Angie's List: Home Remodeling

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If you are looking to make changes in your home, our partners at Angie's List have advice on how to get beyond the "wish list" and into the project stage. Experts say it's all about having a clear idea on what you want to accomplish.

Remodeling can be expensive, and if you want to get your money back,  experts say there are two places to look: The kitchen and the bathroom.

Angie Hicks with Angie's List says, "Those two rooms get the best return on your investment- about 85 percent, but the key here is not overdoing it, but keeping up with the Jones's."

And while it's good to have a picture in your mind of what you want to accomplish, contractors say you also need to know what it will take the get there.

Contractor Phill Gettum says, "The reality of it is no matter what anybody tells you, you are going to be living in some sort of a war zone for a period of time. We do our level best to keep it to a minimum. We do our level best to set the proper expectation so you understand what you are going to be working through."

If you decide the end result is worth the pain, there are some things you need to do to before hiring a contractor to do the work.  You need to prepare by reading remodeling magazines, searching the Internet, and even sketching out what you want to do.

Make sure you get at least three estimates in writing and study them to make sure each contractor is offering to do the same work.  You should never hire someone on price alone.

Also, set up a payment plan.  Even minor kitchen remodels can cost $20,000. Don't pay all of it up front, but tie payments to the job's progress.

It's a lot to consider, but experts say there's an added incentive.  They say the best time to put money into your home is when housing prices are down.

Phill says, "If you have the means and you have the ability to do it, this (remodeling) is by far the best time to invest in your home because when the market comes back the remodeling that you did will float with that."

A down housing market also means that contractors may be more available right now and will be willing to work for a more competitive price.

More from Angie's List:

Projects with a high return on investment: If you're going to invest in projects designed to improve your home's value, it makes sense to know what remodeling projects will give you the most return for your money

  • Kitchens and baths
  • Decks
  • Siding
  • Windows

Projects with the lowest return on investment: Unless your home is the only one on the block without these items, these projects could actually detract from your home's attractiveness.

  • Pool
  • Home office
  • Sun room
  • Master suite
  • Adding a third bay to the garage.

There are a number of routes you can go when remodeling your kitchen and bathroom – from simple items such as replacing a fixture or floors – to a complete remodel that includes expanding the size of the room. Where you live, material selections, and the scope of the work are all factors that determine costs and can make a difference in your budget.

Angie's List tips: How to hire the right remodeling contractor:

  • Know what you want: Before you begin talking with contractors, read remodeling magazines, search the Internet for designs and materials and put your ideas on paper to give potential contractors a better sense of your expectations.
  • Get estimates: Get at least three written estimates to review. Make sure the estimates include the same things so you're comparing apples to apples. Never hire on price alone.
  • Do your research: Check out contractors in your area using Angie's List and talking to your neighbors. Ask for references from your potential contractors and call those customers. Try to get a customer who's been in the remodeled home for several months so you can see how the work has held up.
  • Require proof of proper license, certification and insurance – if your contractor can't show that, get another one no matter how nice he or she seems. If your home is older than 1978 your contractor must be certified in lead safe practices – ask for that documentation as well.
  • Working with a General Contractor (GC): Get everything in writing from the GC, including the names of the subcontractors and suppliers. Ask your GC to provide lien waivers that show subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Stay in touch with the subcontractors and make sure they're being paid on time. If possible, make checks out to both the contractor and subcontractors or suppliers, requiring two signatures to cash.
  • Read the contract BEFORE you sign: Make sure the job details, warranty, payment terms and penalties for not completing work are spelled out in your contract. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong.
  • Paying for the project: Expect a minor kitchen remodel to cost about $20,000 and a minor bathroom remodel around $10,000. Never pay the full cost of a project up front. Your payment schedule should be clearly spelled out in your contract. Tie payment plans to the job's progress. Most contractors will ask you to pay a portion of the project upfront – which is OK – but you can negotiate that down payment. Hold back the final payment until you're satisfied with the work.
  • Communicate with your contractor: Every project is going to have something unexpected pop up. To get the most cost-effective work out of your tradespeople, outline the scope of your project and establish a budget in advance. Make sure you are communicating your wants and needs directly with the contractor overseeing the project
  • Prepare for the stress/mess of a remodel: Regardless of size, all projects will include unexpected issues that may cost more or delay completion. Be prepared for stress as the project stretches on, work crews enter your home, materials may pile up, or you might have a few days without a working kitchen/bathroom.