1. Budget. I can not stress this enough, you must have a budget range decided before you begin to plan your remodleing project. With out a set budget as a starting point trying to create a design, pick materials and select the appropriate contractor for your project will be very challenging if not impossible. I suggest picking a number you are comfortable spending on the project, then subtract 20% and set that amount aside for un-planned or miscellaneous costs. The remainder is the total budget for your project.
2. Price vs Value. Many people go into a project with the mindset that certain things will cost a certain price and that is true for the most part. The thing you need to understand is how a particular contractor will estimate that price. For example, lets say you want to have a new kitchen of cabinets built completely custom and tailored to your specifications. You contact several local cabinet shops to get an idea of what it will cost. Maybe you talk on the phone with the shop managers or email them with some questions and inspiration photos. You get ball park estimates from three different shops for three different prices. Why? The first reason would be the fact that different people you talk to will receive the information you are giving differently. They may understand you want one thing when you really mean another thing. The second reason would be that many cabinet shops build their cabinets in different ways with different materials or methods. The last reason would be service, every shop will have a different interpretation of what services may be important to you. Or they may have a set guideline of services that they provide when building custom cabinets.
So what does all this mean to you?
Lets say that you pick the cheapest price, $10,000 including finishing, delivery and installation. What a deal! You get a $3500.00 worth of stone countertops installed over the new cabinets and everything is great! you are $6500.00 under your $20,000 dollar budget for your kitchen remodel. Now its a year later and a crack has formed in the granite counter top and many of the doors and drawers are no longer functioning smoothly on the cabinets.
It turns out that you overlooked in the estimate that the cabinet shop was going to be installing generic hardware to lower the price for you. They also installed the cabinets but did not take care in leveling or fitting the carcasses to the space resulting in an 1/8" crown over the whole counter. Overtime this caused the granite counter to fail, because it was not shimmed to account for the out-of level cabinets.
Now you are out the $13,5000 plus the cost to remove the counter top and replace the broken or failed hardware, an additional $5,000. I think you get the point. There is a reason the best cabinet shops and contractors have a higher initial price and that usually comes down to service and materials used. If you are transparent about budget from the beginning and demand top quality materials and hardware most shops and contractors will create a quote that gives you both by guiding you to cut corners elsewhere such as the scope or amount of the work rather than quality.
As with everything you get what you pay for!
3. Ask for references! Any worthy contractor should be able to provide at least a few references of past projects and or clients. You should ask for this up front and contact the previous clients to discuss there experiences and your concerns with the contractor or shop in question. If they tell you all of the clients are very private an will not be bothered, beware. Even my richest, most elusive and secretive clients still love to talk about their experience with me and their project with my potential clients as long as I let them know ahead of time before giving out their information.
4. Understand what you are signing. I always sit down and read through each line of my construction contracts with my clients. This allows us both to look for errors and ensures me that they understand the terms and what they are signing. It seems simple but this step is often skipped and can create problems later. You also may consider having an attorney review the contract before you sign.