NARI Remodeling 101 Publication front Page copyThere are many different reasons people choose to remodel. Maybe you’ve purchased a new house that you love – but it lacks the kitchen amenities that you need. Or possibly you’ve inherited a home that is absolutely beautiful, but the gorgeous claw-foot bathtub isn’t entirely practical. Or perhaps you’ve found yourself in an empty nest, and that basement rec room could use some repurposing. Whether you need to recreate one room or renovate your entire house, it’s essential to carefully plan your remodeling project.

When you work with NYC/LI NARI, we’ll help you explore your options and put you in touch with general contractors who can help you get your home remodeling project underway. To find out more, visit our member directory or contact us, and we’ll help you get in touch with a NARI professional right away!

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Save money by planning ahead. Go through the design process first and choose everything you want to include in the new room(s), from appliances to light fixtures, etc. This will define your budget and prevent hasty (and costly) decisions later in the project.

The number one way to decrease the cost of your remodeling project is product choices. Look around to determine whether you can achieve a similar look with a less expensive product.

In addition, pay attention to how labor intensive some design features may be, for example laying ceramic tile on kitchen countertops and the backsplash. Compare products and their prices carefully before you make final decisions. And keep an open mind when you discuss product and design ideas with your contractor. Make decisions based on value and quality, not just price.

Think about staging the work being done to minimize the initial financial impact. It is often easier to create a more manageable budget by starting small and adding to the project at a later date. This will break the work into several jobs instead of one large project. The down side of staging a remodel is that you may end up paying more in the long run.

Be creative. There are often multiple solutions to accomplish a design objective, some more expensive than others. Discuss various options with your contractor.

If all the room really needs is a facelift, make the most of changes with paint, as opposed to structural changes. Changing the color of a room can revitalize it. This is the easiest way to bring life to a room on a budget.

Plan adequate storage space.

Make room for materials, tools, and equipment by clearing work area of unnecessary gear.

Brush up on building methods.

A little construction savvy will help see you through those blue days when workers fail to show up. Could that happen? Yes, you'll find that remodeling proceeds in stages. Separate crews install framing, siding, insulation, masonry, finish carpentry, and roofing. Painters, electricians, and plumbers may all have to make several trips to complete their jobs. Slabs must cure, paint must dry, etc. The schedule is complicated, so don't be surprised if disruptions occur.

No Water or Power

Know in advance if and when workers plan to shut off your power and water. That way, you can avoid food spoilage in the refrigerator/freezer. Also, be prepared by having a supply of bottled water on hand.

Create a Phase List of Procedures

Meet with the contractor and create a list of work that will be done. Try to incorporate a chronological timeline so you’ll know what phase of the project you can expect next.

Make an Extra Key or Create a Temporary Security Code

Depending on your schedule, there may be a need to share keys or opener/security codes with the contractor or workers. Keep track of any keys given out. If you give an opener or security door code, create a temporary code while the work is in progress. Once the work is complete, return to your regular code. Don’t forget to ask who will take responsibility for any mishaps.


Is That the Right Color?

Once tile, cabinets, baseboards are installed, there’s no turning back (or at least it can be very expensive to have to do so). Before workers start drilling, gluing, nailing, painting, etc. make sure the product you ordered matches the product that was delivered to your home – and don’t just trust the box it came in. Open it!

Don’t Plan to ‘Buy as You Go’

You can cut down on last-minute stressful decisions as well as material availability delays by selecting all materials with your contractor in advance.


Cover Furniture and Carpeting

Your contractor will take the necessary steps to protect and cover the work area, but remodeling leaves more dirt and dust throughout the house than you can imagine. You may want to cover furniture in other areas of the house, especially in rooms adjacent to work being performed.

Dry Clean Drapes, Rugs and Upholstery

Use remodeling time as a perfect excuse to have curtains, rugs and upholstery cleaned. Otherwise, remove drapes, throw rugs and upholstered furniture as practical and place them in an area away from the work being performed.

