Choosing the right contractor for your home remodel can be a stressful undertaking. A home remodel is not just a financial investment, but also an investment in your time and energy. The right contractor can transform your home into the luxurious living space of your dreams. The wrong contractor can make your remodel a nightmare. So how can you ensure you are choosing a quality contractor? Where and when should you begin the search? What questions should you ask prospective contractors? What are the most important criteria to use in selecting a contractor? With so many contractors to choose from, how do you know which one to go with?
Here is a list of top things you should look for when researching and hiring a contractor.
1. Good References and Experience
As any good human resources manager will tell you, always check references before hiring. This policy is no different when hiring a contractor. Who has the contractor worked for in the past and what projects has he or she completed? Speak with the people they have worked for and get a sense if they are reliable. Ideally, choose a referral from someone that you know and trust. If you don’t personally know anyone who has gone through with a home remodel, get a referral from an architect or engineer who has worked with the contractor.
Check out their work and ensure that it’s high quality. A good contractor should be more than willing to bring you to see their past projects and projects currently in-progress. If not, that’s a big red flag to stay away.
2. Steady Staff and Crew
Does the contractor have a crew that they work with on a regular basis? This is something that you’ll want to ask upfront. If the contractor doesn’t have a regular crew, you are essentially hiring a project manager who subcontracts everything out, as opposed to an actual construction company. This also means that the contractor likely uses temporary workers, which casts doubts on the extent to which the contractor has vetted his workers and whether the quality of their work can be trusted. You want a contractor who works with a team he knows and trusts.
Make sure that the contractor uses the same sub-contractors for each project and that the turnover rate is low. A steady crew usually means that employees are treated and paid well and actually care about the work that they do.
3. Too-Quick Turnaround Times
Be wary of a contractor that tells you only what you want to hear, instead of a realistic assessment of the situation. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a home remodel can’t be completed in that time either. A contractor whose estimated time of completion is wildly different then their competitors is either inaccurate in his estimates or will sacrifice quality for speed.
4. Too Much Availability
This may sound counterintuitive, but if a contractor tells you that they can start immediately, that may be a bad sign. If a contract has a good reputation, his services will be in demand and he will be working on several jobs. A contractor who has time on his hands should give you pause, especially in a busy housing market.
5. Vague or Cheap Pricing
Look out for suspiciously low costs. There are some contractors that underestimate each line item or give undetailed, ambiguous headings on the bid just to get the contract. Once they get the job, they issue change orders to make up the difference between their original estimate and the true cost. If an estimate for a job seems too good to be true, it probably is.
6. Current State Contractor License
Before hiring, also make sure that your contractor’s state contractor license is current and in good standing. To obtain a license, a contractor must be skilled in his trade and satisfy other requirements, such as carrying workers’ compensation for his employees. You don’t want to take chances with an inexperienced contractor or a contractor who doesn’t have a workers’ compensation policy (see below).
7. General Liability Insurance
Ensure that the contractor’s general liability insurance is adequate and covers the scope of the work you are looking to get done. For instance, insurance for condo renovation is far more expensive than that of a single-family home renovation. Insurance for single-family home renovations doesn’t cover condo renovations but insurance for condo renovations does cover single-family home renovations.
Beware: If a contractor does not have general liability insurance, you could end up with the liability, along with some hefty expenses, in the event that something goes wrong.
8. Workers’ Compensation Insurance
From operating industrial machinery to being exposed to chemicals and other hazardous materials, individuals in the contracting business face many risks on a day-to-day basis. Workers’ compensation insurance protects a contractor and their staff members in case an employee becomes injured while on the job. You don’t want to incur the risk of an uninsured workman injuring himself on your premises while working on your remodel.
Always check and make sure that all subcontractors are licensed and insured.
9. Contractor or Foreman on the Job Site
Once the job starts, a good contractor will either stay on the site or have a construction foreman (who is in charge of the construction crew) on the job site. Someone should always be there to lead the rest of the crew and see to it that everything runs smoothly.
10. Check with material suppliers
A good way to get the inside scoop on your contractor is to ask the people he deals with most often – his material suppliers. A quick check with the contractor’s vendors (such as lumber companies) can give you good insight into what it would be like to work with the contractor. Does the contractor have overdue bills or have outstanding liens? Is the contractor reliable and responsible? A materials supplier is likely to know a contractor well enough to provide unique insight into these questions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you want to have good chemistry with your contractor. Communication is of critical importance to make sure you are both on the same page. It will be a determining factor in the success of your remodel.
If you do your homework and look for an honest, reputable and experienced contractor, more likely than not, you’ll end up pleased with the outcome.