Home Improvement Contractors and Remodeling December 2, 2012

Six key questions to sniff out bad contractors

Six key questions to sniff out bad contractors

No matter how big or small the home remodeling project, you can find the perfect contractor by posing the right questions.

Getting antsy to remodel your home? You might think your kitchen or bathroom needs a remodel right this minute, but remember: Haste makes waste.

Rather than rushing to hire the first – or even cheapest – contractor you come across, asking the right questions upfront will help you filter out the bad apples and find a reputable contractor to meet your needs.

"I want my clients to feel 100 percent comfortable with me," says Shawn Kruse, president of the Remodeling Contractors Association of Connecticut and owner of Kruse Home Improvement, LLC. "And honestly, the more investigation they do about me and questions they ask me, the better it is for me. It helps me get the job."

As Kruse points out, a thorough investigation can benefit both parties in the end.

"Potential clients learn about your credentials, background and experience. They start to get to know you and see if your personalities can get along," Kruse acknowledges.

[Ready to find the perfect home contractor? Click here to locate one in your area.]

You may know exactly what you want out of your remodel – from the fixtures to the flooring – but you should know what you want from your contractor, too. Don't settle for the first or cheapest bid. Your contractor will control the project – and probably your stress level – from start to finish, so it's important the two of you are a good match.

If you want to find a contractor who suits your needs, try asking these six questions during the interview.

Question #1: What's Your Business History (and Much More)?

You wouldn't hire a surgeon without knowing how many surgeries he or she has performed, would you? Well, your home is about to go under the knife, so you'll want to evaluate contractors with the same level of scrutiny.

Kruse suggests first asking questions about a company's business practices and experiences with the remodeling project you need. Find out what kind of procedures and rules this contractor would follow to meet your demands.

Here are a few other things Kruse thinks you should ask contractors:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are you licensed by the state?
  • What percentage of your clientele is repeat or referral business?
  • Are you a member of a national trade association?
  • Do you have a list of references from past projects similar to mine?
  • Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling or had any special training or education?

[Ready to put a contractor to the test? Click here to find one today.]

Kruse also recommends contacting a client with whom they are currently working. "This way, you can see how things are conducted on a day to day basis," he says. "You can find out if there are problems or issues that have arisen, and ask how well they communicate throughout the project."

Question #2: Do You Provide a Detailed Written Contract?

Misunderstandings happen. People forget. Things change. But a contract helps both you and the contractor know what is expected from both parties.

Every job, no matter how small, should have a signed contract by the contractor and customer, Kruse says. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Not so fast – the devil is in the details.

"A contract should be very specific and point out step by step what will be going on throughout the project and before it even begins," he adds.

Some things that should be on a contract – all written in great detail – include:

  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all parties involved in the project, including vendors
  • Detailed list of the work to be completed
  • List of each product along with its price and model number
  • Who is responsible for pulling permits
  • Where deliveries will go and where the dumpster will be placed
  • What time the workers begin and end their day
  • Project's start and completion dates plus payment schedule
  • All work carried out by subcontractors

[Ready to look for a home contractor? Click here to find one in your area.]

Anything that changes along the way must be written and signed in a change order, which makes sure everyone is in agreement on the change, price, time, or anything else that is adjusted from the original contract.

Question #3: How Much Do I Need to Put Down?

If the contractor asks you to pay for all of the project's cost upfront, it's time to find another contractor. An unreasonable deposit is the first sign something is fishy, Kruse says.

The Better Business Bureau's website suggests going by the rule of thirds: Pay one third at the beginning of the project, one third when work is 50 percent complete, and one third after it is final and you are satisfied with the outcome.

But chances are your contractor will have a formula to determine how much money is needed to get the job started. "Most contractors go with a 15 percent down payment on larger projects," Kruse says. "My clients usually give me the 15 percent deposit at the same time they hand me the signed contract."

[Ready to start your home remodel? Click here to find the right home contractor today.]

