Plan your Project
Think your project through from start to finish. Develop an idea of what is actually necessary versus what is wanted. Items that are wanted can often times be added at a later time and can substantially drive up the cost of a project. Go through the entire design process, and try to have as many of selections, such as appliances, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, paint colors countertops, etc., chosen before talking to a contractor. The more of these items that you have chosen the less gray areas there are in an estimate, and the better chance you have of being able to compare apples to apples when reviewing estimates from multiple contractors. Pay attention to what type of repairs might be necessary on your home. Many times these are not factored into the original estimate or budgetary planning, but they become “while you are here” items and can drive up the cost of a project.
Determine your Budget
Come up with a budget of what you would like to spend before talking to a contractor. You may need to talk to a lender to develop a definitive budget. Take into account that projects tend to increase, and not decrease in cost, so plan accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to save 10-20% of your budget for increases to the original scope of work. Be wary of entering into a project if it is right at the maximum of your budget because any changes could cause enormous heartache and stress. Do not be afraid to speak in plain terms about your budget to a contractor. More often then not with a simple phone call to a contractor can determine if your budget is appropriate for the work you want to perform or if you budget is unrealistic.
Look at contractors with established businesses in your area, and make sure they are properly licensed and insured. Georgia requires all builders and remodeling contractors to carry a State Contractors License. Do not confuse this with a business license which your contractor should also have if he or she is operating a legitimate business. You can verify your contractors state license at http://verify.sos.ga.gov/websites/verification/
Ask for their insurance carriers information so you can request a certificate of their insurance from the carrier to verify coverage and to ensure that they have workers compensation, general liability and property damage coverage in the amount appropriate for your project. Ask for and check their references, even if they are have been recommended by a friend or associate. Ask if they have recently completed a project similar to yours.
Insist on a Contract
Be sure the contract includes the contractor's name, address, phone and license number (if applicable). Detail what the contractor will and will not do. Your contractor should detail a list of materials for the project in your contract. This includes size, color, model, brand name 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 any work begins. Federal law requires a contractor to give you written notice of your right to cancel a contract, without penalty, within three business days of signing it, provided it was solicited at some place (for instance, your home) other than the contractor's place of business or appropriate trade premises or has financing provision. Make sure 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, consider it not included. Never sign an incomplete contract. Always keep a copy of the final document for your records.
Plan for Inconvenience
Be prepared for inconvenience. A remodeling project can and will disrupt your traditional daily routine. Most likely workers will be in your personal space at inopportune times so plan accordingly. Ask to be notified as to when services may be turned off, such as water or power. Move items of value off adjacent walls and out of the construction zone. Even items in nearby rooms, such as wall hangings, can be damaged by vibration. Prepare for dust and have extra HVAC filters for monthly replacement. Even regular filter changes and the best planning can not keep drywall dust out of your living spaces. Maintain a sense of humor, and realize that a remodeling project is an adventure. Remember everyday brings a change for the better and a improvement to your home!