Homeowner Tips

How to Avoid Contractor Scams on Your Home Renovation/Remodel

In the past, I discussed garage improvement projects that increase your home’s value, driveway improvements that increase your curb appeal, and other home projects that require a professional. When you hire a professional contractor to get the job done. you need to be careful. Otherwise, you could lose a nice chunk of change. Learn how to avoid contractor scams on your home renovation/remodel.

Avoid being a victim of unscrupulous contractors by watching out for these common contractor scams when performing any home improvement work on your Naples home.

Common Contractor Scams and How to Avoid Them

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I know. I know. You’re probably saying “but, Michelle. I’m too smart to get scammed. I can spot a fraud a mile away.” That’s not necessarily the case. Good people get scammed every single day. Here’s what you should look out for so you don’t become another statistic.

Door-to-Door Salesmen

Such a cliche. I know. But, still, beware of solicitors offering their services at your door. Sometimes, they say that they’re doing work on a neighbor’s house and noticed that you might need their services as well. Since they find themselves with “leftover” materials, they offer to perform these tasks at a discount.

Instead of signing on the dotted line then and there, ask for a business card and do your homework. Check their license online. If they can’t provide a contractor’s license number, don’t hire them.

Exorbitant Money Upfront Requirements

Yes, most contractors require money upfront. However, you should see a bright red flag if they ask for more than 30% in advance. In Florida, the law has not set a limit on how much a contractor can request as a downpayment (ie, “upfront money”). But you should still beware if they ask for more than 30%. If possible, try to negotiate it down to 10%. That shows both parties good faith in performing/paying for the work in question. Besides, asking for a huge percentage upfront could be indicative that they fell behind on another project and need your money to complete it. Again, a red flag warning. Will they do the same thing with your project?

Pressure to Sign Now

If you attend a home show, chances are good that contractors offer special discounts for signing up while you’re there. Most of the time, these contractors only request an appointment to assess the situation…not perform work. While most of these offers are from legitimate contractors, some might be contractor scams in waiting.

Before you ever sign a contract for work with anyone at any time, do some research into the company and contractor first. Never feel pressured to sign right away no matter what kind of discount they dangle in front of you. A good contractor will be willing to wait.

Lowball Bids and Unclear Terms

Another red flag that screams “contractor scam” is a super low bid followed by a contract with hazy or vague terminology. We all want a good deal. But extremely low bids could signify work performed by an unscrupulous or unlicensed contractor.

Always make sure your contract clearly states exactly what work will be performed, when you expect it to be completed, and the total cost for said work. Once work begins, it will be hard to go after the contractor for soddy work if the scope of work hasn’t been specifically outlined in your contract.

Pulling Permits

Never pull your own permits for work on your Southwest Florida home. Whoever pulls the permits must answer for every aspect of the project. This includes insurance, payment to workers, workers’ comp, and any issues that may arise from inspections or failed work completion. If you pull the permits, that means you must register as an employer with the state, making you responsible for the workers’ taxes, too. A licensed, responsible contractor never asks the homeowner to pull their own permits.

Using Someone Else’s Contractor’s License

Yet another one of the contractor scams we see all too often is when a contractor works under another contractor’s license. Another scam is for a contractor to use an expired license number. Always ask for the contractor’s license number upfront. Then, visit the Florida DBPR website to search that license number. Make sure the name of the contractor and the license number match as well that it’s current (not expired).

More Money, More Money, More Money

Finally, beware if a contractor asks for more money than initially contracted midway through the project. While it’s common for homeowners to request changes in the middle of a project that may warrant more money, a contractor should request an official change order not actual cash in the middle of the project. If they do ask for money before they’ve finished the job, it could imply that they haven’t handled their money very well with this job (or others). Change orders are due in full upon completion of the project. Make sure you put this “change order” provision into your initial contract to cover you in case that happens.

Michelle Thomas, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, Luxury Naples/Marco Island Homes & Condos?

Homeowner’s Monthly To-Do List to Keep Your Property Operating Efficiently

When you own a Southwest Florida home, you need to stay on top of its maintenance. Energy costs run away from you if you don’t pay attention, especially in the summertime. To avoid shelling out thousands of dollars on big repairs at the last minute, us this handy homeowner’s monthly to-do list to keep your property operating efficiently. It also helps you identify and repair a problem before it becomes a major catastrophe.

