By Roberta Pescow
Unexpected delays can quickly turn a fun home remodeling project into stressful misery. But you’ve got more power than you think to keep your project on schedule — and it all comes down to what you do before a single nail is hammered. These six proactive tips will help you avoid remodel problems so your project runs smoothly.
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1. Choose Your Team Carefully
When you hire a contractor, the burden of verifying their credentials falls squarely on your shoulders. Start by checking the Better Business Bureau’s website for red flags, as well as visiting LexisNexis online (which requires a subscription) to see if any lawsuits have been filed against potential contractors.
It’s also important to get valid references, stresses David Merrick, president of Merrick Design and Build in Kensington, Maryland. Rather than simply trusting online reviews, Merrick suggests doing some legwork.
“Visiting a project that is actually in progress is the best way to get a reference,” says Merrick, who also serves as the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s Metro D.C. chapter. “So if you’re serious about hiring a contractor, and you want to take the time to check their references, ask to talk to [a current client] or visit a job they have in production.”
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Merrick goes on to explain that homeowners should also check contractors’ license statuses online and “request a certificate of insurance. This comes directly from the insurance agent without going through the contractor’s hands, so you know it’s not forged.” This official document also lets you know whether the contractor’s policy is sufficient for your project’s size, and if workers’ compensation coverage is included.
2. Build in a Budget Cushion
Setting aside money for unexpected costs could help prevent your project from being delayed indefinitely.
Although good contractors usually spot evidence of costly problems during the initial estimate, some issues don’t reveal themselves until the walls are opened up, explains Rebecca Davila, owner of Building Dreams, a construction and renovation company in Hawthorne, California. For this reason, she suggests homeowners protect themselves by factoring in a substantial budget cushion.
“You have to look at having at least 20% to 25% [more] money on the side of your project,” she advises, “just in case of unforeseen conditions.”
3. Order Materials Early
Backorders and slow order fulfillment can stop renovations in their tracks. That’s why it’s essential to select and order tiles, fixtures and other materials your contractor requests as early as possible. It’s also crucial to choose products that are in stock and can be delivered quickly.
“Make sure you have everything ready and available,” Davila says. “You don’t want to order something and find out you’re on hold for six weeks, and your whole project stops for that item.”
4. Pay Attention to Permits
To maintain building codes and regulations, renovations often require permits. Be aware that the larger your project is, the longer it may take for permit approval — and for very large jobs, it could take months.
Professional contractors generally have a good feel for permit requirements and lead times and should know when to file to keep your project on schedule. Merrick warns that if a contractor asks you to get a permit yourself, that’s a major red flag.
“Any time a contractor asks a homeowner to pull a permit, there’s a reason,” he cautions. “They’re either lazy or they’re not properly licensed. They’re usually doing it because they’re not licensed.”
Having your contractor pull permits is also preferable for liability reasons. “The contractor’s name should be on it because they should be liable for it,” Davila says.
5. Get Everything in Writing
Before any work begins or money changes hands, you’ll need to sign a detailed contract. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and protects against being left high and dry with your project unfinished.
Renovation contracts should cover all the work being done and materials used, along with a clear payment schedule based on either time intervals or project completion levels. Know that a reputable contractor will never ask for full payment upfront or expect your final payment before the entire project is completed to your satisfaction. If you don’t understand the details of your contract, consider having a lawyer look it over.
6. Avoid Change Orders
One of the simplest ways to prevent remodeling delays (and budget disasters) is to be sure of what you want and stick with it. Changing your mind midstream results in change orders, which are contract amendments that occur when a customer decides to change project details like the location of a wall or the type of flooring.
Change orders not only create delays when new materials don’t arrive on time; they also can easily derail your well-planned budget. As Davila explains, “When a contractor gets a job, that’s when their prices are the lowest. When a change order comes in, they know that you have to do it so they can charge you anything.”
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Roberta Pescow is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].