Tips for Planning Your Remodeling Project

Think About Design and Function

  • Design and function should be foremost in your mind if you’re thinking of adding a room or converting an existing room. Give thought to details such as: where you want electrical outlets, telephone jacks and cable hook-ups located; the type of lighting required; your current and future storage needs; and whether you want to include luxury items. These details will enable your remodel to better suit your needs and lifestyle.

  • Careful planning of your home improvement projects will enable you to update your home, increase the value of your investment and customize your living space.

  • Be sure to review your homeowner’s insurance policy and make adjustments for the added value of the work being done.

Match a Professional to Your Needs

Depending on your needs and the size of your remodeling project, there are several options for you to explore before finalizing your plans. Attempt to define which of the following alternatives represent the best approach for your project:


Major remodeling projects require construction drawings to define contracts and permits procurement. If your professional remodeler does not provide design services, you can use a professionally trained architect. It is best to work with an architect experienced in remodeling, as he or she will be more sensitive to the special challenges that remodeling represents.

Design/Build Contractor

Design/build is a concept developed to benefit the homeowner with his or her remodeling project by providing both quality design and construction services within the same company. A design/build contractor will be able to see your project through from start to finish, keeping design, engineering and budget in mind.

Interior Decorator

An interior decorator will work with you to select a color scheme, a style and a layout for your rooms. They will help you with wall coverings, window treatments, carpets and upholstery, and they will show you appropriate furniture for your home. A decorator may or may not have any formal college training. What they do have, however, is a natural creative talent for decorating interior spaces.

Interior Designer

An interior designer is always a decorator. In addition to that, however, they also redesign spaces. They are trained to develop a master plan and look at the possibilities of a space in the context of the master plan. An interior designer has had formal college training, knows the building codes and has had a great deal of experience within the construction field. They do space planning and remodeling, but they are not architects or contractors.

General Contractor

Many home improvements may not require professional design services and can be handled by an experienced remodeling contractor. Again, be sure to deal with a professional. Even small jobs need careful planning, as their successful completion is important to you.

Select a Qualified Remodeling Professional

  • Employ a contractor with an established business in your area. Local firms can be checked through references from past customers in your community.

  • California requires contractors to be licensed and bonded. Contractor license status can be checked on the California State Contractor’s Licensing Board website at

  • If your home was built pre-1978 make sure your contractor is EPA Certified for Lead Safe Work practices. See for more information.

  • Ask to see a copy of the contractor’s certificates of insurance or the name of his or her insurance agency to verify coverage and policy limits. California requires a contractor to carry Worker’s Compensation (if there are employees). While California does not require contractors to carry General Liability insurance, NARI of Silicon Valley requires all members to carry General or Professional Liability insurance.

  • If you solicit bids from several different contractors, be sure they are bidding on the same scope and quality of work. Discuss variations in bids and beware of any bid that is much lower than the others.

A Well-Written Contract is Essential

  • Be sure the contract includes the contractor’s name, address, phone and license number (if applicable).

  • A contract should include detail about what the contractor will and will not do.

  • A detailed list of materials for the project should be included in your contract, with information such as size, color, model, brand name and product.

  • The contract should include approximate start and completion dates.

  • Study the design plans carefully. Insist that you approve them and that they are identified in your written contract before any work begins.

  • Known as the “Right of Rescission,” Federal law requires a contractor to give you written notice of your right to, without penalty, cancel a contract within three business days of signing it, provided it was solicited at someplace other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premises.


  • Make sure financial terms are understood and spelled out in the contract. The total price, payment schedule, and any cancellation penalty should be clear.

  • A warranty covering materials and workmanship for a minimum of one year should be written into the contract. The warranty must be identified as either “full” or “limited.” The name and address of the party who will honor the warranty (contractor, distributor or manufacturer) must be identified. Make sure the time period for the warranty is specified.

  • A binding arbitration clause is also a good inclusion in the event a disagreement occurs. Arbitration may enable you to resolve disputes without costly litigation.

  • Thoroughly review the entire contract and be certain you understand it before signing it. Consider the scope of the project and make sure all items you’ve requested are included. If you do not see a specific item in the contract, consider it not included. Never sign an incomplete contract. Always keep a copy of the final document for your records.

Comply with Local Building Codes & Permits

Building codes have been established by most cities, towns and counties. They vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another. The complex elements of local building codes and permits are familiar details to a professional remodeler. A building permit is generally required whenever structural work is involved or when the basic living area of a home is to be changed. Do not obtain your own building permit; the individual obtaining the permit is considered to be the contractor and is liable if the work does not comply with codes. Injuries, jobsite safety and compliance with employee payroll regulations are also the responsibility of the permit holder.

Financing Your Project

There are various financing plans available to homeowners. Some of the most popular are the Home Equity Line of Credit and FHA loans. Some institutions will allow you to borrow against the anticipated equity in your home once your remodeling project is complete. Research various sources of funding to compare individual qualification guidelines, interest rates, terms and tax considerations.

Working With Professionals

  • Before work begins, ask your remodeling professional what inconveniences may occur while the project is underway and plan for them accordingly. Be sure your contractor is aware of vacations or special events so that he or she may schedule appropriately.

  • Move personal property from work areas and declare all work zones off-limits to children and pets.

  • Be sure to put all changes in writing if your remodeling project is modified while work is being done. Both parties should sign the amendment, called a “change order.”


  • Keep a job file including contract, plans, specifications, invoices, change orders and all correspondence.

  • Request a contractor’s Affidavit of Final Release be provided to you at the time you make final payment and a final waiver of mechanic’s lien. This is your assurance that you will not be liable for any third-party claims for non-payment of materials or subcontractors.


For more consumer information about remodeling contracts and legal requirements, visit the California Contractors State License Board,