Angie's LIST Guide to
Planning a remodeling project

A major remodeling project can be one of the most exciting and difficult experiences a homeowner can undertake. Not only is a major remodel a significant financial investment, it requires time spent planning, developing and executing the construction.
 

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Deciding what you want

Before you begin any home remodeling project, whether major or minor, you need a plan. The first step is to determine your ultimate goal. Are you converting a basement into a “man cave” replete with a bar, theater seating and floor-to-ceiling shelving for sports memorabilia? Perhaps you’re planning on converting your living room into a relaxing modern retreat? Or your plans include restoring an aged but charming Victorian home to its former ornate period condition?

Having a better idea of how you want your finished product to look and feel will help make necessary decisions about factors such as design, materials and budget much easier. But even if you only have a rough idea of what you want, it can be fleshed out as you speak with remodeling and home improvement professionals.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to take measurements or the space to be remodeled to use during the designing phase, and carefully craft what changes will be made to the space. If you’re building an entirely new space or restructuring an old one, many remodeling contractors can offer remodeling project design services that can include blueprints of the intended project or 3D renderings.

However, planning does not end once the blueprint design of the space is complete. Here are some questions you’ll need to consider before you commence with any construction:

1. If you plan on doing any of the work yourself, what tools will you need?

Unless you’re a contractor yourself, you probably don’t have an entire arsenal of power tools at your disposal. Although you may have a hammer, screwdriver and other basic implements, you may need more heavy-duty equipment, depending on the type of remodeling work you plan to complete.

2. If you plan on purchasing supplies yourself, for you or your contractor, what kinds of building materials will you need?

You’ll need to get a rough idea of how much construction materials you’ll need to finish the job. This includes not only the skeletal elements such as lumber, concrete and electrical wiring, but also smaller items such as screws, nails and sandpaper, as well as finish items such as wallpaper, paint and lighting fixtures.

3. How much electrical wiring renovation or installation will be needed to complete the project?

If your project involves moving existing electrical wires or installing new wiring, you’ll definitely need the services of a licensed electrician. In many cases, you’ll also need to obtain an electrical permit from your local municipality so the work can be inspected for safety.

4. How will the plumbing be affected?

Even moving plumbing such as water supply or drain pipes a few feet can involve a large amount o ftime and effort. If you plan on changing plumbing fixture locations or rerouting how your home’s plumbing works, the safest bet is to call upon the service of a licensed plumber. Similar to electrical work, many municipalities require that certain home plumbing alterations be completed via a permit so an inspection can take place.

5. How much time will the project take?

Of course you want the project done sooner than later so you can start enjoying the finished product, but setting a realistic expectation of how long the project may take and where possible delays may occur can mean the difference between frustration and patience.

Generally, the more specialized trades, such as electricians and plumbers, and the more permits and inspections necessary, the longer the project will take overall.

Unforeseen problems such as faulty wiring and undiscovered damage or deterioration that requires repair can also add days or weeks to a remodel. In many cases, especially if you’re undertaking a larger remodeling project, you’ll be without the use of areas of the home or the entire home. Plan ahead for these events and keep an open mind about the completion date.

6. How will my homeowners insurance be affected?

Many home insurance policies are based on the conditions of the home when the policy is enacted. Some policies require specific actions when remodeling a home, such as hiring only licensed trades for plumbing and electrical or having an agent inspect the home once the work is completed. It’s always a good idea to check with your policy or insurance agent to see if there are any stipulations or restrictions for remodeling.

Deciding how much to spend

When remodeling, choose materials based on what's comparable in your neighborhood. Don't invest in granite countertops and high-end appliances if none of the other homes on the block have them. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List memberTina A.)

Once you’ve determined some of the factors concerning the scope of the project, it’s time to think about how much you want to invest and if you can accomplish your goals with your budget. Before you commit to financing a home remodeling project or hiring a contractor, think about some factors that may limit how much you spend.

1. How long do you plan on staying in the home?

If you plan on staying for only a few more years, a smaller remodeling project that doesn’t require extensive financing or time is probably a better option. If you plan on staying in the home for many more years or decades, a larger project can make more sense.

2. What are the values of comparable homes in your area?

If improving the resale value of your home is one of your remodeling goals, be sure to look at the homes surrounding yours. Adding resale value of your home to the point that it’s prohibitively expensive compared to other homes in the area can mean your home languishes on the market. Reduce the size of your project or concentrate on smaller features or finishes that will help your home stand out.

