5 Steps To Avoid Contractor Scams


By Peter Schick

Finding a contractor who is skilled and able to stay within your budget can be a daunting task.  Determining their availability, checking a contractor’s reputation, and ensuring their legitimacy are all essential steps, especially for large projects.  With the all required work before a project even begins, homeowners can easily overlook critical details that can create serious issues later on.  To prevent yourself from being a victim, follow these simple five steps:

1. Red Flags to Avoid:

If a contractor displays any of these traits, you should immediately disqualify them from working on your project.

  • They want you to pay upfront.
  • They are going door-to-door claiming a “today only” deal or “just happened to be in the area”. With this, they will attempt to create a sense of urgency and get you to impulsively agree for them to do work.  They may even say that if it is not done that your safety maybe in jeopardy.
  • They lack professionalism. If they come in an unlabeled car, no business card, or you just have a “bad vibe” from them.  They may have an out-of-town area code or a PO Box instead of an address.

2. Research Contractors:

This is the most important step. Ask friends, family, and neighbors for recommendations for contractors who are skilled in the work you need done.  Once you have a dozen potential contractors recommended, do research online.  Check their reviews and their standing with the local Better Business Bureau or Better Contractors Bureau.

  • Select the best six potential contractors and call them up and ask for references and examples of past work. Also ask for proof of general liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.  This will help protect you from liability in the event one of the workers gets injured on your property.  Ensure these contractors are also licensed.  Depending on where you live, certain specialties require licensing while others do not.  Check with your county and state licensing authorities to determine if your contractor has required licensing.
  • From these six potential contractors, select the three you are most comfortable with. Ask them to provide you quotes for your proposed project.  At this point, if you have not already, meet the contractor in person.  Trust your gut feeling when you meet them.  If they are unprofessional or make you feel uncomfortable you should consider not hiring them.  Be wary if a quote is unusually low compared to that of the other contractors, they may cut corners that will impact the quality of your project or may overcharge you in later stages of the project.  Select the contractor who you feel is the highest quality for the best price.  Of note: do not pay your contactor anything until after you are done with step 3.

3. Get Everything in Writing:

Once you have selected a contractor that you feel is the highest quality at the best price it is time to hash out the details of your project. Start from big to small.  Determine the project schedule with certain milestones to be met on specific dates.  From this you will be able to determine a payment schedule to your contractor.  Do not pay them their final payment until you are completely satisfied with their work and have received a lien release from his subcontractors and suppliers.  Also discuss what permits will be needed before work begins.  If your contractor is reluctant to get the necessary permits for your project, this is a red flag.  At this point you should determine who is going to buy the supplies necessary for your project.  If you are able to, buy the supplies yourself since many contractors will often up charge you on supplies they buy.  Finally, get whatever warranty they guarantee in writing as well.  Of note: your contractor may ask for an upfront payment/draw.  If this upfront payment/draw is more than 20% of the overall price, this could be a red flag and be indicative of financial issues with the contractor.


4. Monitor Your Project:

Now that you have selected your contractor, agreed to a timeline with milestones and payment schedule, see eye-to-eye on needed permits, understand who is buying supplies, and have the warranty agreed to in writing, it is time to start the project! Ask for periodic updates from your contractor to ensure they are still on schedule.  At times, unforeseen events may impact the price and the completion time of the project.  Take this into account.  Changes in the scope of the project can have a significant impact on the price and schedule too.  Get these changes in writing and record the additional cost of implementing these changes.  Of note: the more changes you make to the project once it has started, the more likely your contractor will not be able to remain within the timeline and budget.  Request receipts from your contractor as they make purchases or pay subcontractors in order to monitor how closely they are staying within budget.

5. Final Inspection and payment:

Once your contractor tells you everything is done, do a physical inspection of EVERYTHING. Point out any deficiencies or issues and have them corrected before you give them final payment.  Ensure that they totally clean up the work site.  Get receipts for all the work that has been done and get a lien release from their subcontractors and suppliers.  Leave a review based on your experience on relevant websites to assist others when they selecting a contractor!  Of note: The most important take away from this step is not to pay your contractor until everything is done to your standard.

Doing your research upfront and communicating effectively with your contractor can prevent many issues.  Your involvement throughout the process and holding your contractor to your standards cannot be ignored.  Best of luck with your future home projects!


Helpful Resources:

Better Contractors Bureau

Better Business Bureau

Consumer Reports

National Association of the Remodeling Industry




Homeowners Insurance: Things To Consider

By Shannon Roxborough

There was a time when buying homeowner’s insurance was simply a matter of letting your broker know how much you paid for your house and then adding a buffer for inflation—or just paying premiums with the amount automatically tacked onto your monthly mortgage payment and placed in an escrow account.

But when it comes to what is likely your single most valuable expenditure, it pays to give more thought to the insurance that protects your investment.

