So you’re ready to turn your home remodeling ideas into reality. Whether you just bought a place that needs a lot of love or you’re finally able to do that makeover you’ve been dreaming about, this is a very big deal.

Considering the cost to remodel a house, pre-planning is essential. With all the details to keep straight and conversations to remember, a house makeover can quickly go off the rails.

Don’t let that happen to you. Keep your home renovation ideas on a budget and on the right track by using our handy-dandy home remodeling checklist, developed with input from a pro.

Couple using a home remodeling checklist

STEP 1: CAPTURE YOUR HOME REMODELING IDEAS ON PAPER

Create a plan

Every grand adventure begins with motivation and a map. Once you’ve considered why you want to embark on your remodeling adventure — it’s a necessary repair, to update a room, to improve accessibility, or just for fun — it’s time to plan how you’re going to get there.

List your priorities

With your why nailed down, ask what your priorities are. If grandma’s coming to live with you, a zero-entry shower could be a non-negotiable. If you’re a private chef, that walk-in cooler is essential. Once you know what you can’t live without, you’ll have a better idea of where the wiggle room is in the budget.

Set a budget

Imagine having your roof ready for shingles and running out of money. Not a good place to be when a storm brews on the horizon.

“When I ask a prospective client their budget, about 90 percent have no idea,” says Jay Gauldin, president, TBS Construction in the greater Roanoke Valley of Virginia. If you’re unable or unwilling to finance this project, know your limit and keep a tight grip on the purse strings. Also, Gauldin recommends padding your budget with 10-25 percent to cover unexpected surprises. He says to pad for the unforeseen, like water damage found under tile, and for changes in plans, like you want a larger window than you first thought.

Compare cost versus ROI

When preparing your home for sale, you definitely want to get back what you’ve invested. Use sites like HomeAdvisor to research an average cost when planning a remodeling project. Then check the Remodeling Impact Report published by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Not only does it show the percentage of value normally recovered from a project, it includes a Joy Score — a number from 1 to 10 which rates how much enjoyment homeowners receive from a particular project.

If you’re not planning to sell your home, the Joy Score is an important number to consider. After all, you don’t have to wait until you’re ready to move to enjoy new kitchen cabinets or a spa tub in the bathroom.

Keep collecting remodeling ideas

With budget in hand, dream about what your remodeled space will look like. Have you been to a home improvement store and looked at fixtures, floor coverings, or appliances? Do you know what your style is? Many design experts suggest starting on Pinterest.

Use the Pinterest search engine to look for things like “farmhouse-style kitchens” or “master suite designs.” This image-driven platform delivers photographs linked to websites that you collect and “Pin” to your own virtual bulletin board. Once you collect a few you like, study them for common themes or elements. They’ll help you and your contractor work together to achieve the look of your dreams.

Set a deadline

If you’re working on a specific deadline, it’s important to have this date in mind when interviewing contractors to make sure they can fit you in their schedule. “The contractor should ask when you want the job completed,” says Gauldin, whose contracting company earned a 2020 Best of Service Award from Houzz. Even if you’re not in a hurry today, set a deadline. It’ll set the pace for the job and keep everything running smoothly.

When planning a remodeling project, remember there’s an order to things. Maybe the install guy can have his part done within the month, but the plumber is six weeks out. Use a calendar and plot each stage of the job to make sure everything fits together.

Couple consulting a contractor

STEP 2: DO YOUR RESEARCH AND GET ESTIMATES

Once you’ve put your dreams on paper, it’s time to look for someone to make them come true. But before you start looking for your home remodeling soulmate, ask yourself which, if any, aspects of this job you can tackle yourself. According to NARI’s 2019 Remodeling Impact Report, 12 percent of homeowners contributed some do-it-yourself (DIY) labor to their projects. If this describes you, you’ll want to find a contractor willing to work with and around a DIYer.

The report also showed that 36 percent did the project themselves, 35 percent hired a professional for the entire job, and 14 percent hired the labor but purchased the materials.

Ask for referrals

Did your friend Janet recently remodel her kitchen? Ask her who did the job. What about your neighbor or co-worker? “Most of our leads come from previous customers,” says Gauldin. If you can’t find someone through people you know, check out the listings on places like HomeAdvisor or the NARI website.

Check reviews and credentials

With a list of potential contractors, start your research. Read their websites and look for similar jobs in their portfolio of work. Read the testimonials. See if they’re members of trade organizations like NARI or the National Association of Home Builders — proof they’re invested in their profession, says Gauldin.

Find out if your contractor is licensed for the scope of your project and if they’re insured. Gauldin recommends checking your state’s licensing page online. There, he says, you can find out if they have the proper certifications and if they’ve ever been fined.

Use the information you uncovered to pare down your list to two or three contractors you’d like to interview.

Request estimates

Contact two to three choices for estimates. “An estimate will require a site visit,” says Gauldin, “which may or may not include subcontractors.” They should take lots of photos and measurements and then send you a sketch to approve.

“It’s the contractor’s interpretation of what the homeowner wants,” he says. Once you approve the sketch, he can bid the job. “It can take three to six weeks from first visit to quote in hand,” Gauldin says.

Ask questions

It’s a scary proposition to invite a perfect stranger into your home to essentially tear it apart and put it back together again. In addition to checking your contractor’s references, licenses, and insurance information, you want to ask about permits, inspections, how many people to expect in your house, and how to get in touch with him. See our list of key questions to ask a building contractor.

Hire someone

Once you’ve nailed down the design, have a complete list of materials, and an estimate that works within your budget, it’s time to make the hire. Double-check all the details: timeline and details, payment plan, and what to do if you have issues to resolve.

STEP 3: GET YOUR SPACE READY

Help your job get off to a good start by preparing the space for your remodeling job. You don’t want workers arriving bright and early Monday morning to find the kitchen cabinets they’re removing full of dishes. You also don’t want your belongings damaged or covered with dust and debris.

Rent a portable storage container

At a time like this, all homeowners struggle to find a place to put all the stuff. If you need storage, consider renting a portable container to protect your belongings while keeping them close by. With the unit delivered right to your driveway or yard, there’s no need to rent a truck to haul everything across town. And, if you need something mid-project, just go out to the container and retrieve it any time you want.

Make living arrangements

How will you live without your kitchen or bathroom? Will you need to move out for a while? Is staying with relatives a possibility? While your kitchen is torn apart, you can make do with a microwave in the laundry room. There are ways to create a temporary living space within your own home.

Take before photos

Major home remodels deserve documenting. Don’t forget to take photos before you start the demolition process.

Contractors remodeling a home

STEP 4: GET THE JOB DONE

You’ve hired your contractor and signed on the dotted line.  Now it’s time to begin the transformation from old to new.  When it comes to actually getting it done, there are a few things that’ll help put wind in your sails.

Be available

Make sure your contractor and principal subs have your contact information. Check the work regularly to halt any mistakes or miscommunications before things get too far.

Be patient

Delays happen. It rains, for days on end. Trucks break down, with your order inside. Employees get sick, even those on your crew. When you expect delays to happen, and have a good attitude when they do, it makes the job more joyful for everyone.

Make a punch list

When the job’s about done, if you see little things that could be overlooked, make a list. Review the list with your contractor to make sure they aren’t things he thought you were going to handle. Then, don’t make that final payment until everything is checked off.

Celebrate!

Once you move your belongings in from your portable storage container, take photos of the job well done,  share them on social media, and post reviews for the contractors. Invite a few friends over to celebrate. Relax and enjoy!

Carol J. Alexander writes about home remodeling and lifestyle topics from her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her work has appeared in This Old House, Family Handyman, and Farmer’s Almanac.