How can I minimize the problems associated with a home construction project?
The first step is to understand that all construction problems can be reduced to issues of money or communication. Money. Either your money or the builder's. Either the builder's or his subcontractor's. The $3 tile or the $10 tile. The $10,000 paint job or the $20,000 paint job. Money. If money was not an issue there would be no problems, because you would simply buy your way out of any mistakes, compromises or misunderstandings. Money is an issue regardless of your wealth or budget.
If you are dreaming about a $50,000 renovation, you are probably designing a $75,000 project. If you are dreaming about a $5 million home, you are probably designing a $7 million over-budget gem. People dream about houses just beyond their means or budgets. If people swapped dreams then at least some people would build within their budget. If you want to control the budget, you have to control your appetite. You have to be disciplined. Set a budget, then set a contingency over that budget and adhere to it. Budgets usually don't go over because of one item. They deteriorate incrementally. A $100 extra here, a $500 unknown condition there. "Now that the doors are in, we really need better hardware." If you don't control the budget, no one else will. Nobody is forcing you to buy the limestone. You are choosing to spend more than you planned. That's okay if you can afford it; but if you can't, just say no. Document all issues concerning money.
Before the project begins know what your builder is charging you for markup, overhead and profit, extras. Know how his subs charge him. Get a list of hourly rates. Understand fully who pays for what if something goes wrong, understand your warranties and guarantees, understand who is responsible when cracks or shrinkage or expansion occurs months after you have paid the builder. Go over all the money issues you can think of before you sign the contract. Write them down and add them to the contract.
Communication. Construction operates in a foreign language called "Plans." Most likely you are not very fluent in this language, so there is an inherent communication problem. Even if you are fluent, there is the additional problem that the plans will have to be translated into a three dimensional medium called "Construction." It is easy for things to get lost in translation from English to Plans to Construction. Never trust verbal communication on a construction project. Document every conversation that involves something being done to your house. If you don't, you face an eighty percent chance it will be done differently than you communicated.
Communication with your designer, with your builder, with the electrician, is work. You are communicating ideas or feelings which the other person is hearing though their own unique wiring. They may be nodding, but that doesn't mean they fully understand you or will remember what you said. Documenting is not a guarantee, but it vastly improves the odds of success, as well as creating a trail if things go wrong. "Don't you remember when I told you" is not very persuasive when you are arguing who is at fault. Having a formal meeting with the builder (and architect if one is involved) every week or every other week is very helpful. Even if you are doing a renovation and talk to the builder every day, a formal meeting forces people to communicate about the current issues of money, time, quality, and problems. Meeting notes should be taken and distributed. The more discipline you impose on the project the better the communication will be.