So, what should homeowners keep in mind?


Typical Homeowner’s Insurance: What’s Covered

The standard homeowner’s package policy has two components: property and personal liability coverage. Policies generally cover damage to structures and personal property caused by smoke, fire or lightning, wind (hurricanes and tornadoes) or hail, explosions, riots or civil unrest, vehicles and aircraft, theft or vandalism, falling objects, the weight of snow, ice or sleet and frozen plumbing, heating, air conditioning or other household systems. It also covers if someone is injured by you, your family or your property.


What’s Not Covered

Flood and earthquake damage is excluded from standard policies and must be covered by a separate policy. (Flood policies are backed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, floodsmart.gov.) Damage to your house or garage by falling trees or limbs is covered, but not their removal if no damage is done to any structure. Another, potentially costly, exemption is the ordinance or law exclusion, which means that if you discover when replacing damaged property that current building codes require higher standards than your house has (upgraded plumbing, wiring, etc.), you are responsible for the difference in cost between the old and new.


Loss and Recovery

Although homeowners insurance covers your personal property, including the contents of your home and any personal belongings, coverage is based on the value of your home and there are limits on the losses that can be claimed. Items like cash, antiques, jewelry or furs must covered by supplemental premiums. It’s also important to know that standard policies only cover the actual cash value of items (with a deduction for depreciation). Getting guaranteed full replacement cost coverage typically raises premiums 10 to 15 percent.


Contractor and DIY Renovations

You should consider purchasing additional insurance if you make improvements that increase the value of your home—from a bathroom or kitchen remodel to installing new windows. Also, bear in mind that accidental damage that occurs during rehabs account for large claims on homeowners’ policies, and fires started by contractors and do-it-yourselfers are a common source of claims. Because of this, insurers advise homeowners to make them aware of renovations before starting so they can tell you what to look out for and increase your coverage. Many insurance companies have provisions in policies that they will not cover claims resulting from damage during certain home improvement projects if the homeowner does not notify them about renovations in advance.


The Cost of Security

Owning a home in a gated community will generally save you about 10 percent, while rural homeowners who can prove that the local fire department has access to a lake, stream or other water source can receive as much as a 25 percent discount. On the other hand, having a home in a high-crime area (particularly property crimes) will result in much higher premiums. Having an up-to-date alarm system that detects burglaries and fire will shave about 20 percent off premiums.


Other Things to Consider

Houses with swimming pools are treated as higher risk; those with pools that are not protected by a fence, wall or other barrier with a locking gate will not be covered. Renting out your home can push up premiums by 20 percent over the cost of standard home coverage, insurance industry experts say. That’s because most insurers feel your house is at greater risk because renters tend not to take care of a property as well as owner-occupants. However, some insurers provide discounts if you’re a frequent renter (in the case of professional landlords or owners of vacation homes) because occupied properties are less likely to be burglarized, completely burn down or have a plumbing problem causing major damage. You may also want to consider a policy that covers loss of rental income if your home becomes uninhabitable.


When all is said and done, it pays to take a close look at your current policy for possible ways to reduce your insurance bill and make sure you have enough coverage in the event of the unthinkable.


For more information

Get the free publication, “A Consumer’s Guide to Home Insurance” by Trusted Choice



Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


A Homeowner’s Guide to Preparing Your Home for Winter


By Shannon Roxborough


With Rochester’s seasonal chill starting to creep in, giving your home some routine maintenance is a great way to keep large repairs at bay over the cold-weather seasons.  Here’s a multi-step plan for prepping your house before Old Man Winter comes knocking:

Clean the Gutters

When handling leaf clean-up, don’t forget that many falling leaves get trapped in the gutters Gutter debris can clog the channel and spouts, causing overflow when the autumn rain starts. Use a ladder or cleaning tools that match the height of your gutters (or your accessibility). To avoid having to repeat the cleaning after the foliage drops, take time to trim any low-hanging tree branches near the house.

Lengthen Downspout Kick-Outs

If the bottom of your gutter downspouts are too short, fall and early winter rains can cause water to pool near your home’s foundation. That water can then infiltrate the foundation, finding its way into your basement and wicking up into your walls—attracting insects and causing rot or deterioration. Look for telltale signs like damp basement walls, wet spots on the basement floor or cracks in the foundation after a rain or widening cracks in the foundation. Solution: Attach a flexible downspout extender to direct water a minimum of 10 feet from your home’s foundation.


Prep Outdoor Furniture

Clean your outdoor furniture and allow it to dry in the sun. If you see any rust, cracking or chips on the surface, spray paint pieces with a high-quality outdoor paint for metal, wood or plastic. Buy a storage tarp at your local hardware or home improvement store to cover any furniture that is stored outside over the winter.

