By Anessa V. Cohen

Sometimes those maintenance projects around the house can be more taxing than a project that you can just sign off to a contractor or professional vendor. Somehow, when you are preparing to do a project, the realization that it is too big a project for you to attempt on your own is sufficient to make you delegate it to an outside professional and pay whatever the going cost is. Then again, you also need to worry about finding a contractor who is going to follow through with all the promises he makes and getting him to finish the work before he forgets or changes his mind and doesn’t want to do it anymore. This is always a problem, so detailed contracts are so important.

Doing the project yourself, on the other hand, takes much more thought, since you have to first deal with whether or not you should do the work yourself and save the money. I think most of us want to save money by doing the work ourselves, but the idea of physically having to do the work, with our busy schedules, turns into a nuisance. We procrastinate and end up getting a contractor anyway.

Years ago, there was no question–any job I wanted to do myself, I just did. But this was when I was not working outside the home and was raising children. I would paint the house while the kids were at school. If I wanted to wallpaper, redo a floor, or build and sew window treatments, putting a week aside for this project was a no-brainer. So why does the question of doing stuff I had never thought twice about in past years give me pause?

To start with, being a little younger with better knees helped in making my decisions. Back then, I would gladly start these projects, thinking what great exercise and what a rewarding experience the finished job would be–saving money and doing a better job than any contractor I hired.

Working the kind of hours I do since I started selling real estate and mortgages many years ago also made a huge dent in the time available to do any project for myself. Deciding to take a vacation and use that time for a construction project was usually not an idea I wanted to entertain. I have found it easier to hire a contractor and then oversee the work to make sure it is being carried out properly.

After dealing with contractors this last year after Sandy, I have been amazed to find that even as a professional hired to oversee their work for clients, I needed to really keep on my toes–watching their work and preventing their “shortcuts.” I am starting to rethink anew taking time off to fix any projects that may come up in the future in my house, since overseeing these jobs has made me realize once again that the way I consider a project to have been completed properly does not necessarily mesh with what contractors–riding high after all the work they have gotten from people hurt by Sandy–consider a successful job.

I have spent much time this past year fighting with contractors who wanted to do things their way–even if it was cockeyed and more costly–rather than doing things simply. They would not finish the job–the most important last 10% of the job–before getting paid the last portion of their money. They suffered from memory loss about what they promised.

That is why, when you decide to not do it on your own and are considering which contractor to delegate your job to, you should follow these few suggestions:

– Put everything in writing, down to the last screw! If the contractor promises you wonderful extras at no cost, make sure those promises are in writing.

– Before interviewing the contractor, check with your building department to see what permits and certificates of compliance will be needed for this job. When interviewing your contractor, make sure he gives you an assurance in writing that he will not only guarantee those permits, but that the work required by the municipality will be done by licensed plumbers and electricians and finished to code. Do not pay him more than your first deposit before you see proof of those permits.

– If you are installing windows, ask the contractor for a recommendation from a job he previously did. Make sure he plans to install them with window frames and sills on all four sides. If not, where will you hang those blinds and shades?

– If the contractor is building a new house for you, when the framing is done, remeasure the rooms to make sure the measurements match the architect’s plans.

– Payments to contractors should be made in stages. Set out payment stages in writing based on passing specific hurdles in the progress of your construction.

– Put in writing the specifics of the building material and minimum level of quality that is expected to be used in performance of your job. Specifics of what the contractor is expected to do as part of the job should also be spelled out rather than summarized. Summaries can be used for selective memories in the middle of the job and usually will work against you.

If you choose to do a job yourself instead of hiring a professional contractor, there are still two ways to do this, depending on the time you have. If you have plenty of time, and the ability to do the project yourself, do it as time permits, as long as that may take, but ultimately finishing it yourself and saving a lot of money. Or, if you are able to, be your own contractor. Hire a few workers, and oversee and direct them as to what you want done while they do the work to your specifications–and possibly get the job done quickly while saving money.

Whichever way you decide to go, at all times make sure everything is spelled out and leave nothing to chance and nothing to vague assurances. Having everything in writing keeps everyone on the same page and avoids aggravation! v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage originator with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to

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