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This week, I had the opportunity to show a million dollar house. I realized when I pulled in the drive that this was a house I had sown before. Over a year before. It was still on the market!
As I pulled up the drive, the first impression of the house was a good one. The landscaping was well kept, professionally installed, and complementary to the house. The facade was clean, the roof unstreaked by the dark lines that sometimes happen when algae is allowed to grow there.
A quick walk around the outside however, gave me pause. Behind the foundation plantings was a rat trap, the kind you often see outside a restaurant by the dumpster. The deck was bad ly in need of refinishing, with worn boards and railings that threatened splinters. It was solid enough, just not very attractive.
The pool though, was clean and inviting enough that I actually thought of grabbing the swim suit I had in the back of the car and diving in, just once. (I didn’t do it, but I was tempted!) The slightly more distant tennis/basketball court appeared to be in good condition.
Although the power lines were a little too close for the comfort of one who might be wary of such things, they were hidden behind trees and not so close that any buzzing or popping would be a problem.
The inside was, at first glance, stunning. Rooms were not so large as to be overwhelming, but not so small that one felt cramped. There was a good flow between living room and library, with a very nice powder room to one side that was panelled to blend with the deep cherry of the bookshelves. French doors led to the large deck, or with a slight turn, a well lit passage led to the recessed family room. That space blended into the breakfast room, kitchen and sunroom, with an opening to the formal dining room and back to the front hall.
Corian countertops could have presented better as granite, but were still attractive, and two ovens plus a built in microwave and large gas cooktop were near the double sink. A laundry room with new washer and dryer and a door leading to the spacious two car garage were off a hallway that led to a side entrance.
The sunroom in the back had both skylights and ceiling fans, a mini fridge, and a compartment for a keg, complete with a bar-style spout. Unfortunately, when I opened the door to the space that could contain a keg, the inside was filthy. French doors led to the tattered deck, but by then I was starting to feel embarrassed. This was supposed to be an exclusive residence, but it wasn’t as clean as my last $400,000 listing!
Turning into the dining room, I kicked aside a dead roach on the hardwood floor. The center of the room had a clear impression of a former rug. The rest of the floor was sun faded. A similar mark remained in the family room, where the outline of the former Oriental rug was clearly visible.
Scratches in the hardwood floors could have been buffed out, and the wall in the family room had a large splotch of darker paint where someone had painted around an entertainment center. With the entertainment center gone, the ghost of old paint remained.
Carpet on the basement stairs was filthy, and although the two bedrooms and baths and the game room in the basement were very nice, the silver rat traps in the storage room were a definite turn-off.
Upstairs, there were four bedrooms, each with their own spotless bath. All were comfortably sized, with a particularly nice master suite. A back staircase led back to the kitchen, perfect for a discreet entrance from the garage or by a late night teenager hoping to pass the master suite unnoticed.
One of the bedrooms was painted a deep green except for the large splotch of blue where some large piece of furniture had once again been painted around. The furniture was gone, but the blue splotch remained.
Add to this random burned out bulbs and some dusty glass light fixtures, and the house just refused to shine as it should have. It reflected badly on the listing agent, who is known for listing expensive houses, and should have known about all these little things that added up to one big disappointment.
Now I will admit that I have not had the privilege of listing a house this large, but those I do list are always spotless. If necessary, I will go in with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels and clean the windows myself. I am not above scrubbing the toilets before an open house, just to be sure there is no water ring and the bathrooms smell fresh, and I certainly have no problem with keeping a broom and dustpan in a closet somewhere so I can sweep bits of leaves, dirt or dead bugs out of the way before someone comes to look.
Now I may be assuming a lot here, but I figure that if someone can afford to live in a million dollar house, they should be able to afford light bulbs and a car pet cleaning service that actually gets the carpets clean. If there are stains, I would certainly at least make a strong suggestion that carpets be replaced or floors refinished.
Light bulbs are not expensive and an attentive agent would have made sure that details like burned out bulbs were fixed, smoke detector batteries replaced to avoid beeping, and rat traps were at least discreetly hidden in the basement. Why were they needed anyway? I find it hard to believe that there were so many rats in the area that the homeowners needed all those traps. The one outside, okay, but in the basement of an empty house?
It is my personal opinion that if an agent is going to list a million dollar house, that agent should make sure that the house looks like a million dollars! Rooms with paint “ghosts” should be repainted, splintery decks should be refinished, and if the agent isn’t willing to check the house herself, a weekly cleaning service should be employed to make sure that windows are clean, floors swept, and foil is removed from the bottom of the ovens.
Want to know what makes a house worth more? It isn’t having an agent who sticks a sign in the yard and pays for expensive brochures, but one who is honest enough to tell the owners what needs to be fixed ans actually shows up on a regular basis to make sure everything looks like a million dollars, even if it’s only a $400,000 house!

