Whether you’re renovating the entire house, updating your kitchen or installing a new home theater, here are three things you’ll want to do before you get started.

  1. Get into the details
    Your project may seem quick and easy, but before you get started, make sure you’ve gone through the details:

    • What’s the goal of the project? If you want to increase the resale value of the home, make sure you don’t add so many expensive improvements that you can’t recoup the cost.
    • Will you need a permit or a specialist to help? Even do-it-yourselfers often need experts – plumbers, electricians – and many seemingly small projects need permits as well.
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  2. Find the right contractor
    One of the best ways to find a contractor you can trust is to ask friends or family for recommendations, then check for customer reviews on services like Home Stars and complaints from the Better Business Bureau.

    If you’re not sure the contractor is the right one for your job, ask questions:

    • What kinds of projects do you specialize in?
    • Do you use subcontractors, and if so, how are they chosen?
    • Can you provide proof of insurance to protect you and your other workers?
    • Do you have customer references?
    • Are you bonded to ensure the job is completed on time?
    • Can I see your “certificate of liability” to make sure your insurance limits are high enough for my project? (Their limit should be as high as the value of the project. If you’re building a $3 million home, the contractor should have at least $3 million in liability coverage for any one occurrence.)
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  3. Review the remodeling contract
    Always make sure you understand and are comfortable with the remodeling contract provided by your contractor before you proceed with the project. You may even want to have a lawyer look it over, to make sure it is clear and covers what you need. For example, make sure your contract does not contain a section on “waiving your right to subrogation.” If the contractor is negligent, and you had signed a waiver like this, you couldn’t recover your losses from a third party if there is a lawsuit.

    Here’s what a contract should include (at a minimum):

    • The details of the project
    • Start and end dates, including interim dates for multi-phase projects
    • Information about permits, licenses and inspections, and who will be responsible for obtaining them
    • Payment amounts and due dates, warranties and guarantees – experts recommend never paying more than one-third of the total project cost up front. Check with your state or local municipality for their regulations
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