Think your project through from start to finish.

Careful planning of your home improvement projects will enable you to update your home, increase the value of your investment, and customize your living space-all for a lot less than the cost of a new home.

Look over your property carefully. What repairs are needed? What improvements would you like to make? Think ahead and determine your future needs. Professional remodeling contractors can help you in your planning by outlining options and discussing the improvements, you can make within your budget.

Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and make adjustments for the added value of the work being done.

Choose a Course of Action

Depending on your needs and the size and complexity of your intended remodeling project, there are several different options for you to explore before finalizing your plans. Attempt to define which of the following alternatives represents the best approach for your project.

The General Contractor: Many home improvement projects may not require professional design services and can best be handled by an experienced contractor. Again, be sure to deal with a professional. Even small jobs need careful planning.

The Design/Build Contractor: Design/build is a concept developed to benefit the remodeling homeowner by providing both quality design and construction services within the same company. A design/build contractor will be able to see your project through from start to finish, keeping design, engineering, and budget in mind.

The Architect: Major remodeling projects require construction drawings to define contracts and permit procurement. If your professional remodeler does not provide design services, you can use a professionally trained architect. It is best to work with an architect experienced in remodeling. He or she will be more sensitive to the special challenges that remodeling represents.

Think About Design & Function

Design and function should be foremost in your mind if you are thinking of adding a room or converting an existing room.

When planning a larger, more complicated project, give thought to details such as: where you want electrical outlets, telephone jacks and cable hookups located; the type of lighting required; your current and future storage needs; and whether you want to include luxury items. These details will enable your home improvement to better suit your needs and lifestyle.

A professional remodeling contractor should be consulted about design and function of any remodeling project. He or she can also help you with time and money saving hints.

Comply with Local Codes & Permits

Building codes have been established by most cities, towns, and counties. They vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another.

A building permit generally is required whenever structural work is involved or when the basic living area of a home is to be changed.

A professional who works in your city or town every day will know the local requirements.
Do not obtain your own building permit. In most jurisdictions, the individual obtaining the permit is considered to be the contractor and is, therefore, liable if the work does not comply with local building codes.

A Well-Written Contract is Essential

Be sure the contract includes the contractor’s name, address, and phone number.

Detail what the contractor will and will not do.

Your contractor should detail a list of all materials for the project in your contract. This includes size, color, model, name brand, and product.

The contract should include the approximate start date and substantial completion dates. Study all required plans carefully. Insist that you approve them and that they are identified in your written contract before the work begins.

Federal law requires a contractor to give you written notice of your right to, without penalty, cancel a contract within three business days of signing it, provided it was solicited at some place other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premises-your home for instance.

Make sure that financial terms are understood and spelled out in the contract. The total price, payment schedule, and any cancellation penalty should be clear.

A warranty covering materials and workmanship for a minimum of one year should be written into the contract. The warranty must be identified as either “full” or “limited”. The name and address of the party who will honor the warranty (contractor, distributor, or manufacturer) must be identified. Make sure the time period for the warranty is specified.

A binding arbitration clause is also a good inclusion in the event a disagreement occurs. Arbitration may enable you to resolve disputes without costly litigation.

Thoroughly review the entire contract and be certain you understand it before signing it. Consider the scope of the project and make sure all items you’ve requested are included. If you do not see a specific item in the contract, assume it is not included. Never sign an incomplete contract. Always keep a copy of the final document for your records.

Working with Professionals

Before work begins, ask your contractor what inconveniences may occur and plan for them. Be sure your contractor is aware of vacations or special events so that he or she may plan accordingly.

Move personal property from the construction areas and declare all work zones off-limits to children and pets. Be sure to put all changes in writing if your remodeling project is modified while work is being done. The amendment should be signed by both parties.

Keep a job file including the contract, plans, specifications, invoices, change orders, and all correspondence with the contractor.

Financing Your Remodeling Project

There are various financing plans available to homeowners. Among the most popular is the equity line of credit, which bases the loan amount on the equity in your home.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans specifically for home improvements are available through many banks and lending institutions. FHA, however, requires the contractor be approved by the lender. FHA does not guarantee the contractor’s work.

Some institutions will allow you to borrow against the anticipated equity in your home once your remodeling project is complete. A professional remodeling contractor is familiar with financing options available and can help. Research various sources of funding to compare individual qualification guidelines, interest rates, terms, and tax considerations.