SA Building & Remodeling
By Creigton A. Welch, San Antonio Express-News (October 18, 2008)
Remodeling your home can give you that fresh new feel without causing all the headaches of actually moving.

But a few missteps and a lack of planning could leave you needing more Tylenol than you ever could imagine.

When thinking about remodeling, it's important to consider the type of job you'll be doing. You also have to consider just who it is you'll entrust to slice and dice your home.

"Remodeling can be enormously stressful, and it's complex," said Christopher K. Travis, a designer and builder. "You're retrofitting, working with all kinds of older materials, trying to improve a place while it still looks like one house, and it's usually occupied while doing all of this."

Travis runs a company called Truehome, which approaches building by looking at people and their personalities. Truehome essentially combines psychology with home building, and Travis feels that a home is more than just the materials.

"What people are actually looking for is how it feels to be in the home and how much it fits their lives and their circumstances and all the characteristics that are part to being human," Travis said.

Deciding what you want

Before you go ahead and tear down a wall, you should know what you want.

"If they're looking for a design and not quite sure what they want, we encourage them to go get some books and magazines on remodeling," said Rudy Niño, owner of SA Building & Remodeling. "It gives the contractor ideas, and it's good if homeowners have already done their homework."

Beyond picking the style you want, it behooves homeowners to also look at product brands and manufacturers, something that can be done easily on the Internet.

"They should almost choose the products they want before they hire a contractor," Niño said. "If they don't, a job could become three to four months rather than one to two months."

With the environment a hot issue now, choosing green products for your remodeling has become popular, Niño said.

"Especially right now with the high utility bills, people are wondering if they should replace the windows, add more insulation and use reflective paint," he said. "They're starting to open their minds here."

Another popular remodeling trend involves outdoor living spaces. People want to spend more time at home and outdoors, but they want a luxurious setting for doing so . . . For Travis at Truehome, when first considering a remodel, homeowners should focus on places where the mood often seems tense or quarrelsome.

"It's a lot easier to change their environment than change their mate," he said. "If there's an area where there's chronic bickering, instead of thinking about what a rotten husband or wife you have, think about how you might design that differently."

Finding remodelers

When entrusting someone to do thousands of dollars worth of work to your home, it's important to find the right company for the job.

You could remodel yourself, but that's something that only the diehard fixer-uppers should attempt.

"There are some people who actually like the process of messing with their houses, and they should do all their work, not the people who just think it will save them some money," Travis said. "The only people who actually succeed at that are the people who like to mess around with their house."

Real estate agent Evey Edwards found out the hard way how not to find a remodeler.

"We were going to have some work done and picked a company who had a large one-page ad in the Yellow Pages, a good recommendation, or so I thought," Edwards said.

She ended up forking out $7,500 for work that never was completed, eventually got some back, but still lost about $4,500.

"The contractor in question, we later found out, was a professional con artist and basically took everyone's money and did not deliver any work," Edwards said.

Just because a company places an ad, it's not necessarily reputable.

"One of the things people do is pick up the phone book because they just don't really know what they're looking for," Niño said.

The best place to find good companies is by asking people you know . . .

Pick the right one There's no single remodeler out there that is best for every job. It's important to shop around and to pick the one that best fits your need. But because there are many remodelers in San Antonio, you'll have to narrow it down at some point.

"If they have a good reputation, what makes it good? I always say, longer is better," Niño said. "That's how you gain your reputation."

Years in business means more experience in different remodeling situations . . . Niño said to look for remodelers that have legitimate offices and workshops. Though it might seem obvious, some contractors only have a truck, a sign their operation may not be as reliable.

A major choosing point for most people, Niño said, is price. Though picking a low price may be appealing, don't give in to what amounts to just a number.

"A lot of times people will get three bids, and they usually won't go with the highest bid," he said. "They say they're not going with the lowest bid because the contractor is probably leaving out something. So they say, 'we'll go with the guy in the middle because the price seems just right.' But they may be the worst out there."

So beyond price, look at the level of service provided, expertise and reputation.

"My advice to anyone considering a remodel is to get a minimum of three quotes and three references from work completed within the last six to 12 months, and not only talk to the people who have had the work done, but meet with them at their properties to view it," Edwards said.

Edwards said that if people are willing to show off their new homes, it's probably a sign of a good contractor.

"When people have had a great experience, they are more than willing to show off their newly completed and successful remodel to just about anyone that asks to see it," she said.

Travis, who started Truehome, recommends that homeowners examine their personalities before jumping right into the project.

"It's the architecture inside their head," he said. "We have all these relationship exercises that are directed to home improvements. We just get it all on the table. If you don't, you very commonly spend all kinds of money on something that isn't 'it.'"

He said that by picking the right remodeler, and by knowing exactly what you want, your home will be an extension of yourself.

"What we do here is really mapping someone's entire life so we can design an ecosystem for them to fit who they are," Travis said. "You can tell all kinds of things about people by their house. But it's the other way around, too. It affects you and how you feel."

How to hire the right remodeler

  • Hire a remodeler with an established business in the San Antonio area, so you can check with local references.
  • Contact the city of San Antonio to make sure the company is licensed.
  • Ask to see a copy of the company's insurance.
  • Check the quality and scope of work for the different contractors you get bids from.
  • Make sure the contract details what the remodeler will and will not do.
  • Include a detailed list of materials and expenses in your contract.
  • Approve of the design plans before work begins.
  • Make sure the contract contains at least a one-year warranty.
  • Never sign an incomplete contract.
Call Rudy Niño for a quote at (210) 723-2616 or Request an Estimate online.
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