Iron out all the details of the project to avoid any misunderstandings1. If the terms of the contract are beyond your expertise, consult with a construction law attorney. Likewise, discuss material specifications with your contractor and design plans with an architect.
2. Some projects may well make a house more attractive to buyers and fetch a higher price, but in this economy, you can’t count on it. If a contractor is trying to bolster his pitch with potential resale value, cross check his claims with a real estate agent or appraiser. Check out the latest remodeling economic trends as reported by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
3. Some contractors may charge extra for upgrades required by municipal inspectors, to cover extra costs—all the more reason to review your plans in advance with your municipal building staff. You can change the plans, and the project budget, to reflect the cost of complying with the code from the start.
4. While you’re visiting your municipal building department, avoid surprise fines by asking about permits that homeowners might need to get for construction-related services like dumpsters. Also make sure you’re familiar with noise and nuisance ordinances so you’re not hit with a costly complaint from neighbors annoyed at the 6 a.m. symphony hammered out by the crew.
5. Find out who will actually be doing the work on your project by requesting a list of your sub-contractors. If there’s an apprentice, who will be supervising him to be sure the work is done correctly?
6. Work with your contractor to get deep discounts on appliances, fixtures and building materials. Contractors often get a better deal than homeowners on these things.
7. Get the details of the project schedule and how the contractor has prioritized your job compared to all his work. Ask for a job schedule broken down by phase – demolition, rough construction, plumbing, electrical and finish work.
8. If you’re counting on a home equity line of credit to pay for the project, confirm how much is available to you. Lenders have been scaling back HELOC’s in line with declining home values.
9. The National Association of Home Builders has a Green Building Program. Search its website for a green builder in your area: Go to and select "CGP" (Certified Green Professional) in the Designation field.
Sources: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies; Roger Peugeot, president of Roger the Plumber, Inc., Overland Park, KS; Collin Johnson, director of inspection services for the City of Glendale, WI; Bruce Case, president of Case Design/Remodeling, Inc., based in Bethesda, MD. Interviews by Joanne Cleaver.