Beef Up Insulation

Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.
Additional insulation can significantly cut down on your heating costs.

If the tops of the joists (wood framing that runs across the floor and ceiling of your attic) are visible, you need more insulation.  Add a layer or two of fiberglass batt insulation with a high R-value. If you have existing insulation in place, closed-cell spray foam or blown-in fiberglass or cellulose is the best way to fill any remaining gaps or crevices.

Clean Cooling Appliances

If you have ceiling fans, change their rotation to clockwise to force warm air downward (there is usually a switch on the base to do this), and while you’re up there, dust and wipe down the blades with a damp or tacky cloth. Remove window air-conditioning units, vacuum the coils and filters and store the unit(s) in a cool, dry place, being sure to cover them to keep out dust and bugs.

Check the Furnace

If you haven’t already done so, schedule your annual furnace maintenance call—before it’s time to star using it. Be sure to change air filters and keep an eye out for leaks around the furnace.


Flush the Water Heater

Sediment build-up in the hot water tan can keep your heater from operating at optimum levels. Flush the annually to drain out gunk. Before starting, shut off the heater, let the tank cool, then turn off the water supply. Release the water into a floor drain or bucket until it runs clear.

Look at Your Power Supply

Your home’s electrical system is one of the most overlooked potential hazards, check for loose outlet covers and receptacle boxes. Also be on the lookout for scorch marks around and on the ends of plugs and in the breaker box, telltale signs of dangerous arcing. Plug a lamp or blow dryer into GFCI receptacles and push their test and reset buttons to make sure they turn on and off properly. Finally, install new batteries in all the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Call a Pro

If you’re not comfortable tackling any specific maintenance or repair job, get professional help. A qualified home inspector can tell you exactly what’s going on and a competent contractor can address any issues.


Other Tasks to Perform:



  • Inspect the roof and chimney for cracks and damage.
  • Close or install storm windows.
  • Remove hoses from spigots and drain and store them indoors
  • Test the snow blower and have it professionally serviced (if necessary)



  • Check windows and doors for weather-tightness and install weather stripping where needed.
  • Set traps or call in an exterminator for any problems with rodents and other critters
  • Dust blind and vacuum upholstery and curtains throughout your home
  • Clean kitchen and bathroom cabinets and throw out expired food, medicine and cosmetics


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.



The Top Ten Things That Every New Home Needs

new home

by Donna De Palma


If you’ve just purchased a new home, you probably have a checklist of “must haves” to complete prior to moving day.   This top ten list of what every homeowner needs, is a great place to start.


1. Window treatments

Cover your windows.  We all want to let the sunshine in, however, window treatments are essential to a comfortable, stylish home.  Choose versatile treatments that allow plenty of natural light in during the day and privacy when the sun goes down. Whether you choose blinds, curtains, Roman shades, shutters or valances, bring color and pattern into your room by selecting window coverings that set the tone for your room’s decor.  When hanging custom shades, choose a fabric that complements or matches your sofa and chairs in a living room or great room.   Luxurious fabrics like linen or silk make a dramatic statement when floor length curtains are your choice.  The extra length lets curtains puddle slightly on the floor.  Valances can add an additional decorative element to a room.  Layer curtains with sheers underneath in a fresh-colored fabric to create more options for light control.  Have fun with your window treatments.  The right window treatment can turn any window into a stunning focal point in a room or the perfect backdrop for fine furnishings.

new home article

2. Create a place to relax  

Every home needs a special spot to unwind; a serene space to retreat to at the end of your day.  Whether it’s a sunroom, man cave or just a cozy corner where you can enjoy a good read, we all need a place to put our feet up and forget the worries of the day.  Place a comfortable chair near a reading lamp. Don’t forget an end table to put your cup of coffee on.  Groupings of furniture should be cozy and functional.

A bathroom that’s designed like a spa is a prefect place to indulge yourself.  Try a soaking tub in a room that features a soft color palette, dimmers and plush fabrics for a fabulous end to a stressful day.  Choose a room in your new home that will be your well-deserved retreat.


3. Have a color scheme

Integrate the spaces in your home by selecting a color palette that carries throughout.  Choose a palette of neutral tones in subtly-varied hues to create continuity in an open floor plan.  Or select contrasting colors of the same tone to designate different functions for different spaces.  Colors you can live with that work well with your furnishings are key to a comfortable home that you’ll want to spend lots of time in.

Experiment with accent colors. A little bit of bold color goes a long way if you want to add drama to your color scheme.  Remember colors look differently when next to other colors.  They also appear differently when they are in different light so bring samples of your color choices to your new home before committing to a color palette.


