Plan Before You Start
The first thing you should do in starting a remodeling project is to plan everything out yourself. What is it that you want? What are you remodeling and how much do you want to spend? Specifically plan everything out before you hire anyone. For example, if you are remodeling your kitchen; decide if you want to extend any of the walls, replace the floor; replace appliances, cupboards, etc. Make sure you have thought about all the new colors being used and if they coordinate with the rest of the house. Draw out your own floor plan as best as you can as to what you would like it to look like.

After you hire a contractor or architect, make sure you are very specific when explaining to them what you want. If they have any ideas make sure you approve of all of them before they start any work. You may not be the builder, but you should still be in control as to what happens.

What Contractor do you go with?
Money is the major factor when deciding on a contractor. Make sure you have planned out exactly how much you are able to spend before speaking with anyone. You might want to overestimate how much you would like to spend in case there is more you decide to add. You don’t want an unfinished project. After you have decided how much you want to spend, start researching. Get at least 2-3 bids from different contractors. Make sure you have them all estimate the same things (flooring, painting, cabinets…). Get referrals from friends.

With each contractor that you speak with, compare their bids with the other bids that you have received with them. They might be able to explain why there are variations in price. Sometimes going with the lowest price is not the best decision. Some contractors use less expensive materials or may do a really quick job. You want to find a contractor that uses good quality materials and takes pride in their work. If they take pride, then you will have a better-looking remodel.

Many contractors provide pictures of previous work they have done and even referrals. Make sure you ask about these referrals. If you can call and speak with a former client, you will feel more comfortable about their work.

Make sure your contractor is a licensed contractor. See if they belong to any association and what their codes of ethics are. Contact your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) to find out how long the contractor has been in business and if they have ever had any complaints or lawsuits filed against them. They will also be able to tell you if they are licensed.

Liability is always an issue when it comes to a person doing manual labor in your home. Find out what kind of insurance the contractor has. Does it cover worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case of accidents? Verify the contractor’s insurance coverage by contacting their insurance company and investigating yourself.

Can you afford your Project?
Personal or bank loans, a home equity loan, a loan from your credit union or insurance company, or a loan from a savings and loan institution are all possible ways that you may finance your remodel. Again, do research on what is the best possible way for you to afford your project. Compare interest rates. If you must take out a loan in order to complete your project, make sure you put a clause in your contract with the builder stating that the agreement is valid only if you are able to obtain the correct financing.

Building Permits
Most cities, counties, and even neighborhoods have building codes. Make sure your contract states that all work will be in accordance with the building code regulations for your area. The codes differ from city to city or neighborhood to neighborhood, so make sure they are in accordance to your specific area.

A building permit is usually only required when you are changing the outside appearance of your home. Separate permits for electrical, heating, or plumbing work are required in some cases. If you want to double check your contractor’s work follows all regulations, you may contact your local licensing department.

The contractor should apply for the building permit in his/her name if one is required for the job. If the license were under your name, then you would be held liable to pay for any corrections that need to be made if they did not follow the codes. After all work is completed, the licensing agency will send out an inspector to inspect your home. They check that everything falls under the correct codes. The contractor is responsible for setting up the inspection.

In order to protect both the homeowner and the contractor, all agreements should be put in writing. Every specific detail needs to be written up in the contract, i.e. if you are going to do some of the work, a friend is putting in the hardwood floors, and you have paint already at the house that you are using. The written contract should also include:

  • A detailed description of the work you will be having done—including the materials that will be used
  • Time frame – start and finish dates
  • Cost – labor charges and material costs
  • Schedule of when each payment will be due
  • Any warranties
  • How all extra trash and materials will be disposed of during and after the project
  • If you sign the contract anywhere but at the contractor’s office, then you have 3 days to cancel the contract. Also note that the contract is null if there are any problems or damage after the work has begun.
    In addition, make sure the written contract includes
    • The contractor's full name
    • Address
    • Telephone number
    • Professional license number