Home Improvement: Choose the Right Professional for the Job

Time to tackle those home improvement projects.

And while some can be managed by you alone, you should know when it’s time to call in a professional.

Step 1: You need a professional when:

You need a plan
A professional can help you define your short- and long-term plan, and with plan in hand:

  • You can prioritize and systematically decide what projects to tackle, when and how.
  • You can define upfront the scope of your project, making it easier for contractors to bid and ultimately save yourself money by reducing costly errors and redundancies in work.

You shouldn’t go it alone
You wouldn’t trust a plumber to do your retirement planning. Just like you shouldn’t design an addition to your home. Interior designers, architects and builders all have professional training and certification in their respective fields.

Need ideas? See our Better List.

Step 2: You need help, so whom do you call

ArchitectBuilder/general contractorInterior designer
Your project is significant in scope and involves structural change as well as aesthetic change.You are making changes to the exterior of your home or significant revisions to your floor plan.

You want more than just a functional solution to your remodeling objectives. You want creative design that adds visual appeal and complements your current home.

You need someone who can creatively translate your remodeling and building objectives into a three-dimensional form that can actually be built.

Your home project requires knowledge of complex local zoning codes and building requirements.

Your remodeling or renovation project is straightforward but requires multiple subcontractors (e.g., electrical, plumbing, carpentry, wallboards).You don’t have the technical expertise to plan and direct a multi-phase project.

You don’t have time to plan and supervise your project, and manage billing.

You don’t want to carry the burden of liability and worker’s compensation coverage.

You need someone to take care of the small things like getting dumpsters, project clean-up, scheduling municipal building inspections, etc.

Note that some builders have an architect on staff.

Your project involves rearranging functionsor layout or changing aesthetics.You have no eye for interior décor and want your home to look finished.You are overwhelmed by all the fabrics, furniture, paint colors to choose from and want to make sure what you purchase is good quality and will last.

You have some good quality pieces but need help pulling it all together.

You need the advice and knowledge of someone who has worked with a variety of tradesman and can lead you to good quality work.


Step 3: Rules of engagement

Be forthcoming about your budget. The last thing you want is to pay for a plan you can’t execute.

Be respectful. Every service has a fair market value—even in a recession (and if the bid’s too good to be true, it probably is).

Choose someone you get along with and who shows enthusiasm for your project.

Share pictures of what you love. But remember, their job is not to duplicate but recreate the sensibility of what you like.

Don’t be afraid to respectfully explore creative billing options (e.g., hourly consultations, commission only, design only not project management, etc.).

Always have a written contract, regardless of project scope or budget.

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