create the design plan. You need to ask if they require you to use their installer or if you can use your own carpenter/contractors, assuming you've already chosen them. Most will expect you to buy their cabinetry. Others may sell you just their plans. Inquire as to how you go about getting the other fixtures, such as faucets, lights, flooring etc. Always inquire about lead-time on merchandise and anticipated project completion dates.

Final notes on General Contractors/Kitchen Renovations:

Make sure the GC is licensed.

Make sure s/he is registered in your state through the Home Improvement Contracting (HIC) Law.

Make sure s/he carries adequate liability insurance and workman's compensation insurance.

Ask for his/her references, and when you call the references, inquire as to whether his/her renovation was close in scope (complexity and technical sophistication) to the job you're considering having done.

It's prudent to do due diligence on ANY professional. Therefore, consider researching any possible legal allegations by doing a search on the Better Business Bureau web site and/or Google.com.

Each state has requirements on deposits and payments. Many states stipulate that a contractor cannot ask for more than 1/3 payment down as a deposit. Confirm your state's regulations.

Consider obtaining three bids.

Get a written contract and read the fine print.

At the beginning of your relationship, ask this general question of your Contractor, "What will my responsibilities be? What are yours?"

We have all heard of the endless horror stories people experience with renovations. You don't have to be part of those statistics. If you take the time to interview several contractors and contact their references to ensure their legitimacy, you're 50% on your way to a successful renovation. If you then communicate with your spouse and your contractor throughout the process and NEVER assume anything, you're highly likely to have a favorable and maybe even pleasurable overall renovation experience. Good luck!

Until next month, always decorate from your heart!


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