4. A place to lay your head  

There is nothing more important in your home than the mattress you sleep on each night.  Your mattress is a great place to splurge on comfort.  Trying out a mattress is essential to a good fit.  Bigger is usually better especially if you’re sharing your mattress with someone you love.  Pillows matter.  And so do sheets, blankets and bed coverings.  Think comfort first, then style.  And don’t forget luxury.  If you want crisp sheets, try Percale.  For a softer feel, Egyptian, pima and supima cottons reign supreme.  Cotton is soft, durable and breathes well.  Thread count matters but highest isn’t always best. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet and the more likely it will wear well.  A good choice is a sheet that ranges between a 200 and 800 thread count.

Mix fabrics, textures and pattern to match your style.  When choosing a comforter, coverlet or duvet, touch the fabric to see if it’s something that will be comfortable to lie on.  Pillows come in all shapes and sizes from boudoir to bolster.  Mix them up to add interest.


5. Storage. Storage. Storage

There’s one thing none of us can get enough of and that’s storage. Clutter doesn’t improve the style in any room.  Find containers, baskets, shelves and storage units that take clutter out of sight.  Baskets make interesting accessories to hide excess stuff.  Storage units come in many forms.  Be creative.  Stow away personal items in containers that are easy to access.

Whether it’s bright colors and punchy fabrics or pretty weaves and rustic textures, containers can add style to your space.  Just remember one simple rule.  If your storage units are out of sight, make them strictly functional but if they’re on display, they need to integrate well with the overall design of the room.


6. A Personal Touch  

Your home should be a reflection of who you are.  Create a collection of your favorite things from your family, your travel, or your childhood.   Display your collection on shelves or a wall dedicated to memorabilia.  Find accessories that showcase your personality.  If you love the ocean, search for themes that reflect your love of the water.  If you have a unique vintage collection, group items in a place where they can enjoy center stage.      


7. Remember artwork  

No one wants to live in a furniture showroom.  Artwork adds a personal touch to your home.  Finding artwork you can live with takes time and effort. Hang items on your walls that you will love for years.  Consider subject matter, color palette and style. Your artwork doesn’t have to be pricey, just something you adore.

Rotate artwork on your walls.  A wall of art on a wall going upstairs makes a perfect gallery space.  Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in small ways with your choices of wall art.

Consider scale.  Artwork shouldn’t disappear on a wall or compete with another center of interest in a room.  Like any accessory, artwork needs to relate to nearby furnishings, wall colors and finishes.


8. Bring the green indoors

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, plants bring life into your home.  There are houseplants that need very little care to thrive.  Plants improve the air quality in your new home and they make a house feel like a home.  Vary the height and variety of plants. Try grouping plants near windows. Taller plants such as a Palm or Ficus, Rubber Tree or even a Norfolk Pine in front of a window add drama to your room.  More exotics like Ponytail Palm and Saguaro Cactus are also an option for a sunny corner of your home.

Some low maintenance varieties of house plant with lush green foliage are Philodendron, English Ivy, Arrowhead Vine, Boston Fern and Jade plants.


9. Create an outdoor space

Expand the possibilities for outdoor living with a deck, patio, outdoor grill or fireplace —even a full outdoor kitchen.  Discovering the joy of outdoor living adds a new dimension to your new home.

Consult an expert when planning outdoor space.  Consider a location for your patio or deck by deciding what function it’s going to fulfill and at what time of day it will get the most use.

If you plan on using your outdoor space for entertaining, position it near an exterior door that’s close to your kitchen. If it faces west and you plan to entertain in the evening, you’ll need a shade structure like a gazebo, pergola or canopy.

Think function to maximize use of your outdoor space. Planting shade trees nearby will block direct sunlight and extend its use.   If your patio will be adjacent to a pool and serve as a daytime escape, remember, it will heat up, so lighter colored materials are best. Dark colors absorb sunlight and will get too hot. If your stone, tile or cement is too light, it can be blinding and far too reflective for our eyes.  Following a few practical guidelines will make outdoor living a feature of your new home you can’t live without.


10. Consider safety for your new home

Fire happens unexpectedly—even in a new home.  Be prepared for kitchen fires with a fire blanket stored conveniently by your stove.  Fire extinguishers are a must in all homes.   Make sure your smoke detectors are functioning effectively and are the best type for your home.  Have an emergency plan in place for family members; a place where your entire family can meet if your home needs to be evacuated.


Finally, to make your new home more than just a place to live but a place for you and your family to thrive, be a good neighbor.  These top ten tips can ensure that your new home will be a safe, comfortable place that everyone can enjoy.




The nest




Meet DIY Home Improvement Blogger Emily Fazio of Merrypad


By Shannon Roxborough

Call her the DIY maven. Best known for her how-to transformations on the DIY Network blog Made + Remade and collaborations with the likes of Black & Decker, Sherwin-Williams and Delta Faucet, Rochester-based blogger Emily Fazio has helped fuel the do-it-yourself movement by giving everyday people the creative inspiration, can-do confidence and practical know-how to tackle home improvement projects. Here, the creative force behind Merrypad (translation: “Happy Home”), the popular D.I.Y. blog with a broad national following, shares some insights in a quick e-mail interview.

