Anyone who's ever experienced a nightmare remodel will tell you it cost twice as much money and time as initially imagined. But don't let that deter you from the home you've always wanted. All you need is a clear understanding of what you have to spend, a precise plan of attack, and the help of a competent contractor. We promise: You can have that new kitchen or family room without losing your sanity—if you follow our essential guide, that is.
1. Do consider your contractor's personality. This person will be in your home each day, so it's paramount that you feel comfortable talking to him or her.
2. Don't be an absentee homeowner. Communicate with your contractor daily by phone or e-mail, and meet once a week face-to-face.
3. Do ask for a contract. A good contract should cover the following: start and finish dates, total cost (include how add-ons will be handled), a payment schedule, names of all parties, contractor's license number, description of project, and provisions for early termination. If necessary, consult a lawyer.
4. Don't micromanage the crew. Instead, schedule a weekly meeting with the job foreman to discuss progress.
5. Do be wary if your contractor is reluctant to lay out a timeline for your project; it may mean the contractor has too many jobs at once to finish yours on time.
6. Don't undercut your contractor. The quickest way to sour a relationship is to hire a member of the contractor's crew to do work after hours for less pay.
7. Do create a directory. Record in a notebook information for each person working in your home.
8. Don't be shy about what you have
to spend, especially if money is tight. Everything should be in the contract.
9. Do ask about insurance. Anyone working on your home needs it. You're liable if you hire an uninsured contractor and one of his crew is injured.
10. Don't rely on your imagination. Ask to see color swatches and paint chips for finishes before you order materials.
11. Do nominate a decision maker. The easiest way to prevent "he said, she said" is to appoint one family member to deal directly with the contractor and to update everyone else.
13. Do plan how many electrical outlets you need and where they should be. With this information, the electrician's cost estimate will be more accurate.
15. Don't forget to investigate behind your walls. Outdated wiring and other budget-breaking surprises are often concealed, so have your contractor cut openings in key places before you begin remodeling.
16. Do protect yourself legally. Ask your contractor for an Affidavit of Final Release once work is complete and final payment has been made. This way you won't be held liable for any third-party claims.
17. Don't leave your treasures out. Store anything that's breakable or valuable out of the construction zone.
18. Do clean out the garage so workers have a place to keep tools and supplies. The longer it takes them to find things, the longer it'll be before they finish the job.
19. Don't let your contractor start any demolition work until all the new equipment and materials—appliances, cabinets, windows, and other essentials—have already arrived.
20. Do buy a big roll of plastic sheeting and blue painter's tape (which won't harm finishes), and seal off any entrance into the construction zone so dust doesn't seep out.
21. Don't get disorganized. Keep a job file that includes a copy of the contract, plans, specifications, invoices, change orders, and all other papers.
22. Do establish boundaries. Make sure your crew knows where your yard ends so they don't dump debris on your neighbor's property.
23. Don't expect your contractor to watch your children or pets. Consider sending the kids to a sitter, or boarding your dog, if you can't be there.
24. Do perform a final inspection. Walk through with the contractor, who should have a list of all minor items yet to be completed.
25. Don't forget that remodeling is a finite experience. No matter how disruptive the process, it's not going to last forever.
10 More "Remodeling Dos & Don'ts" Tips
1. Do hire someone who understands your goals. If you live in a Victorian, find a contractor experienced with period restorations—not '70s-style ranches.
2. Do realize the price of materials can indicate quality. If you have a question about the life of a product or its effectiveness, talk to your remodeler. An expensive item that lasts 20 years may be a smarter choice than an inexpensive one that lasts five.
3. Don't assume the lowest bidder is the best choice. It could be a sign that a contractor is desperate for work, or that he or she plans to use inferior materials. The most accurate bid is often the one in the middle. Ask each candidate to provide a written job description and materials list.
4. Do keep changes to a minimum. Every time you ask for an adjustment to the plans there will be a delay and a cost. If you must make a change, be sure it's spelled out on paper and that everyone involved signs before any work begins.
5. Do treat yourself to a vacation, if possible, during the worst phase—like when the floors are being refinished. Not only will you miss the mess, you'll come back with a renewed interest in your project.
6. Don't go too far over budget. If you don't have the funds to do it all at once, break the project up into more manageable chunks. While this won't reduce the overall cost (it may actually increase with inflation and repeated start-up expenses), spending over time may be easier on your wallet.
7. Don't wait for the painter to show up before you pick colors. Nothing throws a job off schedule more quickly than missing supplies.
8. Do look for abbreviations behind names, such as NARI, NKBA, and NAHB-RC. A contractor or remodeler who's active in a national trade organization is bound by a strict code of ethics.
9. Don't clock workers in and out. It'll build resentment and won't save much money or speed up the process.
10. Do save money by doing some things yourself. Most of us are capable of painting or cleaning up debris.