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06/01/2016 11:47 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2017

7 Tips to Avoid a Nightmare Remodel

This is the busiest time of year for remodels. Most homeowners like to start their remodel now so it is completed by the new school year and the holiday season. Summer is a convenient time for a family to travel while their home is being worked on.

The home remodel experience should be fun and rewarding. You are essentially getting a new home to meet your family's lifestyle and needs without moving. However, you may have heard stories from friends and family whose remodel turned into a nightmare. For example, a job that was supposed to take six months to complete went on for over a year. Not only is your happiness about the remodel squashed, but you also have a bitter taste in your mouth and won't feel the same about it in the end. The delays and the stress take the joy out of it. If your remodel needs to go on hold in the middle of the job, then the original budget goes out the window.

The keys to not having this happen are to know what to look for, who to hire, and see the warning signs. Here are 7 tips to help avoid a nightmare remodel.

1) Moving Out or Staying in Your Home: Are you prepared to either move out or stay and camp out while your remodel is being done? To move out means additional costs if you don't have a second home to go to. To stay in your home means living with a temporary kitchen and in a more confined space with inevitable added stress.

2) Hiring the Essential Players: The architect, designer, space planner, kitchen and bath designer, and contractor are the four most essential players to the project. You should also be aware that hiring a professional educated interior designer who does space planning is much different than hiring a decorator who does furniture and drapes. You need the appropriate person to draw the plans because it is not only about the home's design architecturally, but also how the space is designed and functions along with the overall style. Letting your contractor play designer doesn't work.

3) Creating Good Plans: You need to have plans that work. This allows you to achieve a budget and stick to it. Sometimes a homeowner will think they hired the right person to draw them. However, the architect or designer who drew the plans has to understand city rules, residential design, and construction in general. They also need to understand space planning and kitchen design or the plans just won't work. Even if the plans are complete but not everything is reviewed in advance, there will be surprises and added costs.

4) Making Decisions and Selections: For budget and timing reasons, all design decisions and material selections should be made in advance of starting the project. A well-known fact in all remodels is the "unknown" behind the walls. This cannot be avoided. The other unknown to the professionals is how the client will react and how many changes they will make "after" the jobs starts. My best advice to a client is if they have a budget, they want to stick to. Do not under any circumstances make changes or add to the scope of work after the work starts. It's a nightmare of additional costs on top of delays.

5) Determining Your Style: It's best to work with a professional designer to help guide you through this process. The professional design process is executed in a way that is supposed to allow you to see all the options and, at same time, fine-tune the options while establishing the style. In the end, it has to not only have style, but it also must function so it will all work for the homeowner. Getting there can be overwhelming and proper guidance is the key.

6) Avoiding the Owner-Builder Route: The biggest nightmare is when a homeowner starts their project without a permit or a plan. They try to hire all of the sub-contractors themselves as an owner-builder without hiring a contractor. They manage the project with no experience and think the process is easy because it's their house. The risk to the homeowner is very high in this situation. A homeowner will usually spend much more time and money in the end if they choose to go the owner-builder route. Then it will be too late when they realize that they need a professional to take over and finish the job right.

7) Checking References: It's amazing how many contractors aren't who they say they are. You want to make sure that your contractor is legitimate: licensed, bonded, and insured. Actually check his license and make sure it's valid. Check his references. Ask for proof of insurance. It's illegal to work without it. If they don't have it, then you stop.

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