Q. Can you give a bit of background into how you became a DIY home improvement enthusiast?

 A. I grew up with parents who loved their home and gardening. Watching them learn how to get things done was inspiring, and we also spent a lot of time doing projects as a family—painting fences, weeding, gutting bathrooms, redecorating, digging ponds with shovels, all of that. Their property is one I admire for many reasons, most of all because they customized so much of it themselves and we have a lot of memories baked into those experiences.

Q. What do you feel are the easiest DIY projects the average homeowner can tackle?

A.  In my first home, I replaced all of the dingy plastic faceplates on switches and outlets with brand new ones; that offered a huge impact, and can be done inexpensively in just an afternoon. Painting walls and doors are easy ways to update your home too, just indulge in some brand new brushes and rollers. If you’re a little more adventurous, updating floors is something that anyone can do with enough patience—remove that bad carpeting, refinish those hardwood floors or install tiles.

Q. Do you have any advice for people considering doing a project themselves instead of hiring a contractor?

A. Know local codes, and read up on the topic in advance to know what you’re getting into. Planning ahead can help you to troubleshoot various scenarios. And by creating an achievable timeline for yourself, you can help avoid seeing your weekend project turn into a month-long project.

Q. Can you share one of your simple but gratifying DIY how-to secrets?

 A. I don’t know if it’s so much a secret, but it’s OK to not do something yourself. I tell people that my joy in doing DIY projects usually stems from the fact that I’m enjoying the task at hand, and I can find some rhythm or Zen in the process, but there isn’t always that Zen, and sometimes you have to evaluate what’s realistic. Scraping and painting window trim? Lots of people will hire out for that, but my home is a ranch (reachable windows), and I find it relaxing and calming to do that maintenance. Mowing the lawn? I love it because my mower is easy to use, but others hate that chore and spend a lot to have others take care of it for them. That said, when you see something that needs to be done in your home, research the DIY options first. You might realize that home maintenance can be easier than it seems.


For a steady stream of DIY information, tips and advice, read Emily’s blog, Merrypad, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


Free Apps to Help Around the Home and Garden


By Shannon Roxborough


In an era when there is a smartphone app to make almost anything easier, home- and garden-focused mobile apps take home life and DIY projects to a whole new level. Whether it’s selecting paint colors for the walls or planting the ultimate kitchen garden, this line-up of apps have you covered. So download, log in, and get busy!

Home Depot’s app (for Apple and Android) features a useful calculator that allows you to plug in room dimensions then tells you the amount of paint or drywall and related materials you’ll need. The app’s Toolbox section includes, among other tools, a “Nut and Bolt Finder,” which determines the exact dimensions of fasteners then saves the information for your next trip to the store. The app also has a video section with a few useful tutorials. 

Lowe’s iTunes and Android apps may lack the tools found in Home Depot’s, but it more than makes up for it with a much broader slate of how-to videos that give step-by-step instruction on various DIY projects—from installing hardwood floors to deadbolt locks. And, like its competitor’s app, it also allows you to browse their product offerings, see what’s in stock at your local store, order and pick up purchases or have them delivered to you.

WikiHow (Android, iOS) has a library of thousands of how-to guides with illustrations and videos ranging from DIY and craft projects to quick repairs and life hacks (even a few good recipes).

SnapGuide is a visually-appealing iOS app featuring DIY info on numerous home and garden projects and repairswith detailed instructions and full-page photo guides.

Benjamin Moore’s Color Capture application (for iPhone and Android devices) puts finding the right paint shade a few clicks away. Simply take a photo of your favorite hue (or upload one to your mobile device) and the app will match the colors in the photograph to just the right paint chip (in the corresponding Benjamin Moore color code). It also offers the option of using a retailer locator to find the store nearest you that carries it. Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap Visualizer app takes things a step further, helping you to zero in on a palette if complementary shades for trim and moldings.

Diagnosing paint problems can be daunting. (There are many reasons why old paint jobs crack, fade or chip.) The PaintRemedy app can help you identify the cause of the problem before you tackle your next paint job. The app allows you to scroll through dozens of photos of common paint issues to pinpoint the cause, then read about solutions to help you solve the problem.

Anyone who tackled a home remodel or yard overhaul knows that staying organized through the project is half the battle. Evernote (for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry) keeps your digital scrapbook of photos, videos and websites in one place, allowing you to easily search through them, thanks to text-recognition software that can hone in on words you’ve typed as well as text that appears in saved photos.

Looking for the perfect sofa or dining set? The cPro Craigslist Mobile iPhone app puts the online classified site’s complete listing of goods and services right at your fingertips in enhanced, mobile-friendly fashion.