Keep in mind that if the job is a small one, it's okay to provide money for the cost of materials – which might be 50 percent of the job or a little more, he says.

Question #4: Can I Get Itemized Price Estimates?

Some contractors like to hand you a bid with one price estimate for the entire project because it's less work on their end. Don't let them. You will need details on all the costs associated with the project and each item purchased.

Here's why an itemized estimate is essential: If midway through the project you decide to put in a less expensive countertop than the one originally discussed, you need to know the exact cost of the first countertop. Without it, you have no way of knowing how much of a credit you should receive.

An itemized price list should detail the cost of labor, demolition, materials, electrical, plumbing, permits, and more.

Kruse explains how an itemized estimate is better for client and contractor: "It just makes it easier to track work, and it's transparent to both the client and I of what is expected on the job. I also offer my preferred vendor list to our clients so they know who we are buying their products from."

Some contractors use their estimates as proposals, but these might be very inaccurate and could mislead the homeowner, Kruse says. Don't assume anything. Be certain that once you sign a contract, what you see on paper is what you will be paying.

Question #5: Who Will Be at the Site?

Just hiring your contractor doesn't ensure he or she will be the one hammering and sawing. They might only show up to sign the contract and present the finished product. It's important to know that certain contractors manage their companies by getting bids or supervising many job sites at once and are not hands-on people.

How do you find out which one you have? "Ask potential contractors who is going to be in charge of your project at all times," Kruse says. "You need to meet with that person, get a feel for what he/she is like and get acquainted a bit. Go check out that person at one of their current jobs."

[Ready to get started on your home remodel? Click here to find a contractor in your area.]

In their "Home Sweet Home Improvement" guide, the Federal Trade Commission urges homeowners to ask if subcontractors will be used on the project. If so, homeowners should ask to meet them to make sure they have insurance coverage and proper licenses.

When meeting the subcontractor, ask if the lead contractor pays them on time. Why is this little detail important? According to the Federal Trade Commission, "A 'mechanic's lien' could be placed on your home if your contractor fails to pay subcontractors or suppliers," who, in turn, could take you to court to retrieve their unpaid bills.

Question #6: Do You Think We Can Get Along?

Just like any good relationship, the one between you and your contractor should have harmony, communication, and collaboration. Some personalities and styles just don't mesh, so don't pick someone just because their bid is the lowest, says Kruse.

Your contractor will be part of your daily existence for quite some time. They will see how your children behave, how you don't water your plants, and how your breakfast dishes sit in the sink all day.

Hiring a contractor without much thought can be a big mistake, says Kruse. "Sometimes [homeowners] end up with work that is less than adequate, or they give these shady contractors a large chunk of money upfront and then they never show up again."

Protecting yourself from these nightmares means knowing exactly who your contractors are before you hire them. After all, it doesn't hurt to ask – but it sure could hurt if you don't.



Home Improvement December 1, 2012

Weekend Warrior: 50 Nifty Fix-Ups For Less than $100

Simple upgrades can drastically improve the feel and function of your home. Read on for clever tips, projects, and products that offer a big payoff for a small investment in time and money. Read on here.

Open House Seattle November 30, 2012

Seattle Home – Open Saturday and Sunday 1PM-4PM

Stop by this Saturday or Sunday from 1PM-4PM and see this fantastic new home in Seattle's coveted Broadview neighborhood.

Online at ExclusivelyBroadview.com

This Broadview home that sits along a tree lined street surrounded by other well kept homes. Broadview is a highly sought after neighborhood because of its easy access for commuters heading either north or south, affordable home values, nearby shopping and close proximity to one of Seattles most beautiful parks along Puget Sound, Carkeek Park.

Our favorite features of the home include:

Light-filled spacious living and dining rooms with lovely original oak floors.
Desirable layout with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the main level.

Large kitchen and family room area with easy access to the fully fenced back yard.
The south facing sunny back yard feels like your own private park. Come Spring, this will be a favorite place to spend the day relaxing or hosting a neighborhood barbecue on the spacious patio.

