Home improvement is a multi-billion dollar industry, and in the middle of it, all are your friendly, neighborhood contractors.
Yes, you got us. We are being sarcastic.
The truth is, if you’re going for a mid-range home remodeling, the central concern should be finding a worthy contractor who not only shares your vision but is also competent enough to turn your raw ideas into a beautiful masterpiece. Well, it does sound a little Shakespearean, but if you’ve ever dealt with a remodeling project before — you know what we’re talking about.
In the same breath, everyone has either experienced or heard firsthand about how big of a liability a bad contractor can be. Missed deadlines, going way over budget, and a finished product that you don’t even like — there are too many potential downsides to choosing a contractor without careful vetting and background checks.
But don’t worry.
If you are reading this, you are already taking the first step in safe-guarding your project. Follow these steps and tips to ensure a hassle-free remodel. At the end of this article, we have also listed Red Flags you should be on a lookout for. Make sure your contractor doesn’t tick any of those boxes.
Step-by-Step Guide to Choose the Right Contractor
1. Have A Plan
Talk to the contractor after you have an idea of what you want, rather than the other way around.
You need to realize that the contractors do this for a living, and can probably tell how informed you are within the first five minutes of the conversation. A person who hasn’t done his research is an easy target for every crooked plan.
On the other hand, if you have done your research well, everyone will respect that and the chances of you getting conned reduce to negligible. Additionally, you will always get a better quote if you know exactly what you want and how you want it.
2. Look For References
Once you know what you want and have a plan to follow, you can start looking for contractors. Start with your friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. who have undertaken similar renovation projects if possible. Basically, look for people you can trust and ask for their honest opinions.
Apart from that, you can also check out the database of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry…Or talk to your local hardware stores for any recommendations.
If you have no personal contacts that can get you in touch with a contractor, do not worry. There are plenty of resources online that can locate the perfect contractor in your area for the job you want done.
3. Compare and Contrast
By this point, you probably have a few contractors shortlisted. And even more likely is that you are having a hard time figuring out who among the best will be the best for you.
Here’s where you need to do your due diligence and compare your options. Preferably, choose a contractor who specializes in projects similar to what you have in mind. For example, if you are looking to remodel a kitchen, make sure you check out their previous work. Do the same for bathroom remodels, home additions and so on. Ask for the portfolios of the contractors you have shortlisted, extending up to at least a year before.
A good portfolio should have little to no gaps between jobs. Other factors to look for in the portfolio would be:
- The type of projects that match your vision.
- Whether the contractor regularly meets deadlines or not.
- The size and scope of the projects undertaken.
- How well did the contractor play within the budgetary constraints.
4. Check License and Certification
This step goes parallel to the last one. Checking license and certification is an easy way to narrow down the pool if you have too many potential candidates.
Since every state has different laws regarding licensing, you can conduct a little bit of research to find out what means what. Different types of projects might require different licenses, so make sure you stay focused on the type of work you want done.
Another benefit of a license is that, in most of the states, the contractors are expected to take annual education courses to hold on to their certification. So if your contractor has that — you can be sure that he is skilled.
5. Interview the Candidates
Whether you are down to just one contractor or a few more, you should always conduct an interview before embarking on the journey.
You can ask for bids, negotiate the price, inquire about past experiences, and a lot more. Below are some of the questions you can ask during the interview:
- What are your references?
- What certifications and licenses do you have?
- What will be the estimated cost, with prices broken down for each major element?
- Do you have insurance for your workers?
- How much of the work will you complete and how much will be outsourced to a subcontractor?
6. Put it in Writing
Once you have finalized the contractor, make sure you sign a comprehensive and well-documented contract. Having everything in writing will help you avoid any conflicts in the future, and also protect you if things go south.
Some of the important elements to be included in a contract are:
- The start and end date of the project
- The scope of the project being undertaken
- Total payment and dispensing schedule
- Any type of guarantee offered by the contractor
- The sequential order of tasks to be done
- Waiver of lien (so that the contractor cannot put a lien on your house in lieu of any dues)
Some Other Tips
Apart from these major steps, there are several other little tips and tricks that’ll help you immensely:
- The ease of getting in touch with a contractor (through permanent mailing address, email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) is desirable and a sign of a professional attitude.
- Discuss and fix a schedule during which the workers can access your house. Everyone should also be aware of any part of your house that is off-limits.
- Insurance coverage needs to be verified diligently, so that you don’t have any liability in case a worker is injured on your property.
- Ask your contractor about the potential mess (dust, debris, etc.) a remodeling project can make, and how they plan on dealing with it.
- Make sure you establish a professional connection based on mutual respect and understanding before the start of the project. Don’t end up with someone you’ll be too shy or uncomfortable to contradict.
- As a rule of thumb, do not pay more than 10% of the total cost upfront.
- Similarly, do not end up paying the entire amount before the completion of the project.
Red Flags to Avoid When Making the Final Call
It is important to know what to do, and it is equally crucial to know what NOT to do. So here are some red flags you need to be on the lookout for:
- Contractors with no online presence (website, social media) raise a red flag immediately. They might be old school, but a lack of online presence today is a little suspicious.
- A contractor must take pride in their work, which would reflect in their portfolio. A hastily put together file with no photos or plans is definitely a red flag screaming at you.
- A good contractor will almost always be too busy to start work right away. Beware of people who aren’t supervising any project at the time.
- Something might be fishy if your contractor only provides you with written references from the people they worked for previously, and doesn’t give you any way of personally contacting the people.
- Some contractors might try to push you into a certain direction with respect to your home improvement project, a direction that will either make their work easier or cost you more. Stand your ground if you think your demands are reasonable.
- Anyone who tries to rush you into signing a contract is probably not a good pick. A lot of contractors will provide ‘limited time’ offers and encourage you to sign the contract within a couple of days or even hours to take advantage of the ‘exclusive’ benefits. Do not fall for that. Take your time and sign the dotted line only once you are fully convinced. A successful contractor will understand your need to be sure and will never push you into a rushed or misinformed decision.
Do your research well, listen to people and read online reviews, confirm credentials, and pick a contractor you feel comfortable letting in your house.
A home remodeling project that involves a third party will never be cheap. It’s not something you can tear down and restart from scratch if things go south. You got one shot — and the more you know, the less likely you are to mess up; so make sure you do the necessary work.