Want a quick floor plan without using a complicated AutoCAD program, MagicPlan (on iTunes and Google Play) lets you take a few photographs of any room and automatically draws an accurate floor plan of it (and the “export” function creates properly formatted files for home or commercial use).


Bubble, with various iterations available for Android and iPhone, turns your phone into a handy level or plumb bob, making everything from picture hanging to determining angles a breeze.


Urban Farming Assistant Starter apps for iTunes and Android provide information on growing an array of vegetables and offer organic solutions to garden pests, plant diseases and other garden-related problems.


Garden Plants Growing Guide in an Android app offers useful care information and photos on 75 of the most popular garden vegetables, flowers and herbs.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


Home Improvement Projects with the Biggest Payoff


By Shannon Roxborough


Conventional wisdom states that upgrades and renovations increase the value of a home. But the reality is that all home improvement projects aren’t created equal—some pay off better than others.  Before planning your major projects or giving your contractor the go-ahead on that pricey home makeover, consider thinking small instead of big.  Why? The fact is you can’t always count on recouping your investment, especially if you decide to splurge on an upscale kitchen with custom cabinets and high-end appliances or a spa-like bath with luxury finishes.


According to Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, an annual national survey comparing the price and resale value of rehab projects, the more you spend on a project, the more you are likely to lose. Spare-no-expense kitchen projects, in particular, only returned as little as 69 percent of the total amount spent on them.  Surprisingly, the survey found that simpler, lower-cost projects netted the biggest paybacks: upgrading to a steel entry door recouped almost 102 percent of its cost; replacing wood, vinyl or composite siding with stone veneer paid back 92 percent; and minor kitchen remodels that included cabinet refacing, laminate countertops and new appliances provided a 79 percent return on investment.


The National Association of Realtors says small and exterior-focused home projects are a better value than pricey, more ambitious renovation projects. And the Appraisal Institute, a professional organization of real estate appraisers, believes homeowners should “choose upgrades instead of major remodeling projects to see the greatest potential return on investment.”


That said, here are eight small to mid-range projects that could pay for themselves—and then some—even if you’re not planning to sell anytime soon.


Do Some Painting Projects

Paint offers dramatic results with little investment, especially if you do it yourself instead of hiring a professional.

Courtesy of Sitka Project.
Courtesy of Sitka Project.


Consider a Kitchen Update

Small changes in the kitchen not have a large impact, they offer the biggest bang for your buck. Think resurfacing kitchen cabinets or replacing olod hardware. Installing a new sink, faucet, appliances and quality but not over-the-top expensive countertops (natural stone counters like granite have dominated the market for a while, but cheaper, durable materials like laminate are making a comeback) can make the entire space feel brand new.


Upgrade the bathroom

New counters, vanities and fixtures (faucets, sinks and toilet), along with updated wall tile and flooring always provide solid returns.


Redo Your Landscape 

When it comes to curb appeal, the front of your house is the first thing people see, so it only makes sense to give some attention to your landscaping. A well-maintained lawn and flowers, shrubs and trees all make a property attractive to potential home buyers down the road.


Build a Deck

More than a place to soak up the sun and have cookouts, decks provide a smooth transition from indoors to out that is appealing to homeowners, guests and future buyers.


Tend to the Basement

For many people, there’s no bigger turn-off than the dreaded damp-basement smell, so a clean, dry underground space can pay dividends. If your basement is prone to moisture, consider using a dehumidifier. If there are leaks or flooding, call in a pro. If you decide to finish your basement with insulation, drywall, laminate flooring or a bathroom, make sure the quality is on par with your upstairs living space.


Replace your garage door

Give your garage a makeover with a door replacement generally pays for itself while making your home more attractive and secure. Even a fresh coat of paint on the doors and entire structure can work wonders.


Replace Your Siding

Vinyl and fiber-cement siding are almost maintenance-free options that improve both the look and energy-efficiency of your home while providing a solid return over time.


The Top 10 Home Improvement Projects with Long-Term ROI

Projects Long-Term ROI
Entry door replacement (steel) 98.0%
Siding replacement (fiber-cement) 83.9%
Minor kitchen remodel (midrange) 81.8%
Siding replacement (vinyl – midrange) 81.5%
Garage door replacement (midrange) 80.7%
Deck addition (wood) 80.6%
Siding replacement (foam-backed vinyl) 79.5%
Attic bedroom remodel 79.3%
Window replacement (vinyl – midrange) 78.6%
Bathroom remodel (midrange) 77.1%

Source: Remodeling Magazine 2015 Cost vs. Value Report


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


How to Choose the Right Home Improvement Contractor


By Shannon Roxborough


With so many contractors of every stripe out there—the good, the bad and the ugly—finding a competent contractor for your home improvement or repair project can be a hit-or-miss proposition. Here are some guidelines and advice to help you make the right choice.