Store Breakables

Accidents happen. Box away knick-knacks and personal momentos from the construction zone for safekeeping. If furniture is to be moved, pack contents in boxes and remove them from the work area. This protects contents from loss and breakage, and also prevents the homeowner having to dust or clean each knick-knack after the work is complete.


No one can prepare for the unseen incidents that may transpire during remodeling projects. Tearing down a wall may uncover a problem that demands plan revisions. Remember, late deliveries, inclement weather and wrong parts are not necessarily related to the contractor. The relationship you establish with your contractor can greatly improve the overall remodeling experience.

If DIY is not for you, where should you turn to find the best remodeling professional for your project? There are many types of professionals within the home improvement field that could come to your aid.

The General Contractor: Many home improvement projects do not require professional design services and can best be handled by the experienced remodeling contractor whose knowledge of materials and methods has been gained by years on the job. Again, be sure to deal with a professional. Even though the job may be relatively small, its successful completion is important to you. Small jobs also need careful planning and attention to detail. General contractors are also the right choice for your project if you have had your project designed by an architect or designer and you now need someone to manage the construction of those designs.

For design services, your options include:

The Architect: Major remodeling projects require construction drawings for the purposes of defining a contract and procuring permits. In cases where your professional remodeler does not provide design services, you may wish to seek the assistance of a professionally trained architect. It is best to work with an architect experienced in remodeling-he or she will be more sensitive to the special challenges that remodeling presents. Architects are licensed by the state and have formal education and experience. They have overall knowledge of design; however, many architects do not accept smaller projects.

The Designer: Another option to obtain those construction drawings is to hire a certified or licensed designer. Designers may have expertise in specific areas of the home such as kitchens, interiors, baths, space design, etc. They often specialize in particular types of projects and may be the best choice for a targeted remodeling project.

The Design/Build Contractor: If you prefer to hire only one company for design and construction services, your best bet may be to hire a design/build firm. Design/build is a concept developed to benefit the remodeling homeowner by providing both quality design and construction services within the same general contracting company. A design/build contractor will be able to see your project through from start to finish, keeping design, engineering and budget in mind. Some design/build firms have architects on staff, others use certified designers.

The following questions will help you establish a company's qualifications and reputation, and help you find the right person for your job.

Short List

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
  • Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? (Always verify this information by calling the agency. A copy of an insurance certificate does not let you know if the policy is still current. Even if the certificate has an expiration date, you cannot tell if the insurance has been canceled by either party. If licensing is required in your state also ask if the contractor is licensed and call to verify compliance with the law. Not all states offer or require licensing. Check with your local or state government agencies.)
  • What is your approach to a project such as this?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • May I have a list of references from those projects?
  • May I have a list of business referrals or suppliers?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?
  • Are you a member of a national trade association?
  • Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling or had any special training or education, such as earning a Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC), Green Certified Professional (GCP), Certified Remodeler Project Manager

