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In order to be assured that you’re not embarking on a trip straight to debtors’ prison, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer and probably to seek other guidance as well. These counselors won’t be wearing flannel shirts and work boots, and they may never even visit your home, but your attorney, accountant, and insurance agent can be important players.
The real estate attorney. You may resent it, but the fact is we live in a world where good legal counsel is essential to conducting business. While you might like to think of the home renovation process in warm, emotional terms, it is also true that buying construction services is to sign a series of contracts. By definition, you’re entering into a string of business deals.
The bigger the job, the more you need a lawyer to look out for your interests. Your banker, the contractor, the architect, and each of the other players will have different concerns. Their counselors—and they’ll probably have them, even if you don’t have contact with them directly—cannot be counted on to protect you.
Even if you hire a GC or use an architect to supervise the whole process and never visit the site, you will need legal guidance for reviewing contracts and checking out zoning restrictions and numerous other matters. You may find that an experienced real estate attorney can help in ways you have never considered. He’s seen his clients through most of the hassles you’ve never faced before, so his experience and advice can be invaluable, whether it is in negotiating the right contract at the start, resolving a misunderstanding in the middle, or resolving a dispute long after the job is completed.
If you have an established relationship with an attorney, be sure he is well versed in real estate law. Does he do a reasonable volume of real estate law? Even if he was your college roommate, check it out because real estate law has its own complexities and can get just as arcane as any other area of the law. And mistakes can be very expensive. If you don’t have a suitable lawyer awaiting your call, try calling a couple of nearby real estate agencies or mortgage departments at local banks and ask them for references. The local bar association is another potential source; ask for the chairman of the real estate committee.
Other professionals. If you have an accountant who prepares your taxes, get his or her opinions and guidance early. Sit down with the accountant and discuss your budget, loan arrangements, the cash flow of the project (you expect which bills in which month, which are this year, which next), and your income. There may be tax credits (some credits are available for rehabilitation of older buildings), certain tax advantages, and other issues that could save you money. Even though your contractors should provide you with Certificates of Insurance describing their insurance coverage, you should also consult with your insurance broker. As you improve your house, you may wish to up your coverage for the added property value. You might also wish to check your liability coverage to be sure it is adequate. Should someone fall and break a leg, you—as well as the contractor- might get sued and you’ll want adequate insurance protection. Construction sites have many potential dangers and you should minimize your risks, both physical and financial.