With house prices slumping in much of the country, upgrading and adding to the living space are an alternative to buying new.

However, television programs have shown plenty of DIY disasters and unsuspecting homeowners who pay out their life savings to under-skilled contractors who do shoddy work or even abandon the project in the middle of the job.

Related: Do Home Renovations Really Pay Off?

If a home renovation is something you plan to do, here are some tips to ensure a quality job:

  1. Try to get referrals from friends and co-workers.  If you don’t know anyone who’s had work done, comb through the yellow pages, advertisements and on-line for names.  Call several companies.  (On a couple of projects I had, some companies didn’t even return my call.)
  2. Once you have a feel for them after speaking to them on the phone, choose three to five people to interview and give you an estimate.
  3. Make sure to discuss everything you want to accomplish together with the budget you have for the project.  A good contractor will offer suggestions and alternatives to keep you within budget. (Add an extra 10% for cost over-runs.)
  4. Most reputable companies will do the job with no money up front.  Beware of people who want huge money before they start.  You don’t know if they will go broke part way through the job, or take the money and run.  If it’s a large project they may ask for payment as each area is completed.
  5. Check the contractors’ backgrounds and references before signing any agreements.
  6. Don’t make a lot of changes after the original estimate. That said, if you really hate what was done, make sure it’s changed right away before additional work is completed.  Don’t feel you can learn to live with it.  Just be aware that the cost of redoing and replacing will add to your estimate. (When my living room was painted, the colour was hideous over a larger area and the room had to be repainted.)
  7. Keep pets out of the “construction zone” for their own safety and also the workers’.  Also, you don’t want to find pet hair embedded in your newly varnished wood floor after it has dried and it becomes a permanent part of your décor.
  8. Equally important, make sure you keep out of the way.  They don’t need you hanging over their shoulder making comments or suggestions.  After your daily inspection, if there’s a problem, speak to the contractor.
  9. It’s a nice gesture to provide some refreshments to the workers – coffee or bottled water for example.  Also indicate which bathroom they can use.  I was told that some homeowners don’t allow bathroom use, which seems unreasonable to me. (Although I was dismayed to see that my new basement toilet was “christened” by the plumber who installed it and my first chore was to clean it.)
  10. After the work is done to your satisfaction and payment has been made, enjoy your new living space.  Maybe you can have a party to show it off.

Do you have any home renovation tips or horror stories to share?


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