More Descriptive List

  • How long have you been in business? Look for a company with an established business history in your community. Surviving in any business in today's competitive marketplace is a difficult task. Most successful contractors are proud of their history in the industry.
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job? Also ask whom you should contact if the supervisor is not available. Get exact names and contact phone numbers for all persons who will be involved in the project.
  • What is the time frame for starting the project? Now is the time to ask questions about work schedules. You should ask: What is your estimate for completion? How early will your crew normally begin work? When will they normally quit for the day? Will I be contacted about delays or changes in the schedule? By whom?
  • What is your approach to a project of this scope? This will give you an idea of how the contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer. This is one of the big indicators of the company's work ethic.
  • How do you operate? In other words, how is your firm organized? Do you have employees or do you hire subcontractors? If you do have employees, what are their job descriptions? Do you use a project supervisor or lead carpenter to oversee the project? Other firms will have additional positions. You should know what parts of your project will be handled by staff, and which will be contracted out to independent contractors.
  • Is your company a full service or specialty firm? If you are planning a small project, say replacing the bathroom plumbing, you may be better off hiring a specialty plumbing firm or a bathroom remodeler. However, if your project involves multiple changes, entire rooms or additions, you should consult a full service or design-build firm.
  • Do you have design services available? If you are considering a large or involved project, you will need design services. If the contractor does not have design-build capabilities, you should consider hiring an architect. Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may need an architect or structural engineer.
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? Ask for copies of the insurance certificates to verify coverage. In addition, some states require licensing and registration. If your state does have construction licensing laws, ask for your contractor's registration and license, then confirm the license number and expiration date with your local jurisdiction.
  • Are any of your company's employees certified? Trade certifications are good indicators of dedication, professionalism and knowledge of the industry. Remodelers are required to meet certain industry criteria to maintain their certifications. NARI offers six designations: Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA), Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Green Certified Professional (GCP), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC), and Certified Remodeling Carpenter (CRC).
  • May I have a list of references for projects you have completed which are similar to mine? The contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, telephone numbers and addresses. As a follow up to this question, ask how long ago the project was completed and if the contractor can arrange a visit to see the finished job. You should also ask for professional references from suppliers, financial institutions, or subcontractors to verify sound business practices.
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business? This will give you a good indication about the company's customer satisfaction. According to research conducted by NARI, most remodeling businesses attribute over 50 percent of their annual volume to customer referrals; some even claim up to 90 percent or more of their total annual sales.
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past 12 months? This will help you determine the contractor's familiarity with your type of project. You should confirm that a good portion of those completed projects were similar to the type of project you are proposing.
  • Will we need a permit for this project? Most cities and towns require permits for building projects. Failure to obtain the necessary permits or to arrange obligatory inspections can be illegal. In some cases, if a project violates a zoning law or some other regulations, it may even have to be demolished if there is no way to comply with the law. A qualified remodeling contractor will be conscious of the permit process, and ensure that all permits have been obtained before initiating any work.
  • May I have a list of your suppliers? You may want to add calling the contractor's suppliers to your list of follow up actions. This will help protect you from mechanics liens for nonpayment by the contractor. Suppliers also can be a source to establish credit history for the company.

I have three estimates, and the prices vary greatly, why?

  • Be sure every estimate has the same scope of work (product prices vary greatly depending upon quality)
  • If the estimates are vague, or you don’t understand something, ask for clarification in writing. It may be wise to eliminate the contractor if:
  • They will not clarify the bid
  • You are told the prices are only good if you sign the contract ‘today’

All contracts should have the following information:

  • Name, address and phone numbers (preferably typed).
  • Detailed specifications - particular items should include manufacturer and model number (ex: Moen lavatory faucet No. 4621 in chrome) or an allowance (ex: 125 lavatory faucet allowance).
  • Payment terms and schedule should be outlined.
  • Require change orders in writing for anything that is not in the original contract (even if for $0 or a credit). This will ensure no surprises when the final payment is due. Payment for change orders is typically 50 percent when signed/50 percent when complete
  • Obtain a Certificate of Insurance which should come from the contractor’s agent or insurance company, and should name you as a certificate holder.
  • Obtain a copy of Workman’s Comp (if they are required to have it) and Liability Limits
  • If your home was built before 1978 ask for "The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right" brochure. The EPA requires contractors working in homes built before 1978 to register their company and complete an 8-hour training and certification course on how to prevent harmful lead exposure if a renovation disturbs painted surfaces – IT’S THE LAW
  • Review and understand the contract completely. It never hurts to have an attorney review the contract. This is especially important for large projects.
  • Right of Rescission – you can cancel within 3 business days without penalty if you signed the contract at your home and away from the contractor’s permanent and fixed place of business.
  •  If it is not in the contract, it’s NOT included!

