Ten Ways to Beat Remodeling Stress
by Rick Stacy

1. Plan Ahead. Begin planning your project and finding a contractor several months to a year ahead of time. A good contractor is likely to have a long lead time. Don't wait until you're desperate to get the work done or you may end up with substandard work and not enough time to think through the details to make the remodel just right for you and your family.

2. Choose a Contractor Carefully.
Be discriminate when looking for a contractor. The lowest price is not always the most for your money. An apples to apples comparison in remodeling is difficult. The nightmare stories of homeowners who have simply settled for the lowest bidder are endless. If you are working with an architect, bring the architect in on the decision and consider his or her recommendations. Research the reputation of the company. Check their references. Ask their past customers questions like these: How did the final cost of the project compare with their original estimate? Were they timely and dependable? Did they do the work with their own employees or hire it out to a lot of subcontractors. Keep in mind, the customer/contractor relationship is a marriage for the duration of the project. Hire someone you can live with.

3. Practical Cost Cutting.
Look for practical ways to reduce the cost of the project. Are there aspects of the work you can take care of yourself such as debris removal, demolition, gutting or insulation installation? Do you (or a friend or relative who is willing to help) have expertise in a certain area? Maybe you can handle the electrical, plumbing, trim work or painting. A good contractor is one that is willing to work with you to find ways to save money. Have the contractor exclude these items from the contract or separate them out. Be prompt about getting the items you take on done, don't hold up the project and strain the contractor/homeowner relationship.

4. What's Included, What's Not?
Determine clearly with the contractor what is included in their work and what is not. Look for areas that are vague. For instance, are they taking care of the painting? The permit? Or removing the Oak tree that is right where the addition will be built? If you are handling the electrical work and installing the bathroom fan, who's going to put in the roof vent for it? These kind of items sometimes fall between the cracks. When in doubt, ask. Don't assume. Make sure these things are spelled out in the contract. (You did get a contract, didn't you?)

5. Communicate --Regularly. Establish regular meetings, at least weekly, with the contractor and/or lead carpenter who is running the job. Touch base with the crew casually, every day, to assess their progress. Many decisions need to be made while the work is in progress. This is also the time that you or your contractor may get an idea for a change that will improve the project. By staying on top of these things, changes can be implemented quickly and less expensively.

6. Make Decisions Promptly. Make product decisions (cabinet styles, faucet selections, etc.) promptly, if possible before the project begins so the job is not held up by a delayed delivery. If you change your mind on any aspect of the remodeling project, approach the contractor early. Change orders can be costly if it means tearing up work that has already been done. But adding a wall, or an electrical outlet is relatively easy and inexpensive to do during the project's "rough-in" stage.

7. Clear the Area. Remove pictures from walls, shadow boxes and valuable items stored in or adjacent to the working area. Even the most careful contractor is liable to damage an item with the demolition, hammering and multiple trips in and out of the house with tools and two-by-fours. Have temporary barriers of plywood or plastic set up to keep construction dust and debris from entering the rest of the house.

8. Get Away. It will be less stressful for you (and your contractor) if you are away during as much of the construction process as is possible. Eat out on occasion. Take the kids on a half day trip. It will get you away from the dust and commotion and allow the job to progress faster.

9. Reasonable Payment Schedule. Agree to a payment schedule for the work that is reasonable. A small deposit requested by the contractor to hold the job is acceptable. But do not give large down payments until the contractor is on the job and materials are in your driveway. Break the payments for the job up at clear points when possible such as: the completion of the rough framing or completion of hanging and taping of drywall. Hold a significant portion of the total cost of the job until the project is completed to insure that the punch list items are taken care of. Mention any items you want dealt with as the job progresses, don't wait until the end. A good contractor will take care of punchlist items promptly.

10. Mutual Respect. Make sure you have a contractor who will respect your daily routines and needs as much as is practical. Communicate these with your contractor well ahead of time. Likewise, do all you can to make the contractor's job easier. Allow access to the driveway, and a place to store materials. These kinds of efforts can pay back dividends with a speedy completion and a grateful contractor.

(Rick Stacy is owner of R.A. Stacy Construction in Bergen, NY. He writes for The Journal of Light Construction, a Hanley-Wood publication.)