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Before You Remodel Your Home

A Checklist for Your Remodeling Dreams

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A building permit to refurbish a home that Habitat for Humanity bought in North Lauderdale, Florida

A building permit to refurbish a home that Habitat for Humanity bought in North Lauderdale, Florida

Photo by Joe Raedle / Staff / Collection: Getty Images News / ©2010 Getty Images

It all begins with a dream. Cathedral ceilings! Skylights! Room-sized closets! But, the dream may turn into a nightmare, unless you plan ahead. Before you remodel, follow these steps to get your home improvement project on the right start.

1. Draw Your Dream

Even before you consult an architect, you can begin sketching out your ideas and imagining your remodeled home. If you are adding or expanding a room, think about how the space will be used and how the changes will affect traffic patterns. Also consider how new construction will affect the overall context of your home. An oversized addition may overwhelm your house or crowd a small lot. A simple home design software program can help you visualize your project.

2. Learn From Others

One of the best ways to get inspiration and to avoid pitfalls is to follow the experiences of other homeowners. A number of Web sites offer online chronicles of home improvement projects, along with reply forms, message boards, and chat rooms that let you ask questions and get feedback.

3. Think Ahead

Although you may dream of having a spacious new addition, the project may not make sense if you plan to sell your house in a few years. A luxury bathroom can price your house beyond the values in your neighborhood. Some projects, such as vinyl siding on a Queen Anne Victorian, will actually decrease the value of your home. Moreover, your own family's needs may be very different in a few years. Will the plans you draw today fit your future?

4. Count Your Money

Even the best-laid budgets can go bust. Chances are, your remodeling project will cost more than you expect. Before you set your heart on high-end ceramic tile, find out how much you have to spend and make sure you have a cushion against cost overruns. For must-have items that could wipe out your savings account, explore home improvement loans and other financing options. Consider online borrowing from reputable companies that bring together small investors with borrowers. The Better Business Bureau reviews companies such as the Lending Club.

5. Choose your team

Unless you plan to take on the entire remodeling project by yourself, you'll need to hire helpers. Naturally, you'll want to make sure that the folks who work for you are qualified, licensed, and properly insured. But, finding the best team for your remodeling project goes beyond a simple reference check. The architect who has won top awards may have a design vision very different from your own. Use these resources to find the professionals you feel comfortable with.

6. Negotiate a Contract

Whether you plan a simple carpentry job or a major project requiring the services of an architect and a general contractor, misunderstandings can lead to disaster. Do not begin remodeling without a written contract. Make sure everyone agrees on the work that will be completed and how long it will take. Also be clear on the types of materials that will -- and will not -- be used.

7. Get Permission

In most parts of the world, a legal permit is required before you make structural changes to your home. The building permit assures that the remodeling project meets local building codes and safety regulations. If you live in a historic district, the permit also assures that exterior changes to your home are in keeping with neighborhood guidelines. General contractors will usually take care of the paperwork, but smalltime workers may not... and the permits become your responsibility.

8. Plan for Problems

The larger the remodel, the greater the chances for frustrations. There will be equipment breakdowns, supply shortages, miscommunications, and delays. Draw up a few friendly rules for workers. Tell them where they may park their trucks and store their equipment. Plan for ways you can indulge yourself when times become especially stressful. Schedule a day at a spa and reserve a night at a romantic bed and breakfast inn. You deserve it!

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