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By: Jan Soults Walker

Published: January 3, 2012

Want to reface your kitchen cabinets? Smart decision. It’s more cost-effective and takes less time than a full remodel. Here are options and costs.

Kitchen cabinet refacing pros

  • It’s about half the cost of a total cabinet replacement. You’ll also save the time, cost, and hassle of tearing out your old cabinets.
  • It’s a green kitchen remodeling solution because old cabinets stay out of the landfill.
  • You can continue to use your kitchen during refacing.
  • You’ll give your kitchen a new look in a week or less.

Kitchen cabinet refacing cons

  • Pricey options, such as expensive replacement hardware and exotic veneers, can drive up the cost of refacing and reduce savings.
  • Refacing materials can’t fix an inefficient layout.

What are your refacing options?
Your choices for the finished look of your cabinets is virtually limitless. Veneers are available in a wide variety of colors, patterns, textures, grains, and more, which you can mix or match to get a relatively low-cost kitchen facelift.

  • Rigid thermofoil (RTF) doors, which feature a durable plastic coating over fiberboard, are an affordable alternative to wood or laminate doors.
  • Plastic laminates come in hundreds of colors and patterns, are durable and moisture-resistant, and are reasonably priced. You can pick matching or contrasting laminates for your doors and drawer fronts.
  • Real wood veneers include many standard species, such as oak, cherry, and maple, and you also can choose from an array of stain colors. Wood veneers are the most expensive option. Wood must be carefully sealed to protect against moisture.

Further customize and update the look of your cabinets with new kitchen cabinet hardware.
What does refacing cost?
A professional cabinet refacing for a typical 10-by-12-foot kitchen starts at around $1,000 to $3,000 for laminate. Expect to pay $2,500 to $6,000 for real wood veneer. Costs can rise to $7,000 to $9,000 or more for a large project with high-quality wood veneer.
Finishing the project with new hardware (pulls, knobs, hinges) runs $2 to $4 per piece, up to $20 to $50 each for high-end hardware.
In comparison, completely replacing old kitchen cabinets with new cabinets starts at $4,000 to $5,000 and up for stock cabinets; $8,000 to $10,000 for semi-custom cabinets; $16,000 to $20,000 and up for custom-made cabinetry.
Can my cabinets be refaced?
Refacing is feasible if your existing cabinet boxes are structurally sound and in good condition. Cabinets with water damage, warping, and broken frames are poor candidates. Particleboard cabinetry sometimes requires fasteners, in addition to adhesives, to ensure that the veneer is secure.
What’s involved
A professional installer will come to your house to measure your cabinets and determine the amount of veneer required, the correct sizes and quantities for door and drawer fronts, and how much hardware is needed. Newly ordered doors and drawer fronts may take 1 to 2 weeks for delivery.
When all the materials are in hand, your installer removes old cabinet door and drawer fronts, and prepares the surface of the cabinet boxes by washing the exteriors with a degreaser and lightly sanding the finish. Any significant flaws in the surface are repaired or filled to ensure a smooth, secure fit for the new veneer.
The installer applies veneer to the cabinet faces and any exposed cabinet ends, then mounts the new doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. The process typically takes 2 to 4 days.
Can I do kitchen cabinet refacing myself?
Detailed instructions and adhesive-backed veneers make cabinet refacing a feasible do-it-yourself project.

