When planning a home renovation project, homeowners face a lot of concerns. The most important one is hiring the right contractor for the job. A lot of homeowners have spent thousands of dollars on a home renovation or remodeling projects, only to be left disappointed with the quality of work done or the final outcome. Worse, they might even spend more money to repair or cover up the deficiencies of their initial contractor. You also have probably heard stories from your relatives and friends about their horrendous experiences with contractors that made big mistakes or ending up spending twice or thrice than the original estimate. With this, you’ve probably pictured out that picking a contractor can mean a job well done or an utter nightmare.
To choose the best person for your renovation job, you need to be willing to do a little research, take some legwork, and have a lot of patience. It can be difficult since you won’t exactly know what you’re getting. To help you find the right contractor who will get the job done right, here are some tips and guidelines:
1. Assess the scope of your project first
Determine if it’s going to be a small renovation job or a total makeover? Be specific with what you want. Don’t start by talking to contractors just yet, since you’d only get a more accurate estimate if you can be specific with what you want to be done. Also, there are a lot of excellent remodelers out there, but there are those who have a special niche, like a bathroom or kitchen or patio project. Start with a plan and get some ideas.
2. Ask for referrals
The best way to begin your search for a contractor is by asking the people you trust, such as your relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Ask them about contractors whom they’ve had good experiences with. If you want your bathroom renovated, and if you know a friend who has a nicely-built one, it’s best to ask him/her. A referral will help you feel more safe and secure.
3. Research and look for credentials and licenses
Go online and research about the contractor and their staff. Check the company website where the contractor is employed in. Check if they have been mentioned online in sites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Google, and see if they’re presented in a positive or negative light. Check their LinkedIn account if they have one.
Look at their credentials and find out if they hold the required licenses from local and state municipalities. See if they have designations from professional associations like the National Association of Homebuilders, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, National Kitchen & Bath Association, and the like. Check if they have invested in some coursework and passed tests to earn certifications. See yourself as an employer for a while, and assess if your candidate is experienced and trustworthy enough to do the job. Check their licenses as well. General contractors and subcontractors must be licensed.
Once you have chosen potential candidates, look for their contact information. Do they have a professional email address, a personal phone number, cell phone number, a permanent mailing address, and a voicemail? A good contractor must be reachable through more than one form of contact.
4. Interview at least three contractors
Narrow down the list of choices to three. Make sure you have asked the candidates you pick through the phone if they provide service in your area and if your project is something they specialize in. Once they said yes to both those questions (and they are referred to you by someone you trust), set up meetings with them, preferably on the site that you want to be renovated so that they can visualize what they can do. This will help them gain a sense of familiarity with space, and get an idea about how they can translate plans into physical results.
Ask a lot of questions, and here are some of the essential ones to ask:
- Do you take projects of this size?
- Have you done a similar project?
- Do you have a system or a process for a project like this?
- Are you willing to provide financial references from banks or suppliers?
- Will you help with ideas and designing?
- Who is responsible for getting any permits required?
- Who will be the main contact person while the project is ongoing?
- How many other projects are you working on? What is your work schedule?
- If you’re working on other projects, how many hours can you devote on working for mine?
- Can you complete the project by my deadline?
- How long have you worked with your subcontractors?
- Can you give me a list of your previous clients?
During your interview, see if the contractor can answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that makes you feel comfortable. Is it easy to talk to them? Can they speak in layman’s terms or explain what’s going to happen without using too many technical terms? Are they friendly when they’re providing explanations? When asking for their idea about how to do your project, do they seem really knowledgeable or do they seem to overly enforce their suggestion to you?
Remember that you’ll be working with the contractor you will hire for a matter of time and they will be in your home for a while, so their personality and approach while speaking to you must be pleasing for you. Your gut will tell you who will be the easiest one to deal with.
However, don’t lean so much about their personality while facing you. Check in with your local Better Business Bureau and your state’s consumer protection agency if the contractor you want to hire doesn’t have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.
5. Make sure your project is of their expertise
We have mentioned earlier that your project must be something that the contractor specializes in, and let’s just clarify this point. Many contractors restrict the type of projects they do, and that’s a great thing. For instance, if you want a contractor who can remodel a kitchen that involves relocating some structural walls, look for someone who specializes in remodeling kitchens and can handle structural walls. If you’re knocking down any walls, are they knowledgeable about structural engineering? Not every home remodeling contractor can do that. Putting a special project in the hand of a “jack of all trades” is most probably a bad idea.
6. Check their portfolio
Most contractors would be very willing to provide a portfolio of their work in the form of pictures and videos. Many of them would have a portfolio section in their website or professional account so you can see and browse through their different projects so you can get a feel of what type of projects your potential contractor faces and how they finish it out. Take into account the number of projects in their portfolio, the quality of their past projects and their willingness to share their portfolio. It’s best to pick contractors who have done similar projects like the one you have.
7. Check references
Ask for their past clients and subcontractors. Talk to them and ask about how the contractor you’re considering dealing with them. Ask them if he/she shows up every day. Are they punctual? Do they have the materials they need to do the job? When calling up former clients, find out how their project went. Also, see if you can talk to their current customers since they have the most recent experience working with the contractor.
8. Get the right permits
Almost all renovation projects require permits. Some contractors may suggest you not to get permits to save money, but by doing so, you might violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if caught. Also, no permit means the work will not be inspected by the city or county if it’s up to date, especially when it comes to plumbing and electrical work. Getting the permit must be the contractor’s job. Be wary of those who ask you to get it yourself.
9. Sign a detailed contract
Once you have selected a contractor, take a look at the documents he/she has prepared. Scrutinize it and make sure it spells out exactly what needs to be done, including the exact materials to be used, who will provide the said materials, deadlines, progress payments and other terms. If the builder’s contract is not detailed enough, write up your own and provide addendums. If there should be any change about the project, the products or if you’re going to ask for an additional project, get a written change order to include the new work, new materials, and cost. Have everything documented – it’s very important in settling potential conflicts in the future.
10. Don’t talk money right away
If you tell what you can pay upfront, some contractors might tell you that they can match your budget, but only to be hired by you. Things will change and come up with every project. Expect that there will be surprises that will add to the cost, no matter how careful you and the contractor are. Be prepared to spend at least 10-15% more than what is specified in your contract.
11. Ask for lien releases and receipts for products
While the project is ongoing, make sure you get copies of receipts for all the materials used, plus lien releases from all the subcontractors and general contractors before you pay them.
12. Pay wisely
Don’t pay more than 10% of the job total before it even starts. Your contractor might use any excess money you pay to finish someone else’s project. If the contractor wants half the bid upfront, it may mean they have financial problems or are worried that you may not pay the rest after you’ve seen its initial work. Stay away from these kinds of contractors. However, if you need expensive materials immediately, your contractor can ask for up to 30% of the total cost. The contract should specify payment schedules and triggers for progress payments and stick to it. Don’t give the final payment until the job is complete or until you are completely satisfied with the job. Make sure you also have all the lien releases and receipts before paying in full.