To keep your Naples or Marco Island home  operating efficiently, perform these items on the homeowner's monthly to-do list.

Homeowner’s Monthly To-Do List

Roofing

<Search homes for sale in the Naples/Marco Island areaRoof leaks tend to be one of the most difficult to detect. By the time you see water spots on your ceiling, water has most likely already been leaking for a while. So, head up to the attic with a flashlight either during a rainstorm or directly afterward. Then, look for signs of water leaking inside.

HVAC System

Next up on your homeowner’s monthly to-do list? Checking your air filters. During winter months, these filters last about three months before you need to change them. In higher usage months (such as summer), you might need to replace them every month. A monthly inspection allows you to gauge how dirty they and whether or not they need a replacement right away. Clean filters allow air to move more freely through your HVAC, putting less pressure on the system. Dirty filters make it more difficult.

Plumbing

Watch how your drains perform as you use your faucets. But, in particular, pay close attention at least once a month. If you begin to notice that the water takes longer to drain, run a pipe cleaner or snake down it to clear out any debris. Check at your local grocery or home improvement store for inexpensive yet effective pipe cleaners and drain snakes. Still slow? Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain. If that still doesn’t work, try a stronger strength drain cleaner. Finally, you might need to contact a professional.

Refrigerator

Another large source of household energy consumption is the refrigerator. Dust buildup could inhibit the efficiency of its energy usage. Therefore, once a month, you need to vacuum any dust from the coils and compressor area. Newer models include an easily removable grill either on top of or underneath the refrigerator. Take this off to gain access to your coils and compressor.

Garage Door Opener

Finally, add your garage door opener to the homeowner’s monthly to-do list. First, make sure it opens and closes smoothly. Then, check the safety system. How? As the door closes, put your foot or something else in between the safety beams towards the bottom of the door frame. When the beam is broken, it should force the door to roll back up. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with the system.

You can opt to perform every single item on your monthly to-do list over one weekend. That gets them out of the way right away. Or you might want to break things up by only doing one or two of them each week. Then, rotate them over the course of the month. If you break them up, set each chore up on the calendar to keep track of what you performed and when.

Michelle Thomas, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, Luxury Naples/Marco Island Homes & Condos?

Home Projects That Require a Professional

DIY rules the airwaves, internet, and social media. Places like Pinterest, YouTube, and HGTV make it feel super easy to tackle just about any project yourself. However, this may work to your detriment in some cases. That includes these home projects that definitely require a professional.

Some home projects can be tackled by motivated DIY'ers. However, others require a professional touch. Know which ones you can tackle alone and which ones you should hire a pro for instead.

When NOT to DIY Your Home Projects

Garage Door

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A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how replacing your garage door provides the best return on investment. Also, it increases your curb appeal. However, one of the home projects you should leave to the professionals is any replacement or repair needed on your garage door. It requires special tools that you may not own. That means renting them. This increases your cost. Also, if you aren’t savvy with the specific workings of a garage door unit, you would be better off hiring someone who does possess those skills.

Electrical Systems

Unless you happen to be a journeyman electrician, I suggest leaving any electrical work up to the pros. Upgrading your electrical panel and installing additional exterior light fixtures should never be considered DIY home projects. If installed improperly, they could become a fire hazard down the road.

Plumbing

Same thing goes for plumbing home projects. Unclogging a toilet or changing out a shower head requires little working knowledge of plumbing systems. However, installing a bathtub, replacing the toilet or moving the sink from one wall to another in the kitchen should be left to the pros. Otherwise, you may end up with leaks which leads to mold. In turn, that could become a major issue in a short amount of time.

Demo

Many homeowners love an open floor plan. Older homes feel so cut off from room to room. Just knock down a wall or two to achieve that open concept you desire, right? Hold on. There’s more to demolition that a pair of goggles and a sledgehammer. Watch out for load-bearing walls and interior electrical, plumbing or HVAC systems. Older homes used asbestos in construction materials and lead in the paint. These require special removal techniques performed by licensed professionals. Also, mold may be an issue. Therefore, hire a pro.

Tree Removal

It may sound like a simple task. Get rid of that old tree threatening your Naples home. But, one wrong move and it could unleash thousands of dollars in damage to your property. Then, there’s the neighbor’s property, cars, and nearby powerlines to worry about. For home projects like this, contact a professional service to get the job done right and safely.

