Remodeling Your Kitchen: Finances & Contracting

by Tom Skinner

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The best-laid plans can come to a screeching halt when you sit down and add up the price of new cabinets, appliances and fixtures and other materials like countertops, flooring and wallcoverings. Unless you have unlimited funds, you will have to develop a budget before making any purchases. Financing a new kitchen is simply a matter of compromise and knowing what you need now and what to wait for. A professional can trim the fat from the tab and save money by suggesting shortcuts or alternatives. Do as much as you can yourself.

To save money on professional advice, ask friends and neighbors who have remodeled. They can give "free" advice and recommendations. Check out those recommendations from other referral sources too.

Costs range from a few thousand dollars to a hundred thousand or more. Use a checklist to decide what you need and what you want. No more than 10 to 15 percent of the total value of your home should be spent. Any more than that and you will be spending too much relative to the value of your home

Start by finding out the costs of the items you want. Get prices of several models by visiting showrooms. Next, make up a list of various possible equipment combinations and the prices. Once you have a rough estimate, you can solicit bids. Provide each bidder with a complete set of plans of your kitchen design. Bids will come back in 4 to 6 weeks and will vary widely. Just because a bid is high doesn't mean it will be the best; likewise, the lowest bids do not mean shoddy work. Ask the bidders why the price is high or low. Use bids that are fixed, for no hidden costs. Ask them for references. If they are reputable, they won't hesitate giving you a few names of satisfied customers.

Financing kitchen remodeling can be done through personal or home-improvement loans. Shop carefully for interest rates. The home-improvement loans are based on your home equity and typically have lower interest rates spread over 15 to 30 years or are lump-sum loans in which you receive and pay for money as you need it.

Major structural changes require an architect, who will prepare floor plans and specifications for the construction phase. The architect can also supervise the entire job. Fees start to finish will be between 8 to 15 percent of the total construction cost. For plans only, the fee will be an hourly rate - something around $50 to $75 an hour, depending on where you live. Look for an architect with the letters A.I.A. after his or her name.

Kitchen designers plan the functional details of a kitchen and often work in conjunction with cabinet dealers. When choosing a kitchen designer look for the letters C.K.D. after his or her name.

You can hire a general contractor to do the entire job or individual contractors such as a carpenter, plumber, an electrician, etc. You can do some of the work yourself, but be realistic about what you can do. Rate the difficulty of a task and decide if you can do it. You may need a certified professional to obtain some building permits. Check for local, national and state code restrictions or requirements. Obtain basic tools that will be required for each task. A call to your local home center can tell you which tools you will need.

A general contractor will take care of all subcontractors and organize when each subcontractor needs to complete their part of the kitchen. A general contractor also takes care of paying each subcontractor. Be sure to check out references and previous customers, local building supply companies, the local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. Look at three contractors before deciding on one. If you think you can take care of organizing subcontractors yourself, just remember it will take a lot of time and attention. Ask yourself how much time you are willing to devote to this project.

When you have done your homework by getting prices on everything (appliances, supplies, and professional help), you will have a better idea what to expect from bidding contractors. You will know in an instant what is too high or too low.

Reprint courtesy of Tap Home Improvement Secrets and Tips Newsletter. Additional help can be found in a book called "Kitchens."

"Kitchens" also contains information about construction basics; gutting and building walls; finishing drywall; installing roofs, windows and skylights; kitchen plumbing basics; wiring and circuits and range hood installation.

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