Before you start renovating

Many people think spring is the opportune time to remodel their home. But in fact, fall is also ideal for carrying out renovation projects, especially if changes are being planned for a cottage or a second home. You can enjoy your summer vacation at these properties and then surge ahead with a new project come September.

If you're planning a busy fall for renovations, whether at home or at your seasonal home, here are some steps to make the planning process run smoothly.

Evaluate your current situation

Do you have the time and patience to renovate your home? Or would moving be a simpler solution? Changing homes is expensive, and often means paying a 6% commission on the sale of your present home, plus another 2 to 4% for closing and moving costs. If you like the neighborhood you're in, it may be more cost effective and more satisfying to make some improvements to your current home.

Know how much you want to spend

If you plan on moving in the near future, don't take on expensive renovations unless you feel they will help your home sell faster or get you a higher price.

Make a list of the projects you want to undertake

Be armed and ready with photographs and magazine illustrations so your meeting with your contractor will be more fruitful.

Establish a realistic timetable

Make sure you and your family will be around to keep an eye on the work in progress. Don't plan any three-week vacations to Hawaii during this time (it would be a shame to have to cancel).

Find a reputable contractor

The best way to do this is through word of mouth. Talk to friends. Find out who they used and if they were happy with the results. Also, check any potential contractor's track record. Ask a prospective contractor for references, three or four clients that they've done work for. Phone them up and ask whether they had a good or bad experience.

Draw up a budget

If you're planning to move soon, be careful not to spend more than you can recoup from your sale price. If you're planning on staying put for a few years, spend a little more to get what you want.

Get a detailed proposal

It should include details on what the project will cost and specifications on what products will be used.

Get a complete, written contract before the work begins

It should include the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule and product list with provisions for the responsibilities of the contractor and subcontractors.

Tie payments to work stages

Steer clear of any contractor who wants a large payment before starting. But there are some exceptions, such as kitchen renovations, which require large amounts of money up front to order custom cabinets and appliances.

Stay calm and focused

The actual renovation project could be stressful but the end result will hopefully make it all worthwhile.

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