Unlimited potential in the unfinished lower level with high ceilings, fireplace and door to the back yard. This space could be a fabulous game room/man cave, plus room for a 4th bedroom, an art studio, hobby space. The ideas are endless.
Exceptionally thick original siding was just recently painted.

There are several benefits of 50s architecture to love. Thick siding that you dont see today. Large rooms with big picture windows, warm wood floors and solid construction practices are all trademarks of mid century homes and enjoyed in this home too. For a private showing of this home, call Steve Hill at 206-769-9577.

Kitchen Remodeling November 29, 2012

A Glossy, Sophisticated White Kitchen

Louise Brooks on Creating a Kitchen With Shine

Designer Louise Brooks explains the inspiration for a sophisticated white kitchen in Rye, New York, with a touch of sparkle.

These whites are not only clean, they sparkle. Custom cabinetry in Benjamin Moore's high-gloss Super White is topped with counters made of crystallized glass by Glassos. Chandelier by Bocci.

Christine Pittel: Dazzling! Glossy countertops, silvery tile, shimmery mirrors…

Louise Brooks: The owner loves shine. And she wanted a sophisticated but fun space where she could entertain her friends. The house is a traditional center-hall Colonial, and the kitchen comes as a surprise. It gives the house a lot of panache.

And that effervescent chandelier. Amazing how one light fixture can animate a room.

The glass bubbles look like they're dancing, don't they? They give the room a real kick.

Mirrored cabinets–so glamorous. Is that a nod to Hollywood Regency?

They're definitely a little theatrical–the more decorative element in a plain room. The basic idea goes back to an old Chippendale breakfront. We gave it a twist with that weathered gray finish on the wood, and antiqued mirror instead of glass.

People don't normally think of mirror for a kitchen.

But it's great, even if it's only reflecting pots and pans. I like mirror because it captures movement, and that brings in life. It also expands the space and doubles the light.

When you use pattern, you go all out–the octagons, the bold zigzags on the rug.

The big graphic patterns and the different textures make it more playful. But the palette is soothing.

All white and shades of gray.

She wanted pure white. Steel-gray linoleum floors and the brushed aluminum tile add just enough contrast to make the white look even whiter.

Aluminum tile. That sounds cold.

Actually it's warm, with a soft patina like an old German silver sink. The tile is set in a traditional staggered-brick pattern, but the fact that it's made of aluminum gives it that twist. There are traditional moments in this kitchen–the recessed panels on the cabinet doors, the linoleum floors–but the finishes make it modern. The cabinetry is high-gloss and the linoleum has a striated surface and is laid in strips, like a chic variation on wooden planks. And you get a more contemporary feel with those high-gloss countertops.

What are those made of?

Crystallized glass.

Glass? For a countertop? I have to say that terrifies me.

No, it's wonderful. It has a very hard surface, a clean, smooth finish that doesn't stain or chip or crack. I tried one out in my laundry room first, and they're pretty indestructible. The owner has three children under the age of seven, so safety and durability were important to her. The linoleum is not only easy on the feet, it's a great choice when you have kids. We designed the breakfast table with a curved edge–no sharp corners–and lacquered the wood top in a high sheen that's like an automotive finish.

Why didn't you use glass there?

She thought wood would be slightly warmer to the touch. In other projects, I've put radiant heat under stone countertops so they wouldn't feel cold.

That's a new one on me. With all this shine, why didn't you go for a big stainless-steel range?

She preferred a cooktop. She didn't want to bend over to use the oven. And a cooktop looks more contemporary.

And what's the logic behind the two islands?

Two are more efficient than one huge island. You don't have as far to walk when you want to get to the other side. The island closest to the table functions as a prep area, and the one by the bar becomes a serving area during a party. There are no stools. This mother wanted her kids to sit down at a table and look at each other, instead of eating at the counter.


Morgage Rate Locks November 29, 2012

What You Need to Know About Mortgage Rate Locks

Whether buying a home or refinancing a mortgage, your mortgage lender will require you to lock your rate on the amount borrowed no later than five days prior to closing.

