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Why Document Your Renovation?

5 experts explain why you should record every step of your renovation.

Half the fun of completing a major reno is showing before-and-after photos to friends and family. But recording your home's transformation shouldn't end there. In fact, photos and documents pertaining to your home projects are crucial for legal and insurance reasons. Read on as five pros—from architecture to insurance—share their reasons for documenting and photographing before, during, and after renovations.

1. Update blueprints

Stephanie Hubbard, founder and principal of Boston-based landscape architecture firm SiteCreative, recommends using photos to revise old plans and sketches, especially of subsurface structures. "We always photograph every step of the construction process," Hubbard says. When sod is pulled up, that's the easiest time to record where subsurface work is, like utility lines, foundation, and subsurface drainage. "Once it's buried, it's hard to do a forensic exploration," she says.

You can also use photos to note if design plans changed in the middle of a project. "If you have a construction document that shows where drainage lines should go…and they line up, that's great," Hubbard says. But sometimes you have to adjust—for instance, changing where drainage lines go, to avoid bedrock or old lines in the ground. You can't always foresee obstacles, but you can make note of those structures and update old drafts to try to avoid problems the next time you need to do subsurface work. Date the photos and store them in a file.

2. Record who did the work

Barry Ansbacher, a board-certified construction lawyer based in Jacksonville, Florida, encourages homeowners to be diligent in tracking who was responsible for which projects in your home. "If you have a later dispute with your renovation contractor because something has failed," he says, "you can establish who did what." For example, if a floor joist failed after a reno was completed, Ansbacher says, proper documentation should tell you if that joist was something your repair contractor worked on; it might have been in an area untouched by that contractor, in which case, it could be something handled only by the original builders.

When it comes time to sell your home, it's crucial to have proof that you've fixed all problems that have surfaced to code and without cutting corners. "In most communities, the seller must disclose small defects," Ansbacher says. This is the time to whip out all your records to verify that all known issues have been taken care of. This is also why, in addition to photos, blueprints, and permits, Ansbacher suggests that homeowners acquire what he calls "comfort letters." In these letters, the person heading a renovation project, either a repair contractor, an architect, or an engineer, confirms in writing not only that he or she was responsible for a certain job but also that they fixed everything they found to be wrong and brought it up to code.

3. Sell your hard work

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the story an entire album can tell about your home improvement. Ron Guichard, associate broker for Keller Williams Upstate NY Properties, says that nine times out of 10 he sees homeowners using before-and-after photographs during the selling process. "They'll bring out an album and say, 'This is what it looked like when we closed,' " Guichard says. "They're able to present to the buyer a capsule of everything they've done."

What also makes a good impression? Being able to provide prospective buyers with a simple reference list of who did which work during major renovations. And if you've made energy-efficient upgrades, like putting in new insulation, be sure to have on hand a record of the products used and your before-and-after utility costs.

4. Track your home's hues

You need to know every color in and on your house, according to Bonnie Krims, founder of Bonnie Krims Architectural Color Consulting, Concord, Massachusetts. People usually assume there are only two or three colors on the exterior of a house, she says. But there are actually a lot more.

"If you have clapboard, that's one color," Krims says. "Trim, that's another color. Shutters, that's another color." The front door, garage doors, foundation, and railings all add to the palette. And we haven't even gotten to the interior yet. To keep track of colors, Krims suggests saving old cans of paint marked with their code numbers. You can also store paint chips in a photo album. Add photos of each room or wall, and indicate where each chip appears in the room.

5. Take inventory

Take a snap of where you decided to mount that fancy new flat-screen or that priceless painting. Rob Field, a State Farm agent in Albany, New York, says that photos and receipts can help you down the road. It's good to keep a photo record of your possessions, including furniture, art, and appliances. "If we're covering something," Field says, "we want to know the exact state of the home and what's in there." On the off-chance that something terrible happens, a theft or a storm, you'll have up-to-date records on the of your lost assets.