If you have extra time, patience, the necessary veneering tools, and a knack for precision, you can save money by tackling kitchen cabinet refacing on your own.
If you opt to do your own kitchen cabinet refacing, you’ll spend about $200 to $500 on average for materials. Specialized tools (rollers, blades, irons) add $5 to $60 to the cost.

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By: Gretchen Roberts

Published: January 19, 2012

Can’t afford an entire kitchen remodel in one fell swoop? You can complete the work in 5 budget-saving stages (and still cook dinner during the down time).

Stage one: Start with a complete design plan
Your plan should be comprehensive and detailed — everything from the location of the refrigerator to which direction the cabinet doors will open to whether you need a spice drawer.
To save time (and money) during tear-out and construction, plan on using your existing walls and kitchen configuration. That’ll keep plumbing and electrical systems mostly intact, and you won’t have the added expense — and mess — of tearing out walls.
Joseph Feinberg, vice president of Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recommends hiring a professional designer, such as an architect or a certified kitchen designer, who can make sure the details of your plans are complete. You’ll pay about 10% of the total project for a pro designer, but you’ll save a whole bunch of headaches that would likely cost as much — or more — to fix. Plus, a pro is likely to offer smart solutions you hadn’t thought of.
For a nominal fee, you also can get design help from a major home improvement store. However, you’ll be expected to purchase some of your cabinets and appliances from that store.

  • Cost: professional designer: $5,800 (10% of total)
  • Key strategies: Once your plans are set, you can hold onto them until you’re ready to remodel.
  • Time frame: 3-6 months

Stage two: Order the cabinets, appliances, and lighting fixtures

Cabinets  and appliances are the biggest investments in your kitchen remodeling  project. If you’re remodeling in stages, you can order them any time  after the plans are complete and store them in a garage (away from  moisture) or in a spare room until you’re ready to pull the trigger on  the installation.

Remember that it may take 4-6 weeks from the day you order them for your cabinets to be delivered.
If  you can’t afford all new appliances, keep your old ones for now — but  plan to buy either the same sizes, or choose larger sizes and design  your cabinets around those larger measurements. You can replace  appliances as budget permits later on.
The same goes for your lighting fixtures: If you can live with your old ones for now, you’ll save money by reusing them.
You’ll  have to decide about flooring, too — one of the trickier decisions to  make because it also affects how and when you install cabinets.
You’ll  need to know if your old flooring runs underneath your cabinets, or if  the flooring butts up against the cabinet sides and toe kicks. If the  flooring runs underneath, you’ll have some leeway for new cabinet  configurations — just be sure the old flooring will cover any newly  exposed floor areas. Here are points to remember:

  • Keep old flooring for cost savings. This works if your new cabinets  match your old layout, so that the new cabinets fit exactly into the old  flooring configuration. If the existing flooring runs underneath your  cabinets and covers all flooring area, then any new cabinet  configuration will be fine.
  • Keep your old flooring for now and cover it or replace it later.  Again, this works if your cabinet configuration is identical to the old  layout.

However, if you plan to cover your old flooring or tear it out and  replace it at some point in the future, remember that your new flooring  might raise the height of your floor, effectively lowering your cabinet  height.
For thin new floor coverings, such as vinyl and linoleum,  the change is imperceptible. For thicker floorings, such as wood and  tile, you might want to take into account the change in floor height by  installing your new cabinets on shims.