Mortgage rate locks guarantee the interest rate for a “set” period of time, and the length of the lock essentially determines how long you have to close escrow. This is where consumers can often find themselves scrambling to meet the interest rate lock, so the costs don’t accumulate.

Rate lock options

As you do your loan comparison shopping, you’ll find mortgage rate locks vary in time length.

  • 15-day lock: Provides the “lowest-cost rate” available in the market on any given day. The loan needs to be approved by underwriting to take advantage of this lock.
  • 30-day lock: Fair market rate. This option is most commonly used for interest rate locking upfront before loan approval.
  • 45-day lock: Used for transactions taking longer, whether the loan is approved or not.
  • 60-day lock: Used in circumstances where the loan is prolonged, such as when one borrower is out of town for a period of time, whether the loan is approved or not.

The shorter the lock, the less risk the mortgage lender takes in tying up that money, which means a better interest rate for the consumer.

Extra costs

It’s not uncommon to see an interest rate variation by as much as 0.25 percent on the longer rate locks compared against 30-day and 15-day rate locks.

The longer the lock, the more risk the lender takes and the slightly more costly the loan can become, depending on the day you choose to lock in your interest rate. Lenders are always concerned about interest rate risk.

For example, let’s say you lock your interest rate today on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.25 percent for 30 days. If rates rise to 3.5 percent, the lender could make an extra 0.25 percent margin on the money you’re committing to borrow.

That means if your transaction takes 32 days rather than the locked 30 days, the costs to extend your loan can be upward of half a discount point expressed as a percentage of the loan amount. Using a $300,000 mortgage loan, an extension fee for additional time can run upward of $1,500.

Comparison shopping

Don’t be afraid to let your mortgage lender know that you’re shopping around and that you’re willing to lock in an interest rate that you deem to be fair and reasonable. A reputable mortgage lender knows consumers shop for mortgages, forcing them to be competitive to stay in business.

All lenders are under very tight underwriting restrictions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so locking in the mortgage rate does not guarantee that your loan will actually close escrow. Making sure you lender reviews your financials improves the odds, greatly.

Get a rate quote from a lender upfront and make sure it’s an interest rate that the lender can pull the trigger on if you say “go.” Be prepared to send your mortgage company your credit, debt, income and asset information so it can make sure that you can actually qualify for the amount of money you’re looking to borrow.

What You Need to Know About Mortgage Rate Locks” was provided by Zillow.com.


Broadview Seattle Area Home for Sale November 27, 2012

Just Listed! Coveted Broadview-Seattle Neighborhood


Welcome to this lovely Broadview home that sits along a tree lined street surrounded by other well kept homes. Broadview is a highly sought after neighborhood because of its easy access for commuters heading either north or south, affordable home values, nearby shopping and close proximity to one of Seattles most beautiful parks along Puget Sound, Carkeek Park.

Our favorite features of the home include

Light-filled spacious living and dining rooms with lovely original oak floors.
Desirable layout with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the main level.

Large kitchen and family room area with easy access to the fully fenced back yard.
The south facing sunny back yard feels like your own private park. Come Spring, this will be a favorite place to spend the day relaxing or hosting a neighborhood barbecue on the spacious patio.

Unlimited potential in the unfinished lower level with high ceilings, fireplace and door to the back yard. This space could be a fabulous game room/man cave, plus room for a 4th bedroom, an art studio, hobby space. The ideas are endless.
Exceptionally thick original siding was just recently painted.

There are several benefits of 50s architecture to love. Thick siding that you dont see today. Large rooms with big picture windows, warm wood floors and solid construction practices are all trademarks of mid century homes and enjoyed in this home too.

Give us a call today for a private tour of this fabulous home, it won't last long. Steve Hill 206-769-9577.

Home Owner's Insurance November 27, 2012

7 Great Home Insurance Discounts Your Agent Won’t Tell You About

With the average annual premium for homeowner's insurance at $808, there are plenty of reasons to look for discounts, especially for homeowners in such hurricane-prone states as Louisiana ($1,586 average premium) and Florida ($1,101).

