Home Remodel Checklist

A couple picking designs for their home.When planning a home remodeling project, whether you are replacing your windows or doing a full tear-out of your kitchen, it is important to plan ahead. Knowing where to start, how to budget, and who to contract for the work can be overwhelming. Use the checklist below to help you in your project planning.

  • Make a prioritized wish list. Do your homework and make a list with your wants on one side, and your needs on the other. Be as specific as possible by listing your preferences for brands and timing for your projects so you and your contractor are on the same page. Make sketches of your ideas or print off pictures that inspire you. Prioritize your list, so that if the unexpected happens, you will be prepared to make the tough decisions of what can wait, and what cannot.
  • Determine your budget.
    • Know your finances. You can’t predict the future, but you do know how much you have now. Don’t put all of your resources towards a home improvement project, as you never know when you’ll need to replace an appliance, or the neighbor will put a baseball through your window. Determine a comfortable amount you’d be willing to put towards home improvement, and work from there.
    • Get an estimate on the project you want to complete first. Once you have a base to work with, determine what costs will actually work within your budget. Tell your contractor your budget goals and see what adjustments you can make without sacrificing quality or your priorities.
    • Don’t forget to factor in miscellaneous expenses such as dining out, renting a storage unit or booking a hotel room if construction will make your home temporarily unlivable.
    • Set aside 10-15 percent more than you figure your renovation will cost for the unexpected.
    • Check with your contractor to see if they offer seasonal discounts. Some trades get busy during the summer, but struggle to find work in the winter. If you are comfortable dealing with the seasonal elements, consider doing your project off-season.
  • Know Your ContractorThis isn’t the time to crack the Yellow Pages. Ask everyone you know in the area about their experiences, good and bad. You should also consult the websites for the National Association of Remodelers (nari.org) or the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org); the professionals belonging to these organizations are bound by strict codes of ethics and business practices. 
    Some key questions to ask:

    • Do they charge by the hour or by the project? (If your renovation is on the larger scale, push for a flat fee.)
    • What is their policy and pricing on change orders? (If you are paying by the project, changing your mind along the way can add up fast.)
    • Can they complete your project in the time frame you need?
    • Do they have a specialty? (Your neighbors may love what the contractors did to their kitchen, but can they replace your chimney?)
    • What are their references? Do they have any former clients who would be willing to let you inspect their work? Are there before and after pics?
    • Are they bonded, licensed, and insured to perform work where you live? (The rules vary by state and town; check your local government website for specifics.)
    • Do they offer a warranty their work and what does it cover?
    • Will they acquire the proper permits for the work, or will you need to?
    • Perhaps most importantly: Do you work well together? Is communication easy? Let your instincts be your guide; if you don’t get a good vibe now, just imagine how bad it’ll be when someone is elbow-deep in your electrical wiring.
  • Determine the Schedule
    • Are you planning on hosting a holiday party or event at your home? Make sure your remodel will not be interfering with your plans. If the remodel will require your home to be open for extended periods of time, winter may not be the best time to schedule your project.
    • Plan out the times you will need to be at or out of your home. Does your contractor need you present for certain projects, or will it be unsafe for you to be on the property at certain times? Plan ahead as much as possible to avoid any hold-ups in the schedule.
  • Examine the fine print of the contract.Make sure the following is included:
    • The deposit: The amounts vary by state and proprietor, but you shouldn’t be expected to put down more than one-third of the total cost up-front.
    • A start and finish date.
    • The schedule of payments. (Request that a final payment of 3 percent to 10 percent is made only upon full completion of the job.)
    • A clause about binding arbitration; in other words, if something comes up during the work that you are unsatisfied with, you have a right to go to an independent third party who’ll decide how to fix it.
    • Right of rescission; meaning you have three business days from the signing of the contract to change your mind and get out of it.
  • If possible, reserve a room for you to escape.If you are staying in your home during the remodel, it will be important to give you and your family a place to seek solace from the chaos. Choose a room that will be relatively untouched during the project and set it up with the essentials you will need to keep some consistency and sanity in your home. Some ideas are a DVD player, board games, a mini-fridge and snacks.

Some items from Real Simple, “Home Renovation Checklist,” at www.realsimple.com.

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