From Blah to Beautiful, Part II
In last week's article, we looked at how to decorate your home from scratch using tips and tricks from expert decorators. The idea was to give anyone a good base from which to start, even if decorating isn't really their thing. However, there are those of us who, no matter how much we read or how many swatches we hold up to paint chips, simply aren't capable of making an informed decision about color, fabric and design. In this article, we'll take a look at hiring a professional – from decorating the inside to major work inside or out. Sometimes, the best decision a do-it-yourselfer can make is to leave the work to a professional.
It's easy to get a consultation with someone who is trained in color and fabric, often at no extra cost. Linda Hallam, editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens, says many do-it-yourself stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot, as well as many furniture and paint stores, have in-house experts that will help free of charge. They can give advice on color, accessories and design schemes. Hallam also suggests viewing model homes, finding a decorating scheme you like and asking for the name of the decorator. Most decorators will do a consult for only a relatively small fee.
Jane Parr, owner of Decorative Arts, likes the idea of using decorating consultants at do-it-yourself-type stores, but warns of the drawbacks of using designers at stores that are devoted to selling only one type or brand of furniture. "These days everyone and their brother has a designer or decorator on staff, and it's great to take advantage of that," says Parr. "However, what you have to watch for is furniture stores where the person's main objective is to get you to buy their furniture. That limits you."
Of course, if their brand is what you're interested in anyway, their experts can help you accessorize the rest of the room as well. Parr herself is involved in what many experts consider to be the next wave in decorating – Internet consulting. There are a number of sites where you can send in a photo of that boring foyer and, for a small fee, get several good suggestions for perking it up.
Choosing paint and deciding on which fabric to cover those throw pillows with is one thing; knocking out a wall or rewiring a room is something altogether different. No one ever got hurt with a fabric swatch (well, we don't think so anyway), but bigger jobs come with an element of personal risk.
Danny Lipford may be a do-it-yourself expert, but he knows when not to tackle a job as well. Lipford, host of Today's Homeowner, a weekly, syndicated TV show devoted to home projects, says it's important to realistically evaluate a project before doing it yourself.
"The main things to look at are the talent you bring to the project and the time available to devote to it," says Lipford. "You can then decide if it's more ambitious than you want to take on."
Lipford also notes that many people hire a contractor for part of the job, then do part of the job themselves. "A professional contractor can get something to the point where it's ready to paint, then you can save money by doing the painting," he says. "Or perhaps the contractor can do everything but install the floor and leave that part to you."
Before you do start a job, Lipford says you should have a detailed plan for the project from beginning to end. If necessary, read books, check out Web sites or take a class at the local home-improvement store to be sure you have a realistic idea of what is involved. Then ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have the proper tools? If not, can they be rented? (Lipford also points out that many tools can be rented to make a rather simple – but time consuming – job much easier, such as floor removal tools and wallpaper removal tools).
- Do I have the skill necessary to do the job? All but the simplest electrical, plumbing and similar home infrastructure work should probably be left to professionals – especially in the case of electrical work where there are serious physical risks.
- Do I have the time? If, for example, you will have to have your kitchen torn up for three months if you tackle a project, are you better off hiring a professional who can do it in two weeks?
If the answers are no, think about hiring a professional.
Hiring a Professional
Everyone has heard horror stories about hiring contractors. You pay them, and they show up months late, leave halfway through the project or do a terrible job. Lipford says it's important to do your homework when hiring someone to do work for you to avoid those problems.
"People get quotes before having work done, and many times there's a strong tendency to go with the cheaper of the contractors, but there's usually a reason they're cheaper," says Lipford. "Sometimes you can get into trouble not going through the proper channels when hiring someone."
In addition to word of mouth from satisfied customers, Lipford recommends calling the local homebuilders association for a recommendation. These local organizations are usually affiliated with the National Association of Homebuilders. They not only have members that are homebuilders, but can also recommend companies that specialize in smaller jobs, like remodeling and small repairs. Also, be sure anyone you work with is licensed and bonded. Checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good idea, as well, although they can't make recommendations.
Making a List
Often, though, no matter how careful you are, hiring someone to work around the home is a matter of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Or it was, anyway, until Angie's List came along. Back in 1995, fed up with lousy service, a woman named Angie Hicks, who was living in Indianapolis, Ind., created a company called Angie's List, devoted to making unbiased referrals based upon personal experience for everything ranging from contractors to Santa Claus impersonators. Angie's List is now in more than a dozen major metropolitan areas and is growing rapidly.
Hicks says that although they are expanding nationwide, they tailor their service to each city. "I do a good deal of traveling, because our goal is to understand the city before we set up the service," says Hicks. "We set up offices in the city and do extensive research before we even go in."
The goal of the list is to provide consumers with a completely unbiased source for reviews and ratings of services in their area. Service people are not allowed to list themselves and are only on the list if a consumer gives them a review. They do have the opportunity to improve a bad rating, however.
"People don't have the family and neighbor networking that was common a generation or so ago," says Hicks. "This service is just like having the real-life recommendations of neighbors."
Although there is a fee for the list, Hicks says the savings in time, frustration and money make it worthwhile. No Angie's List in your area? Hicks says they often choose their next location based upon e-mails showing interest.