Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Homeowner 101: Do your materials homework before hiring a contractor

Jeff Nilluka

Jeff Nilluka

By Jeff Nilluka

What’s always nice for me in going to a first meeting with someone is a homeowner who has done their homework — looking up the contractors license number with the Contractors State License Board and researching different materials they want to use.

There are so many books, magazines, websites and even friends’ houses full of ideas. Of course it’s not necessary, but definitely makes the meeting more informative because I can explain the pros and cons for different materials. If they want to get rid of a wall or install a French  door I can tell them if it’s possible, check out structural issues and explain the snowball effect: if a door is installed the homeowner might need a step or a light outside to comply with codes.

The materials fun comes into play when homeowners decide to do a bathroom or kitchen remodel. There is granite, tile, flooring, cabinets, faucets, lighting, toilets, sinks and so much more. This is the time homeowners should look through magazines or websites and make copies for the contractor to look at and get an idea of what they like.

For granite, do they like a more uniform look or veiny granite with movement and character? Do they like it more decorative tile or more modest designs. Maybe the homeowner doesn’t want tile at all, preferring a granite backsplash or just sheet rock and paint. Do they want a tile floor or more of a wood grain? Even the sink makes a difference; should it be a circle or square? In a bathroom should it be above the counter? In the  kitchen does the homeowner like the look of a farm (apron) sink?

Lighting is something most homeowners over look but a contractor will ask those daunting questions: How much lighting? Can lights? How many? Any pendants? Do you want a dimmer switch?

Also, homeowners must keep one very important thing in mind: This is their remodel and they can make it look exactly how they want. If they like country cottage and modern, that’s OK; tear those pages out and the contractor will help.

When meeting with contractors homeowners should share their wonderful, champagne ideas with all of them. Don’t get sticker shock after the first contractor submits a bid. So many times homeowners get this first bid and are surprised by the price. Then the homeowner meets the second contractor and then they get a budget. So the first contractor gives a bid for custom cabinets and high-end tile the homeowner wanted, and the second contractor stays in budget because they actually got a budget, maybe installing box store modular cabinets and porcelain tiles.

I don’t recommend showing bids from contractors to their competitors; they will always come in lower and could possible get homeowners later with change orders. Make each contractor do their homework and give a detailed estimate. Give that first contractor a second chance once a budget has been set. Just keep it fair in a playing field that has become so unfair in the past few years.

Jeff Nilluka is a licensed contractor, No. 875781, and the owner of Cambrian Construction in the El Dorado County. He and his wife Jenelle can be reached by their website at or 916-458-1771.


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