Consulting with a licensed real estate agent about your neighborhood, your home’s features and the planned project can help determine if the project is the right fit.

3. Can you afford it?

First, can you afford the financing or payments necessary to complete the project? Second, don’t forget that if you’re adding a significant amount of square footage or living space to your home, your utility, insurance and maintenance costs will also rise.

Getting contractor estimates

Now that you’ve answered the questions about cost and affordability, it’s time to get some bids from remodeling companies or general contractors.

Compile a list of about four to five contractors you may want to hire for the project. Ask friends and family members about whom they hired for their remodeling projects and if they would recommend them. Check Angie’s List for consumer ratings and reviews on service providers in your area and for your project type.

If you’re working with a blueprint or plan, make sure the estimating contractors are aware of it. If you’ve already made decisions about the types of materials you want to use including finish items, make sure each contractor who provides an estimate has this information. It will help you better make apples-to-apples comparisons when looking at several estimates.

Another good tip when projecting your remodeling project’s cost is to plan ahead for unexpected and unforeseen problems. Damage to areas not visible until the project begins, plumbing or wiring that needs to be updated to meet current building codes and other circumstances can easily move a home remodeling project’s financing from black to red. Many contractors recommend adding an additional 10 to 20 percent to your project’s overall cost to be able to deal with these types of issues.   

Some questions to keep in mind when researching contractors:

1. Ask questions about their work

How long have they been in business? What types of projects do they specialize in? Have they ever completed a remodeling project or projects similar to yours? Do they use subcontractors or in-house employees? If they use subcontractors, how do they select the electricians, plumbers or other specialty trades that your project may require?

2. Get specific answers to questions about insurance, bonding, permits and licenses

What insurance does the company to protect the homeowner and its workers from damage or injury? Do they offer proof of insurance? Do they carry any bonding to insure the job is completed on time? Are they required to hold a license in your jurisdiction for this work, and if so, do they have proof they hold it? Will the work require a permit? If so, when and how will the contractor obtain it?

3. Ask for and verify references

The company should be able to provide recent customers as references for projects similar to yours. Call and ask these homeowners if they would hire the company for another remodeling job. Were there any delays or issues with the job? How were they resolved? Did the contractor, employees and subcontractors do a good job with communication? Was the project site safe and cleaned up daily?

Remodeling contracts

If you’re ready to select a contractor or remodeling professional, think about what details need to be presented in the project’s contract. A contract is a must-have document for any home improvement investment, as its details will lay out exactly what is expected of both parties. A contract’s terms, clauses and conditions can protect the contractor and the homeowner.

Read your contract carefully before signing. While it’s easy to gloss over the fine print, you may be signing away your right to compensation or recourse should problems arise with the project or your contractor.

Every contract should include sections that desribe the details of the following:

1. Project description. This should include the scope of the work and description of all materials needed to complete the work. If specified, the materials listing should include what grade of quality material is to be used and specific brand names. If blueprints or plans have been made for the project, copies of them should be included in the contract.

2. Permits, licenses and inspections. This information should be as specific as possible, including license numbers, as well as whose responsibility it is to obtain them. In most cases, the contractor should obtain the necessary permits for the work.

3. Project start and final completion dates, with interim completion dates for longer, multi-phase projects. These dates should also specify daily start and end times. If you’re concerned about a project stretching way over its projected timeline, talk about adding daily penalties for every day the project misses its completion date.

4. Payment amounts and due dates. Remember, for larger projects, it’s never a good idea to pay more than 1/3 of a project’s total cost upfront and no more than $10,000. State and municipal laws may also regulate how much money a contractor can require as a down payment. If the project will be completed in phases, making the payment due dates as contingent upon actual project phase completion milestones should also be included in the contract.

5. Insurance and property damage liability. Property damage can and will occur with some remodeling jobs and the contract should make it clear who is responsible for it.

6. Warrnties or guarantees. Warranties or guarantees that cover supplies and the final work will not only protect the homeowner, but they can also assure the homeowner that the contractor stands behind their work.

7. Lien waivers or releases. While it may not be a standard item in every contract, ask your contractor about including a lien waiver or release. Once the project is completed to the homeowner’s satisfaction and the final payment is made, a lien waiver or release indicates that if any supplier or subcontractor is owed money by the contractor, it is the contractor’s responsibility, not the homeowner’s. A lien waiver can help you avoid a mechanic’s lien from a material supplier or subcontractor. 

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