Get “In the Know” About Contractors

Among the best ways to prepare yourself for finding your ideal contractor is to inform and educate yourself, starting with home improvement terminology. Learning how to talk the talk by mastering industry jargon will help you understand contractor speak, which can be incomprehensible gobbledygook to the uninitiated. Then, learn everything you can about what’s involved with the type of project you’re interested in. Doing so can save you valuable time and money in the long term.


Ask for Recommendations

One of the best places to start is close to home. So, ask for referrals from family and friends who have had positive experiences with their contractors. Another good starting point is the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a non-profit national trade association. Visit the NARI website for a list of members in your area. Though often officially prohibited from making referrals, ask a building inspector which contractors routinely meet code requirements for the type of work you need. It’s also a good idea to inquire about tradesmen with good reputations at your local Big Box store, hardware or lumberyard. And, last but not least, pick the brain of another home improvement pro. Good contractors in one field likely have professional contacts with other specialties.


Tap Professional Resources

John Hoagland, the owner of Trinity Home Renovations, a Rochester, N.Y.-based contractor with more than 25 years’ experience with a range of home remodeling projects, suggests steering clear of contractors not registered with the Better Business Bureau. Hoagland, who takes pride in his reputation for honesty and quality work, also urges homeowners to ensure that contractors have adequate insurance for all employees and subcontractors and be able to produce a copy of their insurance certificate for verification. And, Hoagland says in states where licenses are required, it’s a good idea to confirm their licensing status with the state government, which can usually be done online.


Conduct Phone Interviews

After you’ve put together a list of good prospects, quickly narrow the pool by calling each contractor and asking them the following questions:


  • Do you take on projects of the size and scope that I need?
  • Can you provide a list of previous clients I can contact for references?
  • Are you able to put me in touch with your suppliers or bank so I can determine your financial standing?
  • Will you handle the job personally or use subcontractors. If the latter, how long have you worked with your subs?
  • How many other projects would you be doing at the same time as mine?


After the interviews, evaluate the contractors’ responses to determine the best candidates and move on to the next phase of the decision-making process.


Schedule a “Free” Estimate

Narrow it down to three or four contractors for face-to-face meetings to discuss details of the project and costs. Contractors should be able to adequately answer all of your questions about any aspect of the job. Get a written estimate and trust your instincts.


Don’t Rely Solely on Cost

It may sound counter-intuitive, but pass on unusually low bids. All too often, lowball estimates mean a less competent contractor, someone who cuts corners or a person who is desperate for work. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Do Your Homework

Once you settle on the contractor you’re most comfortable with, get in touch with former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. If at all possible, go a step further and visit a current job site to get a first-hand look at the contractor in action. Take note of contractor-client interaction, the condition of the job site and overall professionalism. Check with the state consumer protection agency and the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau for a history of complaints or disputes.


Sign on the Dotted Line

Put the project in writing in the form of a contract that spells all the specifics of the project: payment terms, start date and proposed timeline, work to be performed and a detailed material list. Also, require the contractor to obtain lien releases from all suppliers and subcontractors, which protects you if they don’t pay their bills.


Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


An attic conversion adds value and style to your home

By Donna De Palma

If exposed beams, roof lines and skylights excite you, an attic conversion may be the ticket to expanding your living space while adding value.  Though attic conversions require some planning, the increased value of a finished loft is well worth the effort.


The top floor of your home can be converted into a spectacular master suite that becomes a private getaway for just the two of you, a quiet home office, or decked-out media room.


Consider adding a dormer window to increase natural light and air circulation.  Dormers create space for built-ins and storage and can add height to a cramped space.  Envision your new loft space with skylights for an airy, open feel.  Skylights bring in more natural light and a view. Or create a gabled ceiling below the roof to draw attention away from the structure above.


Every attic is unique, but a few established practices can guide you to a more useable space.


Whether your house is suitable for an attic conversion depends on a number of factors including your home’s layout, available attic space, roof pitch and type of construction.


Enforcement varies but a ‘Rule of 7’s’ applies to attic conversions.  Codes say that at least half of a finished attic must be 7 ft. high and that this area must be a minimum of 7 ft. wide and at least 70 sq. ft.  A contractor can help you assess how regulations apply to your attic and which modifications are required to bring the space up to standard.


Hire an engineer to inspect your home’s foundation and framing to ensure that it can handle the extra load a finished attic will create.  You may need to strengthen your attic’s floor joists, which can be too shallow or spaced too far apart to handle more load.  Rafters also will need to support drywall, lighting, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC components.