Crown Molding

Crown molding creates a luxurious finishing touch to just about any room. It’s also another deceptively more involved home project than you would initially think. Walls rarely fit into a perfect 90-degree angle. The pros utilize special tools as well as tricks that come from their years of experience to fit the crown molding perfectly. Poorly installed crown molding provides less than desirable results.

Roof Repair/Replacement

First, replacing a roof requires getting up onto said roof. That, in and of itself, offers potential physical dangers to your body (falling off/through, for example). Second, consider the potential for thousands of dollars in damage if the roof is not installed properly. These are things that could also show up on a home inspection when you try to sell your Naples or Marco Island home. Contact several different local roofing companies. Get references. Then, ask for proof of insurance before you hire one.

Major Changes

Finally, don’t make any major structural changes to your property yourself. Home projects like a room addition, major kitchen or bathroom renovation, deck, etc. usually require permits from the city first. In turn, the city requires this work to be performed by licensed professionals. If not properly constructed, you run the risk of a structural failure somewhere down the road. Even if it happens after you sell your home, you may still be held personally responsible if you did not hire a professional to perform these tasks.

That being said, some upgrades/renovations actually can be performed by non-professionals. They also make your property stand out when it comes time to sell. However, when it comes to more intense home projects, leave those up to the pros.

Michelle Thomas, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, Luxury Naples/Marco Island Homes & Condos?

Lower Energy Costs Before the Summer Heat Hits

It may only be the end of April, but summer’s a’comin’. And with that comes higher energy bills. But you can combat that right now. Lower energy costs before the summer heat hits by performing a few DIY tasks right now.

Lower energy costs in your Marco Island/Naples home before the summer heat hits by performing these simple DIY tasks right now.

How to Lower Energy Costs Right Now

Window Coverings

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Uncovered windows allow the sun’s rays to heat up the inside of your home. They also allow cooler inside air to escape through small cracks or holes. Because of this, you may end up spending up to 25% more in energy costs. Adding something as simple as thicker draperies that completely cover your windows help lower energy costs . And all you need is a screwdriver, a step stool, a good piece of fabric, and a level to make it happen.

Replace Worn Out Caulking/Weatherstripping

Do you feel a slight breeze when you stand near your window? It might be due to worn out, dry, cracked caulking. For just $2, you can purchase interior window caulking at your local home improvement store. Make sure the caulking is a good quality one and can be painted. Don’t use any caulking meant for exterior use. It must be interior use only. Pipe a bead of it around the window where the trim meets the wall and between the trim and the frame. Weatherstripping works well for window joints. If you have any questions, talk to the expert at your home improvement store. It’s very simple to install caulking and weatherstripping. Even a novice should have no problem.

Clean Your Sills

It might sound silly but a simple cleaning of your window sills may be enough to stop a small air leak and lower energy costs. How? Dirt buildup prevents windows from sealing properly. Thus, air leaks occur. When that happens, it costs more to cool off the interior of your home. Just use soap and water to clean out the sill. For stuck-on grime, a scrubber or old toothbrush should loosen it up enough to wipe away. Don’t forget the tracks in your sliding glass doors, too. This task is so simple that you might even be able to let the kids help you with it. And it costs nothing if you already have the soap and scrubber on hand.

Add a Door Sweep

Another area where a house loses energy is through the exterior doors. Stand in your interior entryway and look at your front door during the day. Do you see daylight streaming through? Then you’re losing energy. One way to stop this from happening is to add a door sweep to the bottom of the door. They create a seal that prevents hot air from coming in and cool air from exiting. The result? Lower energy costs. Some door sweeps install without any hardware whatsoever. Others you’ll need to screw into the door frame. Costs run around $10 to $20 each and take minutes to install.

Inspect Your Air Ducts

Finally, lower energy costs by taking a look at your air ducts. You should be able to see them in your crawl space, attic, unfinished basement area and/or garage. Look for any visible holes or tears. Contrary to what its name implies, forget about using duct tape. Instead, opt for mastic or foil tape. A roll will only set you back about $10 to $15 and can be found at any home improvement store. All you’ll need to complete the task once you purchase your tape is a flashlight.

Before temperatures begin to soar, lower energy costs by completing these simple DIY tasks right now. They don’t take a lot of skill, money or time either. Anybody can do these and you’ll save some money in the process.

Michelle Thomas, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, Luxury Naples/Marco Island Homes & Condos?