Red flags that the remodeler is not a true professional:

Avoid remodelers at all costs when:

  • You can't verify the name, address, telephone number or credentials of the remodeler.
  • The salesperson tries to pressure you into signing a contract.
  • The company or salesperson says your home will be used for advertising purposes so you will be given a "special, low rate."
  • The builder/remodeler tells you a special price is available only if you sign the contract "today".
  • No references are furnished.
  • Information you receive from the contractor is out-of-date or no longer valid.
  • You are unable to verify the license or insurance information.
  • You are asked to pay for the entire job in advance, or to pay in cash to a salesperson instead of by check or money order to the company itself.
  • The company cannot be found in the telephone book, is not listed with the local Better Business Bureau, or with a local trade association, such as NARI.
  • The contractor does not offer, inform or extend notice of your right to cancel the contract within three days. Notification in writing of your Right of Recission is required by law. This grace period allows you to change your mind and declare the contract null and void without penalty (if the agreement was solicited at some place other than the contractor's place of business or appropriate trade premises-in your home, for instance.)

In addition, be cautious when:

  • You are given vague or reluctant answers.
  • The contractor exhibits poor communication skills or descriptive powers.
  • The contractor is not accessible.
  • Your questions are not answered to your satisfaction.
  • The contractor is impatient and does not listen.
  • Only the work is addressed, instead of your needs as the homeowner.

There is no way to see previous projects, either through a presentation book, an online presentation or via the company's Web presence.

"Aging in place" means living in your home safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of your age or physical ability.

The term “universal design” refers to increasingly popular architectural techniques used to design and build homes that accommodate ALL lifestyle requirements, whether young, old or physically challenged

Employing universal design in home remodeling or new construction is not only a great idea for aging in place, but when done right, may also bolster the resale value of a home by creating a living space that suits every kind of buyer.

You can add the features now, at a relatively low cost, rather than wait until your later years, when they become a necessity, and you urgently need to retrofit your home.

Single-story structure: The bedroom(s), bathroom(s) and dining area are located on the first floor.

Wide doorways and hallways: Hallways and doorways are opened up to accommodate a walker, wheelchair or baby stroller- to allow easy access around the entire house.

No-step entries: All thresholds are flush with the floor. It is unnecessary to navigate any steps to enter the home, shower, garage or rooms.

Help the environment and energy saving tips:

There are many ways to make your home greener. Here are some overall goals:

  • Increase energy efficiency
  • Decrease water usage
  • Lower indoor air pollution
  • Create a more sustainable environment
  • Use green products
  • When you remodel, think Green Demolition!
  • Re-use - recycle - or donate as much of the existing materials as possible. For example:
  • Donate to local organizations, such as the Habitat for Humanity ReStore
  • Find creative ways to re-purpose objects such as re-using old cabinets in your garage
  • Whenever possible, use natural materials that are manufactured locally. This reduces the energy needed for production and shipping.
  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), to conserve energy.
  • Install dual-flush toilets to conserve water.
  • Install low-flow shower valves.
  • Cabinets displaying the KCMA Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) certification seal must use at least 80 percent CARB compliant pressed wood (most already use 100 percent). Beginning 2013, all pressed wood sold in the U.S. must be CARB compliant. The CARB product emission standards are the lowest in the world.
  • Use ready-to-install framing for additions. Roof trusses, floor systems, and wall panels reduce the amount of material used in the building structure. This is a more efficient use of material that that also helps to improve productivity and reduce costs.
  • Landscaping and tree placement should take advantage of natural heating & cooling. Deciduous trees help cool the home in summer & let sunlight in to help warm the home in winter. Use plants that are suited for the local conditions, to minimize water, fertilizer, and pesticide usage.
  • Design your home with natural lighting in mind. One example is installing more windows on the south side of your home. This will help you to save on heating & lighting costs. When replacing old windows, use Energy Star® qualified or energy efficient models.