A careful review of your floor plan will help determine the best place to build stairs.  Staircases with straight runs are easiest to construct but take up a lot of area.  If your building a staircase from scratch you may want to try a switchback layout.  It needs a little more room than a straight run but the footprint is square rather than linear, so it will fit in spaces where a straight staircase can’t go.  Make sure your landing is large enough to bring furniture upstairs.  For an attic bedroom you’ll need a staircase that meets code.


Here are a few tips to consider when envisioning the possibilities for your new space.  Plumbing fixtures are available that allow you to build a bathroom almost anywhere in your new room.  Remember, an attic bedroom requires both a window and a staircase to the level below.  For added storage, a closet conversion into a staircase area is a good choice. You might be able to use the space under a new staircase for storage too.


Have fun with finishes for walls and ceilings.  Beadboard panels—in a tongue and groove design—are easy to install, add interest and protect a low ceiling from dings and dents.  V-groove wood paneling is another option.  When unfinished or stained, wood paneling makes an attic with a low ceiling feel cozy.  Vary the look by using boards of different widths. Whitewashing walls and ceilings then adding paneling gives your room a clean, chic, New England feel.


Choose fitted pieces that can work with the geometry of your space for maximum effect. Use the slope of your attic roof to your advantage.  Select fixtures and products designed to complement sloping ceilings and uniquely-shaped rooms.


Challenge yourself to come up with space-saving placements to use every inch of space.  Furniture placed centrally, in front of a window, under the highest point of the eaves, creates an elegant, symmetrical look.


With a little ingenuity and some space planning, an attic conversion is a quick and easy way to add a unique and cozy room to your home.  Remember, your home already has a foundation and a roof.  So finishing an attic can be just a fraction of the cost of an addition or new construction.


If you’re lucky enough to have an attic that’s still untouched, it’s time to make better use of it. Converting loft space can not only provide much needed extra space, but when your project is done well, can provide real financial rewards when it’s time to sell your property.


Follow these simple guidelines to transform your attic from empty space to a charming, chic retreat.


Sidebar:  Converting an attic to a bedroom, bath, media room or office can return more than 77% of your investment.  That’s according to Remodeling magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report.”




This Old House

Right Move

Remodeling Magazine

Dani Polidor of Suite Artistry brings a kitchen to life

by Donna De Palma


Environmental designer, Dani Polidor, owner of Suite Artistry, an interior design firm with offices at Barn Bazaar in Pittsford, prides herself on coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to her clients design needs.

Whether it’s a fire engine red, custom-designed, U-shaped bar like the one in Dani’s office or an artfully-inspired accent wall of lime green cabinets, Polidor’s design statements are tastefully integrated into clean, sophisticated design.

Her European roots shows in the materials, appliances and fixtures she sources.  Born in Germany, growing up in Toronto and here in Pittsford, NY, since 2006, she brings an eclectic sensibility to her unique design skills.

A kitchen redesign she took on recently in one example of the rare yet thoroughly modern materials she selects.  “I sourced pear wood, smoked oak and bird’s eye maple from Aurora, NY, for a contemporary kitchen remodel for active empty nesters in Pittsford who love to entertain in their kitchen,” Polidor says.

Photo Courtesy of Don Cochran
Photo Courtesy of Don Cochran

“A rosewood granite countertop was used for a two-tier 3’ X 10’ island with a sunken 6” X 60” Kohler trough sink.  Just behind the island, a second island of black granite called Blue Butterfly—it features tiny blue dots— adds more work space and another area of interest,” she says.

Polidor selected a two-tier island to conceal glasses and empty bottles when entertaining.  “I’m always thinking about functionality when I’m planning a space,” she says.

Polidor and her team knocked out a wall between the kitchen and dining room to reconfigure the space and concealed a post in the pantry to create the open feel in this upscale redesign.

A travertine porcelain tile floor—24” X 24” tiles installed at a 45 degree angle—gives the space a clean feel.  Warm tones of wood and granite throughout are finished with modern accents: a glass top table, industrial blue dining chairs and contemporary Italian bar stools with formed oak seat and square chrome base.

Polidor installed a sliding glass door to replace a window enhancing natural light in the room.  Elongated LED pendant lights over the island, hidden speakers and a SONOS home automation system were added.

She also remodeled the couple’s powder room and laundry room just off the kitchen to complete her redesign.  The powder room features an oversize pedestal sink and crystal light fixtures for added bling.

Suite Artistry provides custom cabinetry and millwork and is a supplier of Miele appliances.  From dining furniture to custom closets and soft lighting, Polidor helps her clients discover the right combination of style, material and color.

She says, “The rooms in your home should reflect who you are. If you’re looking for fine interiors, or space planning, and want the feel of a boutique interior design studio, I’m here to help.”

“My clients want a home that works but they don’t want to compromise on style.  I say, ‘We can do both.’  It’s about finding creative solutions to space planning, then integrating design that’s functional and timeless.”


Visit her website at www.suiteartistry.com or contact Dani at [email protected]