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Welcome back to Ask a Contractor, a monthly column where Chip Brian, founder and CEO of Best & Company, answers your questions about renovations, contractors, and anything related to home improvement. Have something on your mind? Leave it in the comments or send a note to pitches@domino.com and Brian will weigh in with his expert tips and solutions.

I know I want to renovate and have some ideas for what changes I want to make and what I want the room configurations to look like. What do I do next to make my ideas more formal and engage with a contractor?

Go find an architect to document these changes on a plan. This is a common mistake homeowners make: They decide they want to renovate or reconfigure their space and think the first thing to do is call a contractor. This is wrong! A contractor cannot help you at this juncture—you first must speak with an architect.

The architect is needed to draw up everything you are thinking about doing, and then she must submit those proposed changes to the powers that be (i.e., your building reviewing architect if you are living in a condo, for instance, or the Landmarks Preservation Commission if your home is a historic townhouse in NYC) to make sure that everything you want to do will fly.

Once you’re satisfied with your plans—and of course this may require many meetings and a lot of back and forth with your architect—and have also ironed out what you’d like your finishes to be (i.e., which tile you want in the bathroom, which marble you’d like for your kitchen countertop, etc.), only then is it time to approach a contractor.

At that point, the contractor will have a set of defined documents indicating exactly what you are looking for him to do. This will enable him to give you a precise estimate for your renovation so he can run the numbers, price everything out, and see if the budget that he arrives at works for you.

Once the price is agreed upon and all necessary permits have been pulled, he can start building from your plans as they’ll tell him and his crew exactly what needs to be done.

So the next time you think you need a contractor, think twice—most likely you need to call an architect first.

Get more renovation advice:

Send Us Your Most Pressing Renovation Questions 7 Things to Know Before You Renovate What to Expect When Planning a Bathroom Renovation

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