  • Cost: cabinets: $16,000 (27% of total); appliances and lighting fixtures: $8,500 (15% of total); vinyl flooring: $1,000 (2% of total)
  • Key strategy: Keep old appliances, lighting fixtures, and flooring and use them until you can afford new ones.
  • Time frame: 2-3 weeks

Stage three: Gut the kitchen and do the electrical and plumbing work

Here’s   where the remodel gets messy. Old cabinetry and appliances are  removed,  and walls may have to be opened up for new electrical  circuits. Keep in  close contact with your contractor during this stage so you can answer questions and clear up any problems   quickly. A major kitchen remodel can take 6 to 10 weeks, depending on   how extensive the project is.
During this stage, haul your refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven to another room — near the laundry or the garage, for example — so you’ve got the means to cook meals. Feinberg suggests tackling this stage in the summer, when you can easily grill and eat outside. That’ll reduce the temptation to eat at restaurants, and will help keep your day-to-day costs under control.

  • Cost: $14,500 for tear-out and installation of new plumbing and electrical (25% of total)
  • Key strategies: Encourage your contractor to expedite the   tear-out and installation of new systems. Plan a makeshift kitchen while   the work is progressing. Schedule this work for summer when you can   grill and eat outside.
  • Time frame: 6-10 weeks

Stage four: Install cabinets, countertop, appliances, flooring, and fixtures

If   you’ve done your homework and bought key components in advance, you   should roll through this phase. You’ve now got a (mostly) finished   kitchen.
A high-end countertop and backsplash can be a sizable sum of money. If you can’t quite swing   it, put down a temporary top, such as painted marine plywood or   inexpensive laminate. Later, you can upgrade to granite, tile, solid surface, or marble.

  • Cost: $12,000 (21% of total)
  • Key strategy: Install an inexpensive countertop; upgrade when you’re able.
  • Time frame: 1-2 weeks

Final phases: Upgrade if necessary

Replace the inexpensive countertop, pull up the laminate flooring, and put in tile or hardwood, or buy that new refrigerator you wanted but couldn’t afford during the remodel. (Just make sure it fits in the space!)

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By: Jamie Goldberg

Published: January 10, 2012

Mulling a kitchen remodel but want to keep costs low? You’re au courant with today’s trends that emphasize options and high-tech wizardry at affordable prices.

Trend #1: Remodeling scales back

A new focus on moderation and value has entered the remodeling mind-set. Trends that are likely to show up in your kitchen next year include:
You’ll repair your existing appliances instead of replacing them, extending their life with good maintenance and care. If you’re replacing cabinets, you’re likely to build around your current appliances rather than choosing new models.
You’re scaling back your cabinetry purchases, with an increased emphasis on kitchen storage and functionality over elaborate decoration. For example, rather than stacked crown moldings throughout the kitchen, you’ll put your money into practical roll-out trays and drawer organizers.
Small-scale kitchen projects are big news. Changing out cabinet hardware, replacing a faucet, and refacing your cabinets upgrades your kitchen without major expense.
Trend #2: Simpler, warmer styles dominate
Fussiness and excess have faded away in favor of pared-back looks that present a more timeless, value-conscious style.
Cabinet decoration continues to streamline. For example, massive corbels, once fashionable as undercounter supports, will give way to sleeker countertop supports and cantelivered countertop edges. Stacked moldings will pare back or disappear entirely. Elaborately glazed finishes will yield to simpler paints and stains.

