Tips for Finding a Contractor for Your Home Remodel
Clearly Define Your Home Remodeling Project
Before you begin reaching out to contractors, know what type of work you would like performed. This may sound obvious, but many homeowners attempt to hire a single contractor to perform a wide variety of renovations — something that generally isn’t a good idea.
Ask Homeowners in Your Neighborhood
It’s always a good idea to ask others for references. You may naturally turn to friends and family members, but why not ask a few neighbors, too? Did the family down the street just replace their home’s windows? If the end result looks great, ask them who did the work and if they’re happy with the final product. Take a drive around your neighborhood and look for homes that have undergone recent upgrades. Most homeowners are happy to share their opinion of contractors, especially if they’re pleased with the project.
Look at Online Reviews
The internet has revolutionized the way consumers shop for products and services, with 81 percent of people researching online before they buy. Sites like GuildQuality provide consumers with independent, third-party reviews from real homeowners who have used a contractor’s services.
Don’t Set a Minimum (or Maximum) Number of Estimates
When you’re looking for a contractor for any type of home improvement project, one of the first things you’ll hear is “get three estimates.” The problem with limiting yourself to three is that you really can’t be sure you’re getting a good representation of the options available.
Busy Can Be a Good Sign
When you’re ready to say “go” on a home remodel, it’s easy to go with the first contractor with an opening in their schedule. After all, you’re ready to get started, and you want the job done as soon as possible. However, a contractor with a lot of time on their hands isn’t always a good sign. A reputable, experienced contractor is likely to be in high demand, which means you might have to wait a few weeks or even a couple months to get on their schedule. When you consider that you’re making a significant investment in your home, however, isn’t it worth waiting for a contractor you trust to do an exceptional job?
How to choose a home remodeling contractor
The first step in finding the right home improvement contractor is to create a list of 10–15 local contractors who have the right expertise. You’ll gradually narrow down this list to the top contenders and ultimately use it to select your contractor, so it’s best to include more names than you’ll need at this point.
Compare each contractor’s portfolio
Choose a contractor who specializes in the type of remodel you need; someone who specializes in remodeling kitchens might not be ideal for your bathroom renovation. A home improvement contractor with a creative eye can also be helpful for certain projects. For instance, if you want to lay a tile entryway with a detailed mosaic or paint a room with a faux finish, you’ll need a contractor who does that type of work well.
Ask for licensing and certification
At this point, your list should have around six to eight names. One easy way to narrow it further is to ask for contractors’ licensing and certification. The specific licenses or certifications your home improvement contractor should carry will depend on the project. Since legal requirements vary by state, call the licensing division for your community to ask for specific requirements.
Now that you’ve narrowed your long list down to five or six top contenders, it’s time to start checking references. This is a common practice, so any reputable contractor will expect you to ask for a list of references. A typical contractor reference list includes ten or more jobs with the name, address and telephone number of each customer. It helps if there are dates for each job; if dates aren’t on the list, ask for them.
Review an example of the finished project
After you’ve called your contractors’ references, cross out any contractors who received poor reviews. Then decide which of the remaining references to visit in person to see their contractor’s completed project. Choose people who seem open and forthcoming, whose projects are similar to yours and, ideally, who live close to you. It’s particularly helpful if the work was completed at least a few years ago so you can see how it has held up. Visit at least one finished project from each of your remaining top contenders.
How to Find a Reliable Home Contractor
For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself – it’s finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down walls or retiling floors are straightforward tasks compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.
Everyone knows stories of horrendous contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that ended up costing three times the contractor’s original estimate.
“Those are the nightmare kind of stories I hear all the time,” says Angie Hicks, who in 1995 started the company that would become Angie’s List, a go-to resource for reviews of contractors and other service providers.
Even with a good contractor, home renovation can be stressful, expensive and involve unpleasant surprises, such as rotted subfloors that are revealed when tile is removed or dangerous electrical wiring or leaking pipes behind walls.
Know What You Want Before You Get Estimates
First things first: “Start with a plan and some ideas,” Hicks says. “Don’t start by talking to contractors.” You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can be specific about what you want done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen.
How to Choose a Remodeling Contractor
Ask for Referrals
Word of mouth-hands down, is the best way to find a qualified professional to tackle the job. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors whom they’ve had good experiences with. And ask what made it a positive experience, how the contractor handled problems and whether he or she would use the same contractor again.
Look at Credentials
With recommendations in hand, do some preliminary research, whether it’s with a phone call or a visit to the contractor’s website. Find out whether he or she holds all the required licenses from state and local municipalities, along with designations from any professional associations such as the National Kitchen & Bath Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Association of Homebuilders. Look for contractors who have invested in course work and passed rigorous tests to earn particular certifications. Be aware, however, that not all certifications are created equal. Do some homework and find out the requirements.
Narrow down the list of contenders and set up meetings. Try to keep it to three contractors, because things can get confusing beyond that. How a contractor answers questions is extremely important, but communication goes both ways. Candidates should ask plenty of questions, too.
Ask to see some of the contractors’ projects. If you approve of them, request references and call contractors’ former customers to check up on them. Ask how the contractors did at executing the projects. Were they on time and on budget? Were the customers pleased with the outcome? Was there anything that could have been done differently?
Get It in Writing
After selecting a contractor, take a look at the documents he or she has prepared. Do they look professional? Scrutinize the contract. Does it seem fair and balanced
Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor
Connect with your contractor
The right person for the job will be easy to talk to. Make sure you see eye to eye by hiring a contractor that understands your goals and has experience in the type of job you are looking for. Communication is key for all projects, so insist on regular contact by email, phone or text messages. Allow the work crew to manage their day-to-day work, but set up a weekly face-to-face update from the foreman.
Understand that price reflects quality
Ask your contractor for his or her recommendations on how the project should take place. In the long run, is it worth cutting corners for a temporary fix? The lowest bid is not always the best. Request a written description of the materials necessary for the job. A low bid may indicate that a contractor uses sub-par materials or is desperate for work. The more accurate bid is likely somewhere in the middle.
Know a contractor’s credentials
Abbreviations behind your contractor’s name can represent certifications from national trade organizations. These indicate that the company belongs to certain organizations that bind them to a strict code of ethics. Such memberships, titles and abbreviations include certified graduate remodeler (CGR), certified aging in place specialist (CAPS), local Building Industry Association membership (BIA) and National Association of Home Builders membership (NAHB). Also, insist on hiring a licensed, bonded and insured contractor. This is a must. Otherwise, as the property owner you are liable if a member of the work crew gets injured on the job.
Get your home improvement contract in writing
Your contract should include: detailed time frames, the total cost, payment arrangements, your contractor’s license number, project description, names of parties involved and how to handle additional costs if necessary. Be cautious; if you are not given a timeline for the job to be completed, this may indicate the contractor has several current jobs and may not complete your job in a timely manner. Keep track of all-important information as well by keeping job-related documents such as contracts, payments and receipts in one place. Record key contact information for everyone working on your project.
Be upfront about your home improvement budget
If necessary, break the project down into multiple phases. Although this may increase the total cost due to repetitious start-up expenses and inflation, it may also be a better option for you to spread out the cost over time. Homeowners can often save money by doing somel tasks on their own, such as cleaning and painting.