The planning of your home remodel can be an exciting time for a homeowner.  A chance to customize your home to fit your family’s lifestyle and transform your space. Unless you’ve been through the remodeling process before, it is often difficult to know what to expect or how difficult it may be to coordinate all the moving parts. Rushing through a remodel without knowing how to navigate the process can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.

There are some do’s and don’ts of remodeling that all homeowners considering a remodeling project should consider to ensure a smooth, safe and organized renovation.

Do check to see if you need a permit. If you begin a large remodeling project only to find out you needed a permit, you can find yourself paying hefty penalties, having a “stop work order” placed on your property by the Department of Buildings (DOB) or worse, having to undo what’s already been done. Consult with an Architect first to see if the scope of your project requires permits for structural changes to your home, installing new electrical or mechanical systems or the addition of a deck or fence.  If so, chances are you need a permit.

Do have a budget. One of the biggest challenges of a remodeling project is staying on budget. Despite all the planning, and knowing the costs of materials, labor and design, unexpected expenses can arise. It is a good idea to have a cushion of at least ten to twenty percent.

Do know when to call a professional. Certain tasks around the house can be performed by a handy “Do It Yourself-er”, however, once rewiring, plumbing or structural renovations are needed, it is worth hiring a licensed and insured professional.

Do research and plan your project ahead of time. Keep a separate folder or binder with proposals, ideas and project costs.  Keep copies of your contractors and sub-contractors’ licenses and Certificates of Insurance for your project.  As a homeowner, you should request certificates for General Liability and Worker’s Compensation before the project begins.

Do make sure your contractor or remodeler understands your living situation while they are working in your home. If you plan on staying in an inactive area of your home, make sure they are mindful of working hours or areas they need to stay away from. Keep children and pets away from the construction zones and remove any expensive or fragile objects so they are safe from harm.

Do check into the remodeler’s experience, qualifications and customer reviews. Start by calling the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to make sure they hold a valid Home Improvement Contractors license.  In addition, the salesman that comes to your home should hold a Home Improvement Salespersons license that is registered with the DCA.  Call the Better Business Bureau ( to check for consumer complaints. Utilize the internet to seek reviews about the business.  You may also search websites like Houzz, Facebook, Angie’s List and Yelp to see what others have to say about the business you are about to hire.

Do communicate and familiarize yourself with the vocabulary used by designers and contractors that can help you avoid miscommunication.  Plan a daily check in with the project manager or jobsite supervisor, and a weekly check in with the business owner.  Make sure that you are comfortable with your communication plan and that it is consistent.

Don’t begin your remodeling project without a contract. A written contract provides a legal foundation for both the homeowner and contract and helps set the guidelines for your working relationship. It should provide agreed upon costs, the scope of services and materials the contractor will provide and those you will be responsible to purchase, and payment dates based on the value of services provided. The contract should also include an expected start and completion date.

Don’t hire a contractor or remodeler based on price alone. A lower price may be attractive, but you may be sacrificing quality of workmanship, materials or the customer service that is required when remodeling your home.  Make sure to choose a professional who is licensed, insured and qualified to provide the services you need.  Ask for references and contact information for homeowners who have been provided similar services. Ask for current job site addresses to see how the contractor works in an active job site.

Don’t become frustrated during the remodel. This can lead to costly mistakes like cutting corners, making rash decisions and creating a rift between you and the contractor.  If you see something you are not happy about, communicate it to your contractor as soon as possible while there is still time to fix the issue.

Don’t think this is an easy process.  Preparing for a home remodel can be time consuming, difficult and costly, however, with proper planning it can be rewarding.  Utilize the guidance of the professionals you hire. Ask a lot of questions and seek out the advice of family or friends that may have just renovated their home.  They can be a great resource.

Unfortunately, we receive calls from homeowners that have used friends, friends of their family members, contractors that “work on the side”, unlicensed contractors (sometimes because the customer didn’t know that they needed one), or out of state contractors that were priced better than someone local, for their home improvement project.  These homeowners have received substandard work, have given deposits and had some materials dropped off but the work never started, or even worse, had demolition started and have never seen the contractor since. Because these contractors were not licensed with the Department of Consumer Affairs, there is little that could be done to provide a resolve to their unfortunate experience.

Professional, quality and full-time contractors that are properly licensed and insured carry a considerable overhead in doing business and may be more expensive because of the measures that they take to protect the consumer.  When spending your hard-earned money on beautifying or remodeling your home, make sure you DO the necessary things to make it an enjoyable experience.

 Lana Seidman, Executive Director – HIC of Staten Island, Inc.

(718) 356-2323