Photo by Randy Pertiet

Update: Taking the decision to embark on remodeling project is the easy part: now you need to plan, oversee and execute the idea while staying sane! We’ve got some simple, helpful tips to ensure that your remodel goes as smoothly as possible. Lots of planning and organization is essential – make sure you have a good filing system in place before you really start getting swamped with paperwork. There are a lot of ways to find the best contractors, too: ask your neighbors for personal recommendations, search local contractor websites and check out who’s available for hire on craigslist.

ORGANIZE!  To make your job easier, both before and during your remodeling project, you need a way to organize your information. You can use a three-ring binder or expandable file folder.  We have developed some workbooks that work well, click here to take a look at them.

However you decide to keep track of your paperwork, you must keep copies of all contracts, change orders, invoices, receipts, and permits. These will be invaluable if you have disputes with your contractors and when tax time comes around. Other things to consider are ideas from magazines, quotes, and contractor contact information.

Don’t be afraid to play designer. Many “amateur” home designers come up with great ideas, and since you are living in your home day after day, you could have better ideas than the “pros.” So get out a pencil, make 100 copies of your current floor plan, and sketch out all the alternatives. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they are, experiment with alternatives. At this point it’s free, so enjoy!

Though it is fun to try wild and crazy ideas, it is almost always better to stick with a traditional size and shape for your home, both for resale value and the cost of the remodel. Having a kitchen on the second floor may strike you as a clever and unique solution, but if it means moving the gas, electrical wiring, and plumbing up to the second floor, this change will add significantly to the project costs. Consider carefully before you add something out of the ordinary. If you install bright orange tile on floors then have to move unexpectedly, you might have a hard time finding a buyer who is also loves the color or is willing to deal with replacing it.


Figure out what you can do yourself. Have contractors itemize their quotes so you can see how much you will save by doing these things. Tasks you might consider include project management; demolition; rough electrical wiring; installation of cabinets, fixtures, and appliances; and finish work. Tasks you should probably leave to the pros include foundation work, framing, installing sheetrock and breaker boxes, and connecting your home to the electrical service.

Consider “practice” remodeling. If you aren’t quite ready to commit to doing part of the work yourself, get some hands-on experience. Find a small project around the house and tackle it yourself, such as putting a floor in the attic or building shelving in the garage. Other ways to gain some experience are to help a neighbor, volunteer for a Habitat for Humanity project, or take an education course at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or another building material store. These experiences will give you a firsthand look at the work.

Tips for finding a contractor:

  • Ask for referrals from friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • Ask people who have done work for you in the past, such as your plumber or gardener.
  • Search your local newspapers for contractors’ ads.
  • Use our online referral service by clicking here.
  • Use the telephone book.
  • Ask at lumberyards and hardware stores, especially those that cater to contractors.
  • Always make sure your contractor is fully licensed with state and local governments. Make sure the license is valid and up to date—do not rely on the contractor’s word. You can contact your state, county, and city governments for information on the contractor’s license. The website www.contractors-license.org lists licensing requirements for all fifty states.
  • Also make sure the contractor is fully insured and carries worker’s compensation, liability, and property damage insurance.

For a checklist of what the contract with your project contractor should include, click here.

Use the Remodel-or-Move Cost Calculator to estimate your costs. Our free calculator will give you the best estimate possible because it uses information you provide on the room to be remodeled, the level of finish that you want, how you will manage the project, and where your home is located. Since the calculator it is fully automated, you can see how changes in your design will affect the cost estimate. Click here to check out our calculators.