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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Get ready
Before starting any home improvement project, research and planning is the key to successful results.
Don't let bad contractors nail your budget
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Contracting 101
OK, you've successfully avoided the outright scam artists. You're not out of the woods yet. There are plenty of other ways your remodeling budget can head south -- the first and perhaps most important being the failure to calculate an accurate budget in the first place.

To get a ballpark idea of what your project will cost, check out these median national averages as compiled by Remodeling magazine.

Remodeling costs: national averages
Kitchen (major remodel) $54,241
Bathroom addition$28,918
Bathroom remodel$12,918
Home office remodel$20,057
Basement remodel $56,724
Two-story addition  $105,297
Source: Cost vs. Value Report, Remodeling Online

A number of other Internet sites can also help you arrive at a more accurate budget for your remodeling project. One of the best is ImproveNet, which helps calculate the cost of labor based on the size of your job, materials you might want to use and the quality you desire.

Next, you need to determine which types of home professionals you'll need to accomplish your remodel.

For minor work, an experienced general contractor likely will be the most cost-effective. A specialized contractor, however, may save money over a general contractor by knowing the timesaving tricks of their particular trade.

If major work is involved, especially if there are design, aesthetic or structural issues, an architect may be needed to draw up detailed plans and obtain permits. To save on costly architectural fees, consider instead a certified or licensed designer, who generally specializes in particular types of projects (kitchens, interiors, baths, etc.). Or consider a design/build contractor who specializes in seeing major renovations through from start to finish.

A 'good sense' list
To save headaches later, consider drawing up a short list of qualified professionals in your area by logging on to the Web sites of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Association of Home Builders or the Better Business Bureau. To help your search go smoothly, check out how to hire a professional remodeler.

It's also good sense to make sure the contractor you choose has certain requirements.

Contractor requirements:
Verifiable business licenses, certification and professional affiliations.
Previous work experience, including a verifiable list of local customer references.
Financial security -- check banking and supplier references.
Adequate insurance to protect you and your property against loss or lawsuit.
Good communication skills.

That last item should not be taken lightly. When you get down to writing the contract, clear communication on both sides is your single best insurance against a remodeling nightmare.

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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