Raising the deductible and staying with the same insurer are common ways to lower insurance expenses, but there are others that most people don't know about — or don't learn about until after a disaster hits their home.

Like bargaining with an auto dealer or going to a furniture store and trying to haggle for a lower price, you often won't get home insurance discounts unless you ask for them. That's why it pays to shop around, especially with a list of questions on the type of discounts insurers offer.


Not all home insurance companies offer the same discounts, so it's worth it to shop around. If getting a discount requires fixing your home — such as getting a new roof — you may not get it until the work is completed.

Discounts can range from as little as 2% or so up to 20% or more. If you're going to stay in your home for years to come, paying for some home improvements now may be worth it in the long run for an insurance discount.

Here are some home insurance discounts worth asking about:

Security. From installing adequate locks to hiring a team to install alarms throughout your house, preventing home break-ins can lead to a savings of 2% to 5%, said Bill McGarry, a property manager for private homes in Palm Beach County in Florida. McGarry recommends using locks made by a brand name, such as Schlage, and having three locks per door.

Home safety. Keeping your home secure is one thing, but keeping it safe from accidents is another. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors can be installed rather inexpensively to help prevent accidents that could damage the home and require an insurance claim.

Other safety repairs that could lead to a discount include sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, handrails alongside stairs, updated wiring systems for multiple appliances, well-grounded outside antenna, a fence with a locked gate around a backyard pool and maintained sidewalks outside that are free of large cracks or holes that someone can trip on.

If your home is near a fire station or you have a hydrant nearby, ask for a discount.

Repairs. A new roof, hurricane shutters and new washing machine hoses are among the fixes that can be done to homes to make them less likely to be damaged. While a new roof is expensive, others can be done inexpensively.

"They sound small, but if you add all of them up, it becomes a dramatic drop in your insurance costs," said McGarry, who works with a real estate company on home repairs and previously worked as a home inspector for 20 years.

Not having hurricane shutters and impact windows in hurricane-prone South Florida can result in higher insurance premiums, so getting them is worth the cost, McGarry said. The shutters are the best protection. They start at about $1,500 for a house and cost about $3,500 for a 2,000-square-foot house, depending on the number of openings. The potential savings can be 8% to 10% on an insurance policy discount.

For about $20, a no-burst washing machine hose can replace the regular hose that comes with a washing machine, eliminating the worry about flooding if a hose breaks, said Elisa Bernick, associate editor at The Family Handyman. No-burst hoses can also be used for toilets and faucets.

"Burst washing machine hoses are at the top of the list for causing major home damage," Bernick said.

New construction. If your home was built within the past decade, some insurers will give a discount because everything should be new and in good enough shape to prevent an accident. You may also get a discount if the home was recently renovated.

Insured to value. Insuring up to 100% of the cost to replace your home — which is usually different than the market value or selling price — can result in a discount.

No losses. If you're a new customer with a loss-free record for three years, you may get a discount. Sometimes called the "Claims Free Discount," it sometimes first requires five years of no losses after buying a new policy.

Inflation protection. If you adjust the amount of insurance to keep up with inflation, you may get a discount.

The Investing Answer: Shop around and ask questions. Sometimes you have to be a pest and ask your insurance agent questions. Unless you have to file a claim, you probably only talk to your agent once a year, so you might as well make it a worthwhile discussion and get help figuring out which discounts your home qualifies for.

And if none of your ideas are ringing any bells, ask the agent for suggestions on what you can do to qualify for discounts they offer.

If they don't have enough discounts or you're paying too high of a premium for what the average price is in your state, shop elsewhere. An hour or less of research could pay off.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in personal finance.


Home Mortgage and Finance November 26, 2012

How Much Income Do You Need to Buy a House?

If you’re in the market for a new home, chances are you’ll have to compromise at some point along the way. Maybe you’ll have to commute a little farther than you’d like in order to get the best value for your money. Or perhaps you’ll forgo a huge backyard to be closer to the city.

