Ready to remake your kitchen? Working with a professional can help keep your vision on track and on budget.

By Kathy Barnes

The kitchen is the heart of the home where people gather for meals, conversation, games, and homework. If your home's Grand Central Station isn't up to par, you're probably considering a facelift or total gut job. In either scenario, a contractor can help guide you through the process. While a kitchen remodel is an investment that delivers a strong return on investment, it can also be a stressful process that disrupts your family's life for weeks or months. Hiring the right contractor can alleviate stress by keeping your project on time and costs from spiraling out of control.

After you've collected design ideas from magazines, websites, and friends' kitchens, a contractor can help you prioritize your wish list and determine what's feasible for your budget. Whether you hire an independent contractor or find one through a design/build company, he or she will help you devise the look of your kitchen.

Contractors and designers know how to place cabinets and appliances to maximize space and create an efficient floor plan. They are also aware of the latest innovations in efficiency, ergonomics, storage, and design. With nearly endless choices for kitchen products and materials, the contractor can help you weed through the trends to find the cabinets, counters, floors, appliances, and accessories that best suit your lifestyle and budget. Perhaps most importantly, hiring a professional puts the responsibility for accurate measurements in his or her hands. DIYers can learn the hard way that being off by even a fraction of an inch on a cabinet order can be a pricey mistake.

When searching for a contractor for your kitchen remodel, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Interview at least three contractors and get written estimates (these should be free) that include detailed information about schedules, budgets, materials, and guarantees. It's important that the contractors are bidding on the same specs for the project so you can compare apples to apples. Before hiring someone, check referrals, look at photos of previous jobs, and visit a project in process. Ask former clients whether the contractor finished the project on time and on budget, how well he or she communicated during the process, and whether they would hire him or her again. During the renovation, your contractor should be available to advise on purchases, answer questions, and explain unexpected delays or problems.

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