Watchdog: Be flexible with remodeling budget

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Dec. 25, 2013 at 6:25 a.m.
Updated Dec. 26, 2013 at 6:26 a.m.

You never really know what's behind your house's walls until you crack 'em open.

Older, historic homes are even trickier.

"That's just the nature of the beast," Zak Koenig, the outgoing president of the Builders Association of Victoria, said.

So when you're remodeling a home, cushion your budget for any unforeseen expenses or if you want the newer, shinier granite countertops.

"If you want the higher dollar stuff, it can cost double or triple the price," Koenig said.

Janiece Steelman wishes she would have known more about contracting a business.

She owns a 1957, three-bedroom home in the desirable Northcrest subdivision, but she hasn't lived there for almost three years.

It was then that she embarked on an ambitious remodeling project.

The first phase, costing about $100,000, was to include demolition of a wall in the kitchen, new kitchen cabinets, new air conditioning, new wiring and a three-car garage, among other things.

Now, with most of the work unfinished, she's contemplating filling out a police report alleging her contractor, Jim Maib, committed fraud.

"A lot of this was our fault. We didn't stay on top of things. ... He would come in here (to my workplace) and hit us up in the afternoon when we were busy and say, 'I want my check for $20,000,'" Steelman said. "I told my daughter about four weeks into this that we were in trouble."

Maib, who has been doing business as Bo Knows Remodeling Co. for about nine years, said the job Steelman hired him to do typically takes six months. She ran out of money before it was finished.

He does not ask for money up front because so many of his clients have been burned by contractors who have skipped out on them after receiving a large chunk of cash.

He does not file liens.

"I don't like that part of the business. It gets very ugly. I would just much rather finance it and everybody end up happy, and we all go our separate ways," but Steelman did not qualify for financing because the cost was so high, Maib said.

A good job starts with a good hire, so check your local builders' association for references, Koenig said.

"If they have a good rapport with the banks and the real estate community, that's an added bonus," he said.

Ask to see photographs of their previous work and be as specific as possible on the contract - that way you won't be too surprised when the contractor draws from your account weekly, which is a common practice, he said.

Contractors are licensed by the city, and if they don't have a license, the planning department, which permits any type of structural, electrical or mechanical work on a property, will catch them, Koenig said.

Above all, be wary of a builder who asks for a large deposit or one providing the lowest bid.

"Chances are they've left something out," Koenig said.



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