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Home Remodeling Horror?

When it comes to remodeling, the enjoyment of the new backsplash and replanked porch is too often tainted by the horror story about getting the job done.

Buck up, little remodeler: You've got company. "Complaints about home improvement contractors have become the number one homeowner complaint," says Richard Roll, president of the American Homeowners Association (AHA), a national consumer alliance organization.

When it comes to tackling a remodeling project, your time, money, and good nature are on the line. AHA recommends the following four steps to ensure a smooth-running project.

1. Pick a value-adding project. If your life would be greatly enhanced by medieval architectural touches, then by all means, dig that moat. But you might want to also consider upgrades that qualify as "capital improvements" -- projects that enhance the value or longevity of your home. The costs of these improvements may reduce capital gains taxes when you decide to sell, says AHA. Think creature comforts: new heating or cooling systems; an addition; upgraded insulation; a new porch; yes, even a swimming pool. Consider keeping the King Arthur touches limited to decor you can take with you to your next castle.

2. Set a budget, and line up the dough. Before you take sledgehammer to drywall, decide on a budget (be firm) and earmark the needed funds. Hopefully this is something you've been planning for a while and have socked away some money in an appropriate, safe, short-term savings vehicle. If you plan on using money from a home equity line of credit, read up the pluses and minuses. (Here's what we say about using your house as an ATM.) Cost overruns occur when you do not have firm design plans before accepting estimates, according to AHA. So write down your "must haves," "nice to haves," and "can live withouts," and share these preferences with your contractor. Should he or she have to scale back the project to stay within your budget, you'll each have a prioritized list of what goes first on hand.

3. Don't get too fancy. If you are making improvements to increase the value of your home (and according to statistics, about one-third of remodeling homeowners are), avoid the temptation to overimprove for your neighborhood. Most major home improvements will pay off in resale just 80 to 90 cents for each dollar spent. A "kitchen spruce-up" is probably worth it. But adding a sunroom may not refill your wallet come moving day.

4. Ask for official papers. When you're done picking the perfect project and planning your budget, you're halfway there. (Sorry to throw a wrench into your plans.) Do yourself a favor and spend just as much time picking your pros for the job as you did deciding on what color Corian to use on the countertop. Choose a properly licensed, insured, experienced, and financially stable contracting firm. AHA has interviewing tips and advice on how to protect your financial interests.


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