Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes

In a perfect world, demolition starts on time, deliveries arrive on schedule, installation takes place without a hitch, and cleanup is quick and easy. Chances of all that happening are slim enough; don't shrink the odds by falling prey to these common pitfalls.

1. Trying to be your own GC. Trust us: This is one job you don't want to undertake. A kitchen remodel is one of the most costly, complicated, and time-consuming projects imaginable, and the input of qualified professionals is not only valuable, in most parts of the country it's mandated by law.

2. Hiring the wrong GC. Never hire a contractor who makes you uncomfortable, no matter how highly recommended or how low the estimate. If you feel like the contractor is someone you can't trust, keep looking.

3. Putting the job out for bid without clear enough specs. Unless you account for every detail of the project up front, you won't be comparing apples to apples when you solicit bids. That means specifying the type of flooring, countertop material, lighting, even cabinet hardware. If you don't, a contractor might assume higher-end choices (which may be more difficult to install), and you could end up overpaying.

4. Paying in advance. It's shocking how often normally intelligent people turn over a sledgehammer and their life savings to someone they just met. Never pay more than 30 percent of the total job cost up front (typically to cover startup materials). Then work out a schedule of progress payments based on the completion of predetermined phases of the job.

5. Getting distracted from your ultimate goal. Have you ever made a run to Lowe's to pick up a plunger and some window screening and come back with $200 worth of tools and gadgets you didn't really need? The same goes for kitchen remodels. "There are so many toys out there," says architect Dennis Wedlick. "That's why it's essential to make a wish list—and to stick to it."

6. Trying to keep up with the Joneses. If frozen pizza is all you ever pop in the oven, a conventional stove will serve you just as well as that newfangled induction range — and save you thousands of dollars besides. You can always upgrade appliances later.

7. Settling for a cookie-cutter kitchen. Let's face it: The next owners of your house will start dreaming of ripping out your fantasy kitchen as soon as they move in. Unless you're planning to move within the next couple of years, go ahead and build the kitchen that works for you and your budget. But be careful not to overcustomize. What's perfect for you today (built-in seating for the kids—who will soon be too tall to use it) may prove limiting tomorrow.

8. Ignoring what you can't see. Everyone worries about the cabinet faces, but if the sides and hardware aren't made of sturdy enough stuff, the doors will be crooked in no time. And those gorgeous concrete or tile countertops are sure to crack if they're not installed on a strong, level base. Don't be seduced by surfaces: It's what's behind the walls and under the floors that really counts.

9. Changing your mind—again. Time is money. That's what Benjamin Franklin advised tradesmen way back in 1748, and indecisive homeowners would do well to heed his warning. Regretting, reordering, reconfiguring—it all leads to delays, changed work orders, and tapped-out budgets. It also tests the patience of your contractor, who's got another job lined up after this one.

10. Living with a dysfunctional space because remodeling is a hassle. Life's about thriving, not just surviving. Just think, with a little time and effort, you could have the kitchen you've always wanted. Not to mention a few (happy) remodeling stories of your own.
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