How to Choose a Great Contractor:
Choosing a contractor for a home-improvement or renovation project can be daunting. You’ve probably heard horror stories of the renovation that went horribly wrong. But the truth is there are plenty of reputable, reliable and experienced contractors out there. You just have to know how to find them, and how to get your project started on the right foot.
We work with contractors on a regular basis, and we know how to identify the good while avoiding the bad. Here are some lessons learned on choosing a contractor for your house.
Start With Recommendations
Has a friend or family member recently completed a home renovation project? Find out if they were happy with the work and get their contractor’s contact info.
You can also use the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) website to find a list of members in your area. In order to belong to NARI, contractors must meet certain standards for professionalism. Learn more by visiting NARI.org.
A local building inspector might be able to recommend competent contractors for your home-improvement project. They usually have a pretty good idea which contractors meet building code requirements, and which ones don’t. It never hurts to ask.
Phone Screening: Q&A With Contractors
When you have a list with at least five contractors, you’re ready for phase two. You’re ready to start calling them. At a minimum, ask the following questions:
• Do they handle renovation projects of your size? Some contractors focus solely on large projects and/or commercial jobs. Find out if they work on homes like yours, or whatever your project entails.
• Can the contractor provide you with financial references from banks or suppliers? If they can’t, it might be because they don’t pay their bills or debts — a red flag.
• Can they provide a list of previous clients from similar projects? This item is a must. If a contractor can’t give you a client list, move on to someone else.
• What is their current workload like? How many projects are they handling? Will they be able to complete your project in a reasonable amount of time?
• Do they use subcontractors, and if so how long have they worked with them? Some contractors rotate through different subcontractors constantly. As a result, they don’t always know how skilled or reputable they are. The best-case scenario is to find a contractor that has an established relationship with highly skilled subcontractors.
These questions may help you narrow your list even further. You’ll also learn how the contractor works, and how much time and attention they’ll be able to give your project.
You’ve gathered some referrals. You’ve checked them out online. You’ve spoken to a few contractors over the phone. Now you’re ready to meet them in person.
In most cases, the contractor will need to visit your home to give you a complete estimate. After all, they can’t estimate the costs until they see what needs to be done.
This is also a good time to judge the rapport you have — or don’t have. Are the contractors easy to talk to? Do they answer your questions fully? Does it seem like the kind of person you could work with for weeks or even months?
Check Their Past Work and Clients
Earlier in this process, you got a list of past clients from the contractors you were considering. Now it’s time to use it. Contact their former clients to ask how the project went, and whether or not they were satisfied with the results. Ask if you can come see the finished product.
If the contractor has some projects in the works right now, you can visit the job site (with their permission) to see how they work.
Compare Bids, and Get Everything in Writing
At this point, you’re ready to accept and compare bids from the contractors on your short list. Depending on the work involved, your contractor may request a complete set of blueprints for the house. He should also ask detailed questions to find out what you envision for the project, and how much you’re able to spend to bring your vision to life.
When comparing contractor bids, you have to compare “apples to apples.” So ask each contractor to itemize the cost of labor, materials, profit margins, and any other expenses you might incur. Building materials typically account for around 40% of the total cost. A portion of the remainder goes toward overhead, leaving 15% – 20% as profit margin (in most cases).