The DFW area population is increasing at a phenomenal rate. The 2010 Census counted 6.3 million residents. The 2020 count indicates we had 7.6 million. The math reveals that is equivalent to adding 328 people per day, consisting of 205 net move-ins, and 123 via births minus deaths. The Census effective date was April 1, 2020. If the rate has remained relatively consistent, we can safely add at least another 230,000 counting to the date of this writing. So, 7.8 million and rising. For comparison, this figure was 960,000 when I was born here. Ouch!
Since the end of 2020, the housing market has become less and less predictable. In the DFW area, resale prices have soared to a median price of $401K, while the inventory of homes for sale has dropped 42.39% in just two years.
Anyone in the market for a house is faced with no good choices. With resale homes in short supply, buying one has become tantamount to being in an auction where the one with the most discretionary income wins. New home prices have also skyrocketed. Builders are essentially auctioning the right to wait in line for a contract. Further, they write open-ended contracts regarding price and insert cancel for convenience clauses that will set your hair ablaze.
Many of us have decided to hunker down in our old digs since we cannot possibly afford to both sell and buy in the DFW area. And with the home values rising, fixing up the old place may make more sense than moving anywhere else.
The Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) recently released statistics regarding the remodeling activity anticipated for the DFW area in the coming year. Research indicates that remodeling projects will increase in our area 10%-15% this year alone. You may have already seen the uptick in activity in your own neighborhood. I certainly have in mine.
Those of you who have ever been involved in a remodeling project are already aware of the stressors involved. Deciding on the project scope, finding a designer, vetting a general contractor, planning, moving things to storage, eating out or ordering in, dealing with insolent contractors and workers, noise, dust, more noise, and dust . . . argh!
Home renovation activity brings with it gut-wrenching, teeth-gnashing, hair-shredding, blood-pressurizing stress. It wreaks havoc on one’s daily routine.
Those who have been there wonder why anyone would ever do this, let alone do it again. It’s a bit like getting a very pricy tattoo.
All that said, if you find yourself inching up to the edge of this particular abyss, there are ways to mitigate some of the terrors. Let’s take a look at what can be done to keep you somewhat sane throughout the process.
1. First, hire an attorney. Remodelers, like builders, are not regulated in the State of Texas. The contracts they use for their projects are, for the most part, promulgated by attorneys for the homebuilding industry. These are not written with even a whiff of consumer protection in mind. Sign one of these unwittingly, and you may live to regret it. An attorney can help you get your head around the legal issues involved, most of which you are totally unaware of.
There are many pitfalls that you will not recognize before you find yourself falling into them. Contract clauses regarding force majeure, price escalation, et al. You will also need to be aware of the importance of focusing on a clear and defined scope of work, limitations of liability, indemnities, payment terms, the certainty of terms, warranties, change order mechanisms, termination for convenience, dispute resolution, etc. It is a long list.
So then, consult with an attorney. But not just any attorney. The law, like medicine, is a field awash with specialization. The attorney you use for your family needs, or even the one who handles your business activities, is more than likely not the one you want for your abyss project. You need one that is board-certified in construction law. This is a rapidly growing niche due to the lax Texas laws regarding builders and remodelers and the near-total lack of skilled tradespeople.
2. Hire a professional inspector for expert oversight of the project. Contractors are most familiar with the concepts involved in making a profit. They consider safety issues like the building and electrical codes to be little more than minor irritations. The municipal inspectors tasked with oversight are undermanned, overworked, underpaid, and often uneducated in building codes. You cannot rely on them to ensure the quality of your project.
Once again, we understand that you must hire a competent inspector. But, just as with the attorney, not just any inspector will do. Home inspectors licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission are not qualified to do this work by design. They are not required to know the building codes. They are not required to have any significant construction background. Do not go there.
You can hire an engineer, but not just any engineer. It must be a civil engineer specializing in single-family detached buildings who is also certified in the building codes. I have yet to meet one of these, so good luck.
You need someone who is certified by the International Code Council (ICC), the agency that authors the building codes. That would be an ICC Residential Combination Inspector. These inspectors are certified specialists in residential building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical inspections. Do not settle for less.
If your project is outdoors, such as landscaping, outdoor kitchens, decks, etc., consider a licensed landscape architect and/or a certified professional deck inspector.
3. Once you have the attorney and inspector in place, you’ll need to find a competent contractor. This is the most difficult of the tasks set forth for you. There is no tried-and-true way to vet these creatures. The best that one can do is follow this route as closely as possible.
Use a search engine such as one at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Do not use any of the plethora of Internet search options like Angi, Houzz, Home Advisor, Pro Referral by Home Depot, GildQuality, Thumbtack, BuildZoom, et al., unless you want to either end up hiring or be spammed by low-end handymen for the rest of your natural life.
Some sites may be helpful if you are discerning enough to separate shite from shoe polish, such as Yelp, Ripoffreport.com, Contractorsfromhell.com, Joetheplumber.net, Homeownersforbetterbuilding.com, and others. Other sites like the Better Business Bureau are just a scam.
Reviews on Google and the like are from homeowners who may not even know their remodelers ripped them off. This also applies to your friends, family, coworkers, etc. Laypersons are not the ones to ask about professional contractors. These sorts of reviews might be OK to mull over along with all of the other considerations but are not to be much relied upon.
Your attorney can do a deep dive into any contractors you are considering to ascertain if they have a long rap sheet of litigation, bankruptcies, company name changes, and other unsavory dealings.
Then there is the sweat equity. This is crucial. You will need to be completely immersed and focused on the project throughout. This means meticulously perusing all documents, plans, and materials lists. Take a million photos and videos of the site before, during, and after (assuming you survive until the end).
Ensure that all communications between you, the contractor, and his subcontractors, as well as any municipal inspectors involved, are in writing. Use a digital recorder to capture conversations that cannot be written. Consider placing video cameras on the site when feasible. Keep a detailed timeline of all that occurs. In short, cover your derriere.
Last, there are certain groups of general contractors to be aware of. One, I like to refer to as the Favorite Sons. An example would be a trust fund baby who graduates from SMU, lives in the Park Cities, Preston Hollow, or North Dallas area, utilizes daddy’s contacts, is otherwise unemployable and holds himself out to be a builder or contractor.
The other group consists of the Favorite Sons Wannabes. These will use company addresses located at mail drops in just the right zip codes. They may appear to be in Highland Park Village, Preston Center, etc., when they actually are working from an apartment in Oklahoma or a trailer house in the sticks of East Texas.
To recap: Hire an attorney, hire an inspector, vet your contractor, do your due diligence in that order. If you follow these simple steps, you will likely get through the minefield unscathed and live to enjoy your newly renovated hacienda. Best of luck to you!
And, did I mention, I do this sort of inspection work?
A Few Possibly Helpful Links:
Attorneys (Check these, but ask me for a reference)
https://www.nadra.org/membership/directory/builders#!directory/map (for Decks and Outdoor Construction)
https://support.iccsafe.org/?ht_kb=how-can-i-look-up-certified-professionals (for General Remodeling)