At the tail end of our three-month long basement renovation, that was initially supposed to be a 4-6 week job, I have become quite the expert on what mistakes to avoid. Rest assured, though, reading this article does not guarantee that you won’t make the same ones anyway.
It’s not that I think contractors, painters and tile guys are exclusively greedy, deceitful incompetent people – I think they are just poor businessmen or women! They want the job, so they make hasty promises they can’t possibly deliver within the time frame and money allocated. Therefore, the job takes longer and cost more money, and is of a lesser quality than you would have desired. Of course, there are contractors who are better at the business end of things and are able to finish the project within your specifications, time limit and budget, but they are also out of the average person’s price range, so you’re stuck to dealing with what you’ve got.
Let’s start at the beginning, when after the initial meet and greet, your potential contractor sends you a detailed contract. I’m sure you’ll go over it with your significant other, possibly even show it to a few trusted friends, add a few minor details that weren’t included, and feeling confident you did your due diligence and everything you wanted done is was on the to-do list, sign on the bottom line.
Something, and usually more than one thing, is missing. The best way to see what details you missed is to show the contract to another contractor and ask him what is missing from the project details.
Rule of thumb for when a contractor gives you an estimated time of completion is to double that time, perhaps even triple it. If you are living in the house during the construction, I can’t emphasize how easy it is to get worn down and adopt a whatever-just-finish attitude so you can get back to your normal routine. This is a big mistake. You must stay on top of the job. Someone, preferably the more detailed oriented person in the household, needs to look over what, if anything, was achieved everyday. If something is not correct, the time to fix it is right away, not weeks later, when additional work was done, thus making it more difficult and more expensive (for you) to rectify. I don’t want to minimize how difficult it is to stay on top of the job, but it is well worth the effort. Remember, once the job is done and the workers are paid, they are gone, and they are not coming back and you will be the one stuck with a hallway that goes nowhere.
I would like to pause to say a huge thank you to my husband, Jacob, for dealing with all those niggling, nagging details that if it were up to me, wouldn’t have happened, like the vent in the bathroom, the windows being even, the walls fully painted, and hundreds more small yet significant items. Our basement looks great because of you (and our amiable contractor).
On the contract, there is a list of supplies that the contractor will provide; the homeowner will provide anything not listed. Be aware that the list will grow on a daily basis, and don’t underestimate how stressful and time consuming it will be to purchase all these essential supplies that you might or might not have known were going to be needed – but the job cannot proceed without them. This too was a job that fell to my hardworking husband who spent hours in home improvement stores on a daily basis providing for the renovation’s needs. It wasn’t for nothing that Jacob used to complain that we while we had hired people to do the work, he was still the one schlepping and breaking his back. Thank you, Jacob!
When electricians, plumbers and the like come to do a job, they generally turn off the power source so that they don’t get electrocuted or wet. This is completely reasonable, but make sure you know when this is happening, otherwise things can get kind of sticky – literally, as when I came home from a 15 mile bike ride and realized the water had been turned off without anyone informing me. Not cool, if you know what I mean. Then there was the time when, on my one day off, with the house to myself and big plans to stock my freezer with frozen meals and get some work done on the computer, the electrician told me I wouldn’t have power for the rest of the day. I had to beg and plead with my contractor before he gave me an early birthday present and conceded to rescheduling the electrician.
Once the job is done, usually for thousands of dollars more than you intended, do not think the workers will clean up after themselves. They will not. You can either hire some cleaning help to clear all the thick and completely invasive dust, or (my method) do it yourself, by taking a few days to wipe and mop, getting in a good workout and early Pesach cleaning simultaneously, while enjoying the thrill of your house getting put back together step by step.
If, despite your very best efforts, the molding is still not perfect and the hinge is still on backwards, remember; it is not the end of the world. You can always fix it, or, as that is not very likely, chalk it up to a zeicher l’Churban, the space we are supposed to keep unfinished as a remembrance of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not the outside of the house that makes the home, but what’s inside.
Happy tile selecting!
About the Author: Pnina Baim holds a B.S. in Health and Nutrition from Brooklyn College and an MS.edu from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Program. She works as a nutritionist, a certified lactation consultant, a home organizer, and in her free time writes as much as possible. She is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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