Choose home contractors with extreme care

A change is as good as a holiday, they say, and this is the thinking behind many homeowners’ decisions to make alterations to their properties. But there is also big money at stake if the work is not done properly.
“At the moment, a very strong driver for home improvements is the difficulty in obtaining bond finance,” says Harcourts Africa CEO Richard Gray. “Many people who might otherwise have moved to a bigger or more luxurious property just don’t want to go through the hassle and anxiety of applying for a new bond, so they are staying put and upgrading their existing homes.
“And they are further persuaded by the high costs of relocation, including transfer duty, bond registration costs and legal fees, which on a R1m property, for example, are now around R45 000, excluding the agent’s commission to sell an existing house. You can make quite a lot of improvements for that.”
The trend is reflected, he says, in the latest FNB Property Barometer, which shows big increases in the number of homeowners who are now fully maintaining their homes (35,5%, up from 28% in 2009) and those who are maintaining and making some improvements (36,3%, up from 31,5% in 2009) – but also shows that almost 70% of those spending money on their properties are doing so for their own convenience and not because they are planning to sell.
“Meanwhile, although Stats SA recorded a drop in the square metreage of home additions and alterations last year, the work completed was still worth a large amount – some R7,4m – and plans were passed for a further R15,4m worth of such work over the next year or two.
“In other words, there is a lot of homeowners’ hard-earned money at stake here, and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that residential building costs did not come down in line with the drop in home values during the recession. Indeed, they rose more than 10% last year, taking the average cost per square metre to around R6800.”
Consequently, says Gray, homeowners need to be very careful when hiring building contractors. “Not being experts in the field, most people tend to focus on project duration and cost, when their first consideration should be the track record of any home improvement company they talk to.
“Bearing in mind that stories of a pleasant building experience, where everything ran smoothly, all was done to the satisfaction of the property owner and the project was completed on time and within budget are few and far between, they should firstly insist on recent references from former customers and be sure to contact them personally and hear what they have to say before committing to any contract.” 
In limiting your risk, he says, it is also important to establish whether the contractor is a member of the relevant industry association, how long the company has been in business and how many similar projects it has successfully completed. Other vital questions to ask are whether or not the contractor has insurance against injury and whether the people doing the work will be his employees, subcontractors or casual labourers.
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