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Leave nothing to chance when remodeling

Before you start remodeling you may want to ask yourself some questions about the project. Those questions should motivate you to do some planning about the look you want and qualifications of the contractor.

- Do you know the look you want? Start your research at least six months ahead of the planned construction date. Shop the home shows, designer showrooms and even model homes in new developments for ideas. The high-design magazines, such as Metropolitan Home and House & Garden, offer ideas that can be translated to lower-budget projects, if you wish.Keep a notebook with literature about (and pictures of) products you like. When you ask contractors for bids, you'll be able to make better comparisons if each bid specifies the brand names of appliances and even the types of paint and lighting fixtures.

Get to know the prices of products, even if your contractor will do the buying. Contractors often receive discounts of up to 20 percent, and you should make sure that at least some of the savings are passed on to you.

- Have you checked out the contractor? Look for members of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), who have at least five years of experience and have passed a daylong certification exam. Call 1-800-440-6274 for a free copy of NARI's guidebook, "The Master Plan for Professional Home Remodeling," and for referrals to NARI members in your area. Or check the Internet at (www.nari.org)

Any major remodeling requires someone to think through the design. If you're not hiring a design-build contractor, your first step should be to hire a kitchen or bath designer or an architect to come up with plans that you can present to a contractor.

Get bids from two or three contractors. Before you sign a contract, though, verify that the contractor has a current license, and ask to see proof that liability and workers compensation insurance policies are paid up. Call at least three of the contractor's recent clients, and ask how the final cost compared with the estimate and whether they would work with the contractor again.