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The Inside Outside Guys: Planning for success with that next big project

Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein
Special to The Detroit News

The Inside Outside Guys get a lot of email from listeners who have hired a contractor for a home project only to encounter problems that frustrate and stress the people and the work.

Quite often the culprit is bad communication caused by poor planning. In our experience, a job well planned is half done before a shovelful of dirt is turned.

So how do you properly plan a project ahead of time so you can enjoy it rather than try to repair an adversarial relationship with your contractor?

1.       Set clear objectives for the project. What are your desired outcomes for the project in the short term and farther down the road? If you are having new roofing and siding installed, your short term objectives may include:

a.       Ease of selection for colors, textures, materials.

b.       Working with a company you can trust based on a strong referral.

c.       Monetary terms/finance options that suit your ability to pay for the project.

d.       Completing the project on a schedule that fits your needs.

You can be enjoying your next home project  much earlier if you do the planning you need first.

Longer term objectives might include:

a.       Having a strong written warranty for labor and materials from the installing contractor.

b.       Having a durable install that does not require frequent repairs or maintenance.

c.       Having an attractive, maintenance free/worry free exterior for decades to come.

2.       Create a budget for the project. This can be a double edged sword because most homeowners don’t have a clue what something like this would cost them. In the construction industry cost data must be recent to be accurate since the market changes very quickly. What your neighbor paid two years ago may only be a baseline for what you would pay today.

Ask yourself what you think you could afford based on your household budget if you financed the project. Could you afford $300 a month for four years? Do you have other cash resources available to you that might give you more negotiating power?

 A couple of good ways to get accurate “range” data for creating a budget include talking with your referral source. Is the referral a neighbor who just had similar work done? A second method involves a little more time but is well worth the effort. Talk with a trusted company and show them pictures of your home – or even invite them in for a sales call. They will price the job based on your discussion and the pricing will be current and accurate. When you set the appointment, be honest and candid in explaining you do not know where your budget should be and thus don’t yet know what to expect. Be careful putting too much stock in on-line referral companies that offer cost data. That data is often very broad based and may not be relevant to your area and your project.

3.       Try to determine exactly what you want. Shingle or siding color or texture. A visit to a material wholesaler or installer’s showroom will allow you see, touch and “feel” different available product. This is called “creating a specification” and it allows the contractor to create accurate cost data for your project.

4.       What is your time line? When would you like the project completed? In a busy economy you may have to wait for the good contractors – but it is worth your time to do so. Better to have a job start later and move quickly to completion than to start early and leave you hanging.

Proper planning leads to smooth jobs that fulfill your objectives and fit in your budget. Make sure everything is in writing. If it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist. Before actually signing that contract, read The Guys article on “How to Hire a Contractor.”

For more home improvement advice listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 to noon or contact us at insideoutsideguys.com with your questions.