Kitchen finishes will continue to get warmer and darker, and feature natural and stained woods. Walnut especially is growing in popularity.
Laminate countertops will continue to surge in popularity, especially in contemporary design. The latest European-inspired laminates offer more textured and naturalistic finishes than ever before. While exotic wood kitchen cabinets are out of reach for most home owners, glossy, look-alike laminate versions can be had for about one-third the price. Trend #3: Technology expands its kitchen presence
Many of the techno products and trends that relate to your smartphones and tablets have just started making their way into your local showrooms and home centers.
Appliances will be equipped with USB ports and digital screens so you can display your family photographs and kids’ artwork.
Smart, induction built-in cooktops ($500-$3,000) remember your temperature settings as you move your pans across their entire surface.
One light finger touch is all it takes to open the electronically controlled sliding doors of your kitchen cabinets — a boon to people with limited mobilities. You’ll pay 40% to 70% more for cabinets with electronically controlled doors than standard models.
You’ll be able to use your smart phones and tablets to control lights and appliance settings from anywhere you have a wi-fi connection, as well as to shop for appliances from major manufacturers.
You’ll be opting for LEDs for your recessed lights, under-cabinet task lighting and color-changing accent lighting. You’ll see more LED-powered pendants and chandeliers from major manufacturers as inefficient incandescent bulbs continue their march toward extinction.
A wide selection of affordable microwave ovens with convection and even steam features gives owners of smaller kitchen spaces more high-end cooking power.
What improvements — big or small — are you planning for your kitchen this year?

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By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Published: January 11, 2012

When it comes to weight gain, we blame our genes, our metabolism, and wrong foods that taste so right. But maybe our kitchens are to blame. Here’s why.

Dieters beware: Your dream kitchen remodel may be your biggest nightmare. Experts say that big and attractive kitchens contribute to big and unattractive waistlines.
Just shoot us now.
“If a kitchen gets you there and keeps you there, you’re going to increase your consumption,” says Mark Blegen, an associate professor at St. Catherine University in Minnesota, who studies why people eat. “Even if you add only 10 extra calories a day, you’re going to gain weight over the long term.”
You mean remodeling a small and dreary kitchen into a big and fabulous one is hazardous to our health?
“Getting people to think that this kitchen may be causing me to gain weight is a huge shift,” Blegen says. “But if people want to take an honest look at their weight, they ought to take a look at every aspect of their environment.”
Weight management depends on many things — genetics, metabolism, running shoes that live under your bed. But calories-in and calories-out also depend on increasing and decreasing barriers to food. Kitchen size, design, storage, and appliances all erect or destroy those physical and psychological barriers. Here’s how.

  • Kitchen-great room combos: As big kitchens multitask as family rooms, homework centers, and offices, we spend more time around food. “If it’s right there in front of you, odds are you’ll want to consume it,” Blegen says. In fact, a seminal study on eating and environment found that moving a candy bowl 6 feet away from eaters reduced their consumption by 50%. It’s hard to move food away from you in a kitchen.
  • Traditional design: Kitchen designers are slaves to minimizing the distance between a kitchen’s sink, stove and refrigerator — its “work triangle.” But researcher Brian Wansink says the smaller the triangle, the more we’re eating when we’re supposed to prepping.
  • Too-handy storage: Kitchen storage puts you within reaching distance of calories. Walk-in pantries are the worst, because they encourage buying in bulk and stockpiling. Not only does stockpiling put you within steps of huge quantities of food, but the cost of buying and storing that bargain 10-lb. bag of Jasmine rice puts pressure on you to eat it. You can’t win for losing.
  • Tempting refrigerators: Upscale, glass-front refrigerators bring you face-to-face with last night’s leftovers, which call to you like sirens. And placing the fridge next to the eating nook makes it easier — and more likely — to grab a second helping.
  • Open-shelf cabinets: They remove that last, slim barrier between you and food — the cabinet door. “The more visible and the more convenient the food is in cupboards, the more likely you are to take it,” says Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating.” Take a look at his video, which shows how kitchens sabotage your diet.

Forget counting calories — follow the HouseLogic diet
OK, count calories if you want. But you’ll eat fewer if you keep these kitchen makeover tips in mind.
Remodeling your kitchen? Give it the lean treatment

If your kitchen is tempting you to overeat, bite the bullet (no calories in that) and plan a remodel — keeping these strategies in mind.