And when it comes to finances, you might find a disparity between how much house you want and how much house you can purchase given your gross monthly income and other factors.

Home loans are made against your ability to repay. While the mortgage loan is secured against the house, it is really made against your income. That’s what mortgage lenders look for — income to offset liabilities.

Simply put, the amount of income you need to purchase a house will vary by your payment comfort level, including any other monthly debt obligations you might have.

Important terms

Mortgage payment:  Principal, interest, property taxes insurance and mortgage insurance, if needed

Consumer debts: Minimum payment obligations on things such as auto loans, credit cards, student loans, personal loans and installment loans

Other debt obligations:  Alimony and/or child support or any other court-ordered repayment obligations

Running the math

Here’s a simple formula to calculate the amount of income you’ll need to purchase a home:

Target mortgage payment + consumer debts ÷ .36 = Gross monthly income needed to qualify

Most lenders limit your debt-to-income ratio (how much of your monthly income pays debt) to between 36 percent and 45 percent. While the exact ratio varies by lender and loan type, it’s best to base your calculations on the lower end to ensure that you won’t overextend yourself financially.

So, if your target mortgage payment is $2,000 per month and you have consumer debts of $300 per month, you will need $6,388 gross monthly income to offset your housing expenses and consumer obligations.

Down payment

Your down payment is another important factor in determining how much income you’ll need to buy a home.

Consider the following loan scenario using a purchase price of $300,000 (assuming no other debts) and the current rates on Zillow Mortgage Marketplace.

Conventional loan

  • Down payment: 5 percent ($15,000)
  • Interest rate: 3.26 percent
  • Approximate mortgage payment: $1,770
  • Gross monthly income needed: $4,916

So at the end of the day how much income you need to purchase a home is predicated on your monthly income, consumer debt obligations and down payment.

Impact of debt

For every dollar of debt, you will need double that in income. So if you have a $300 car payment, you’ll need at least $600 per month or more in income to offset that debt.

Debt erodes income, and less income translates to less purchasing power.

So, does buying a home make sense?

Yes, so long as the amount you can borrow for your desired purchase price is in sync with your debt obligations and, of course, your down payment.


Scott Sheldon is a senior loan officer and consumer advocate based in Santa Rosa, California. Scott has been seen in Yahoo! Homes, CNN Money, Marketwatch and The Wall Street Journal. Connect with him at Sonoma County Mortgages.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.



Kitchen Backsplash November 25, 2012

Weekend Warrior: 25 stunning backsplashes, plus an easy guide to installing your own

25 stunning backsplashes, plus an easy guide to installing your own

These tiles are stainless-steel-wrapped porcelain. Click the photo to go to a slideshow. (Photo credit: Diamond …Cooking isn't the only way to unleash your creativity in the kitchen: Use the backsplash as your canvas.

You can play it safe with simple, chic, economical white subway tiles, or you can install colorful mosaics that are true works of art. Or experiment with nontraditional materials like pure copper, solid bronze chunks, shimmering goldleaf — that's right, real gold — or even petrified wood. Read on here.


Home Search Seattle November 24, 2012



Thumb_holidaythanksgiving2We know you're probably still working on those Turkey Day leftovers, but you're probably also thinking about what to get that someone special for the holidays.

Here's a bold idea — BUY THEM A HOUSE!

Seriously. There's still plenty of time to find your special someone a new home or investment property by the holiday.

And you might get a great deal, because December is regularly a "slow time" for real estate, and you won't have too many buyers to compete with.

(Plus a lot of sellers start to get antsy as Buyer showings slow down, and you might be able to get a "low ball" offer accepted in some cases.)

Anyway… bold idea we know.

But if you want to make him or her forget that less than stellar gift you bought them last year, imagine the look on thier face when they see that huge bow on the roof of thier new house!

Seriously, let's go shopping — ring us up at 206-552-9577, we love to look at homes as much as you do.