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REAL ESTATE

Should You Hire Friends and Family to Work on Your Home?

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Big or small, home improvement projects can be stressful, messy -- and expensive. So enlisting a contractor pal or relative to do the work can make a lot of cents (pun intended, Friends & Family discountees!), considering you already trust the person.

But those who've done it admit that it's never "just business" when loved ones renovate your home. Understand the true plusses and minuses to employing those near and dear to you:

Pro: No need to call references

Who needs Angie's List when you already know your kid brother's girlfriend's work history and ethics (not to mention her rather awesome taste in music that will likely fill your home for the next three months)?

Con: Buddies don't see you as a boss

That added comfort level can erode into an irritatingly loose work schedule when pals treat your project like a favor. (Which, of course, it is.) Tracy Lorans commissioned her retired-handyman neighbor to renovate the mudroom in her Boston-area Colonial and gripes that he "typically started early and called it a day around 11 a.m."

The acquaintance that Cait Kelly counted on to build an addition onto her Connecticut home was just as blas -- only about Kelly's budget.

"I asked her if she could complete the job at $100,000, and she said yes," the homeowner recalls. That number quickly spiraled to $250,000. "That's when I made her stop," Kelly says. "I would never again hire anyone I know, and if I did any work in the future, I'd insist that all spending is defined and agreed upon ahead of time."

Pro: Lots of hand-holding

When you aren't sure what you need, extra attention from a familiar face is divine. That's how Bostonian Kathleen McKenna handles renovations to her home. She and her husband always shop with her handy pal, recently for a new front door. McKenna adds, "We buy all the supplies with his guidance. It has worked out well for us."

Con: They may be (painfully) honest

On the flip side, those close to you aren't as likely as a pro to hold back in criticizing your choices, often with little regard to your feelings.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!

Lorans says the neighbor who worked on her mudroom didn't hesitate to slam her style. "I picked out hooks, and he told me that the color looked terrible with the other existing hardware on the doors," she says. "I was like, 'OK … thanks?'"

Pro: Working together could bring you closer

When friends or family members help you bring your dream home to life, it can cement your relationship -- after all, building something together is the ultimate bonding experience.

Con: You may pull punches at your home's expense

When your dad is your builder and works for free, "you know you can't complain because you're spoiled," says Methuen, MA, homeowner Christine Leone. "There are decorative brackets missing on the outside of our house, and my dad still says he'll 'get to it,' four years later." Thanks, Dad!

Same goes for friends. Cathy Field hired a girlfriend's husband to paint a few rooms in her Detroit home -- and afterward discovered splotches and splashes on the floor.

"We wound up having to have one of the rooms repainted," she says. "In the future, we wouldn't go with a friend. It's too hard to let them know if you are dissatisfied."

Pro: You trust them

Go ahead, give out the garage code. When you're close to your contractor it's easy to feel cool with his coming and going solo. Barbara L.'s ex-boyfriend "completely remodeled" her split-level. "Since I knew him, I was more comfortable going to work every day and letting him have the run of the house," she says.

Con: It feels like you have to take care of them

When friends or family members are helping you out with home improvement, it's only natural to feel you should help them out, too. Exhibit A: Marie Gogan and the neighbor who redid the siding on her Portsmouth, NH, home in the dead of winter.

"We felt so responsible for his comfort," she says. "We had to constantly offer him coffee and food."

Pro: You could pay by bartering

With pals, it may not be all about the money, honey.

"We had a neighbor wallpaper in return for baby-sitting his kids," adds Gogan. "It worked out great."

Con: Expenses can become emotional

Scoring a deal simply isn't satisfying when it comes at the expense of a friend. Jeanne Engel of Portland, ME, admits she felt weird watching the slow progress of her friend's tile floor installation eat up the entire budget that they'd agreed upon before the work was done.

"It didn't come out right the first time, and he had to regrout," she says. "He ended up working late into the night. We felt bad, he felt bad. At that point we told him we would have to finish it ourselves as we were out of money. We were pissed, and he felt lousy. It really put a strain on the friendship."

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