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Home remodeling tips that yield success

Three tips that will help keep your renovation project on track

by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
House blueprints

Introduction

Few projects are more intimidating than a large-scale home improvement. Juggling schedules, contractors, budgets and space concerns can be stressful, even when everything goes according to plan. You don’t want your project to grow too large and wind up costing more time and money than you intended.

That’s why it’s important to take precautions to make sure your project runs as smoothly as possible. If there’s one all-important lesson, it’s to have a plan in place. But what should that plan consist of? And how do you stick to it? The following tips will help you prepare and execute a hassle-free home remodel.

Tool belt with tools

1. Start planning early

Remodeling projects take time, and most projects that fall apart do so because of poor planning. Start planning as early as three months before you hammer your first nail. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Narrow down exactly what you want to remodel: I know that it may seem obvious to have an idea of where you want to remodel. But these projects tend to snowball if you don’t narrow down your idea. Updating your tub and shower could turn into a complete bathroom remodel if you don’t keep an eye on your goals. It’s best to choose one specific area to remodel at a time. Starting early gives you enough time to decide exactly where and what you need to remodel.

  • Make preparations: Depending on the remodel you choose, you may need to make different preparations. Remodeling a kitchen, for example, means that you won’t be able to cook for the duration of the project. You’ll need to find a place to store appliances, food and anything else you have in there. If you have pets, it’s wise to consider any accommodations they may need while the remodel is in progress. With some extra time, you can make necessary arrangements to have your space ready to go.

  • Check for zoning permits: If you’re making additions to your home, you will need to make sure those additions are cleared with the city. You may also need to check with the city if your work involves extensive electrical or plumbing changes. Check with your city to see if you need to file special permits before you start. This process may take a while, and you don’t want to get your kitchen cleared out only to find out it’ll take a month to file a permit.

  • Start looking for a contractor: You should never set up a remodel without a licensed contractor.

Different tiles on floor

2. Budget carefully

Remember when I said these projects can start to grow? Having a budget set in stone can keep that from happening. Here’s how:

  • Set the scope of your project early: Start planning your budget as soon as you decide which room you want to renovate. That way, you’ve got plenty of time to hammer out the details. Speaking of which…

  • Be as detailed as possible: When budgeting, consider more than the cost of labor and materials. Will you need to stay in a hotel? Will you need to board your pets? Will you be able to use your kitchen? These types of hidden costs can go unchecked if you’re not careful.

  • Consider purchasing materials yourself: If you want to save some money, buy your own materials. Your contractor can get the materials for you, and it’s usually more convenient to go that route. But you can often find wood, metal, tile or any other material cheaper on your own. Check hardware and home improvement stores for sales on building materials if you are looking to save money.

  • Leave some wiggle room: Budget in some “just in case” money. There’s always a chance a remodel reveals something else that needs attention. If you’ve set aside some extra cash, these surprises won’t be quite as damaging to your checkbook.

Hands measuring wood

3. Be clear with your contractor

Once you have your plan and budget in order, it’s time to find someone to help make it a reality. If you’re doing this project yourself, you can skip this section. Otherwise, here are some quick tips for setting up a plan with a contractor.

  • Find a contractor: You should never set up a remodel without a licensed contractor. Ask friends for references for any local contractors. If you find one who interests you, look at examples of their work. For an in-depth guide to this, check out the ConsumerAffairs guide to finding the right contractor.

  • Set realistic expectations: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your new kitchen won’t be either. When you meet with your contractor, be clear about your timeline to completion, but take their expertise into account. Research the type of remodeling project you’re doing to see how long it takes to complete on average.

  • Put your plans in writing: After you’ve found the right contractor, let them know exactly what you want them to do. Note the materials they’ll use, the date of completion and anything else to finalize your project. Then, put the whole project in writing. This will be your guideline through the rest of the project.

  • Be hands-on...but not “too” hands-on: Be active in your remodeling project, but don’t micromanage every minute detail. Know the specific terms of your contract. And hold your contractor to those terms without constantly pestering them about updates and concerns. Remember that every minute they’re talking to you, they’re not actively working on your house.

Person with calculator and house blueprints

Conclusion

There is always the chance that some part of your project may go wrong (hence the budgeting). Even the most attentive planners come up against some unexpected hiccups. But with thorough planning, careful evaluation of your contractor and a well-written contract you can keep potential problems to a minimum.

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by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.