  • Size the kitchen with food preparation, not munching, in mind. Instead of building an eat-in kitchen, devote space to prep islands, professional ranges, double ovens, and a couple of dishwashers. Then eat in a separate room, which reduces your temptation for seconds.
  • Place the refrigerator away from the kitchen entrance so you’re not tempted to graze the moment you enter the room. Also, choose smaller refrigerators with bottom freezers, which require you to stoop to scoop that ice cream. And take those vegetables out of the crisper and put them on a center shelf, where they stare you in the face each time you open the fridge door.
  • Install cabinets with solid doors. If you like the look of glass, opt for opaque or antique glass that hides contents.
  • Avoid walk-in pantries that can store bushels of food. Instead, choose smaller cabinetry with pull-out shelves that reveals all the healthful food they will contain. (We live in hope.)
  • Keep televisions, iPads, and other distractions out of the kitchen. The less you focus on the food you’re eating, the more you’ll eat.
  • Install bright lights, which discourage eating. Researchers don’t know exactly why harsh lighting means less eating. Perhaps we spend less time in places with annoying lighting. So use task lighting to help in food prep, save you money on dimmers, and keep lights bright.

Kitchen tweaks: No remodel planned? No problem

If you’ve already built the kitchen of your dreams or you’re not planning a full-scale remodel soon, a little reorganizing can help you cut calories.

  • If you already have open shelves, place dishware and pots there, not food. If you must put food where you can see it, store it in opaque containers.
  • Remove stools from around your prep island. You burn more calories standing than sitting, and eventually you’ll move to more comfortable spaces away from food.
  • Store fattening foods in a garage freezer or refrigerator; you’ll think twice about dessert if you must walk to the garage to get it. And if you do indulge, you’ll burn a few calories fetching those sweets.
  • Opt for one or two of the remodeling tips we noted above if you want to do a little more than reorganize but less than a full-on remodel.

What part of your kitchen encourages you to eat? Would you give it up to lose a few pounds?

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7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling

By: John Riha

Published: March 25, 2011

Kitchen remodeling can turn a ho-hum room into your home’s pride and joy. Here are strategies to help your project run smoothly.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. Kitchen remodels in the $50,000 to $60,000 range recoup about 69% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to recent data from Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

To make sure you maximize your return, follow these seven smart kitchen remodeling strategies.

1. Establish priorities

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending at least six months planning your kitchen remodeling project. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction, create change orders, and inflate construction costs. Here are planning points to cover:

  • Cooking traffic patterns: A walkway through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide. Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.
  • Child safety: Avoid sharp, square corners on countertops, and make sure microwave ovens are installed at the proper height—3 inches below the shoulder of the primary user but not more than 54 inches from the floor.
  • Outside access: If you want easy access to entertaining areas, such as a deck or patio, factor a new exterior door into your plans.

A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the same footprint

No matter the size and scope of your kitchen remodel, you can protect your budget by maintaining the same footprint: Keep the walls, locate new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes, and forget bump-outs.

Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Get real about appliances

It’s easy to get carried away during your kitchen remodeling project. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

High-priced appliances are worth the investment if you’re an exceptional cook. Otherwise, save thousands with trusted brands that receive high marks at consumer review websites, like www.ePinions.com and www.amazon.com, and resources such as Consumer Reports.

4. Light your way

Good kitchen lighting helps you work safely and efficiently.

  • Install task lighting, such as recessed or track lights, over sinks and food prep areas; assign at least two fixtures per task to eliminate shadows. Under-cabinet lights illuminate cleanup and are great for reading cookbooks. Pendant lights over counters bring the light source close to work surfaces.
  • Ambient lighting includes flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights. Pair dimmer switches with ambient lighting to control intensity and mood.

5. Be quality conscious

Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains, and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

If you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

“Individual upgrades don’t necessarily give you a 100% return,” says Frank Gregoire, a real estate appraiser in St. Petersburg, Fla. “But they can give you an edge when it comes time to market your home.”

6. Add storage, not space

Here’s how you can add storage without bumping out walls:

  • Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more–and you might need a stepladder–but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.
  • Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

7. Communicate early and often

Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

  • Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.
  • Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.
  • Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

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