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Teddy Roosevelt once said that “the best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants them to do, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” While it would be great to have a government—large or small—to manage the improvement of your home, few homeowners take advantage of current checks and balances that exist with all home projects.

The Executive Branch

President: You, the Homeowner
When most people hire a home improvement contractor, they see themselves as a consumer who deserves to be satisfied at all costs. True, you’re paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for someone to improve your home, but these contractors are skilled laborers, not mind-readers. Moreover, the online contractor referral service, HomeAdvisor.com, gathers feedback from homeowners each and every day, and more often than not, these consumers report that problems with home improvements are more frequently caused by poor decision-making than negligence on the part of the contractor. Plus, hiring good people for your project is the first step and one that lies squarely on your shoulders. Know what you want, but don’t expect miracles.

Vice President: The Spouse
According to The NPD Group, a leading consumer and retail information provider, women are making more and more of the home improvement purchases, representing 44 percent of the DIY projects and 51 percent of projects involving hired contractors. No matter who is the President and who is the Vice President of your home remodel, you need to make sure both parties are well-informed and capable of handling problems and answering questions as they arise.

The Legislative Branch

“Exhaustion and exasperation are frequently the handmaidens of legislative decision.” — Barber B. Conable, Jr., U.S. Congressman

United States Congress: Building Codes and Permits
Many people think the U.S. Congress has nothing to do with local building codes and permits. True, most legislation that relates to remodeling is passed by state governments, but the federal government may be closer than most realize to entering into the local home improvement fray. Several members of Congress wanted to see hazard mitigation building codes enacted with the Homeowners Defense Act of 2007. This bill essentially spreads out homeowners’ insurance for natural disasters across the entire country so homeowners in Florida and in other vulnerable areas can afford premiums for hurricane damage. In order to help protect taxpayers from subsidies, like the $18 billion the National Flood Insurance Program had to borrow from the U.S. Treasury, lawmakers wanted to see better protection against overdevelopment and shoddy construction that might take advantage of masked liability.

Many Americans believe building permits and codes, whether enacted by the federal or state government, are an intrusion into their personal remodeling decisions. Despite the legislative rigmarole—and no government is immune—most building codes are there for a good reason. Securing permits for fences, retaining walls, home additions, and other improvements may just help you identify unintended effects of a project before your neighbor ends up suing you for damage.

The Judicial Branch

“The issue is not only the legal process but the court of public opinion. It is difficult to recover from a process that has laid bare somebody’s character.”?Judith February, Analyst, IDASA

U.S. Supreme and Federal Courts: Lawsuits, Disputes, & Reviews
One of the first rules of hiring a home improvement contractor is to get a clearly written contract of the work to be completed and a payment schedule for this work. You probably don’t need to hire a lawyer for your basic drywall repair or carpet cleaning, but handshakes won’t cut it in court. Don’t be a Jerry Maguire and lose your home just to stand on principle. We all want to trust people, but having a roof over our head that doesn’t leak has to come first. You can’t assume that once you have something in writing, you can successfully sue a contractor if something goes wrong, but without documentation, you have even less recourse.

Your best weapon, as a homeowner, is the court of public opinion. HomeAdvisor.com, Consumerrreports.org, and Consumeraffairs.com are only some of the online sources you have at your disposal. Many states also have their own Consumer Protection Departments. The key is to use these entities to your advantage at the beginning of the project, not as an afterthought once something has gone wrong. Let your contractor know that, along with being a reference for family, friends, and neighbors, you plan on posting a review of the project in many of these sources. Of course, you should also use these reviews to see what other homeowners have said about the contracting candidates. If you can’t take even these basic steps in finding a contractor you can trust, well, then you need to review the role of the executive.

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