You can do a lot to help the job run smoothly, finish on time, and produce the best possible results. And you can also help by avoiding classic mistakes. Here’s a rundown of what to do and what not to do.

Prepare the work area.

Clearing the work area in advance will get the job off to a quick start—and on the right foot. You’re paying contractors to remodel, not move furniture, pack up your pots and pans, or bubble wrap your collectibles. If you want the contractor to help with the moving, agree to that in the contract or hire someone else to help.

Give them space.

Show them convenient places to park their trucks and deposit equipment, supplies, and incoming materials. Also, for the length of the job, stay out of their way when they’re working.

Make sure materials you supply arrive on time.

Delays can create additional scheduling snafus.

Ask for daily schedules.

Your contract should stipulate start and end times, but timing often changes. Check and discuss the schedule daily.

Communicate often.

Brief meetings to discuss the job—every day is not too often—are the best ways to prevent mistakes and avoid misunderstandings.

If possible, be at home some of the time when the work is being done.

If you’re there, you’ll be able to detect any misunderstandings about plans and materials early in the game, and spot gross flaws in workmanship.

Be available.

Although it’s tempting to leave town and head as far away as possible from your wrecked house, things will go more smoothly if your contractor can reach you quickly should problems and questions arise.

Avoid calls after work hours.

Reviewing potential problems is a lot easier when you’re both on-site. Once you’re home from work and eating dinner, you wouldn’t want your boss to call and review your day at work. Contractors feel the same way.

Deal with delays.

No contractor can anticipate every possibility. Materials and fixtures may be unavailable. Steady rain may halt exterior jobs. Work with your contractor to adjust schedules as needed.

Promptly resolve surprises.

Once old finishes come down, problems often arise: dry rot, leaks, old water damage, asbestos tile hidden beneath a few layers of flooring, among others. Some contractors will eat unexpected costs, but most won’t. Be mindful that no contractor can foresee every problem. When a questionable extra pops up, look for a middle ground that both you and the contractor can live with.

Feel free to change your mind—but expect to pay for it.

If you want to add trim, upgrade to a more expensive tile, change your mind about a color after the wall was painted, add a window, or otherwise amend your plan, you’ll need to work out a change order that covers the original contents of the contract and what’s replacing it, and establishes a new price for the work.

Check inspection reports.

Treat failed building inspections as big red flags. Find out why the work flunked inspection and what the contractor must do to correct problems; follow up to make sure proper action is taken. It’s a good idea to call the building inspector and ask for a frank opinion on whether the problem is a sign of incompetence—or a common mistake.

Pay for work only after you receive evidence that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.

The general contractor should supply you with lien releases and acknowledgments of payment as the work progresses. The releases should state the name of the company or individual making the release, the releasing party’s address, materials or services supplied, the amount the contractor has paid for the supplies or materials, and your address. They should be signed by the releasing party.

Keep records.

Maintain a file that includes the contract and plan, any contract modifications (like change orders), invoices, records of payments you made, and lien releases and acknowledgments of payment from subcontractors and material suppliers.

Don’t take advantage.

When you’re forking over a lot of money, asking a worker to toss some of your old stuff in the dumpster or unstop a gutter while he’s up on a ladder may not seem like a big deal. These favors rightly drive some contractors crazy.

Give workers access to a toilet.

Either make a bathroom in the house available or rent a portable toilet.

Keep pets away.

On major remodels, many different workers will be on-site. Requiring the contractor to warn each of them that your furry friend makes a break for freedom every single time someone opens a door is more than a little impractical. Secure your pets as far away as possible from the jobsite.

Tolerate disruptions.

Resign yourself to some unpleasantness. Parts of your home will be in disarray, your stuff may sit in storage, and your privacy will suffer intrusions. Work with the contractor to manage disruptions, and keep your goal in mind.

Finishing Up

Before making a final payment or turning over the retainage, make sure of the following:

  • You have written warranties for materials and workmanship.
  • You have lien waivers or releases and acknowledgments proving the remodeler has paid subcontractors and suppliers.
  • Your home is move-back-in-ready; clean; and clear of all materials, tools, and equipment.
  • The job was completed as agreed and you’ve approved the finished work.

Inspect all aspects of the work—if you’ve hired an architect or designer, this visit is part of the service. Note anything that still needs attention, creating a “punch list” for the contractor and, if necessary, the contractor’s subs to work through before you sign off on the work, agree the project is complete, and make the final payment. The box on page 103 lists items to check. Use a strip of blue painter’s tape to mark each item worth noting.

If something goes wrong, complain. Start by discussing problems with your contractor. If the company won’t work things out to your satisfaction, file a complaint with your local government's department of consumer affairs. If the agency can’t resolve the problem, you’ll probably have to sue.