5 Steps to Take Before Selecting a Remodeling Contractor

Have you decided it’s time to freshen the look of your home? Do you want to build an addition, rather than moving? Are you yearning to fix that kitchen layout that makes you nuts? If you're ready to tackle a major remodeling project, but don’t want to do the work yourself, it’s time to hire a contractor.

What’s the best way to secure help? First, it’s important to remember that changing your mind in the middle of a project will frustrate even the best contractor and skyrocket the price of your remodel.

Before searching for contractors, define what you want to accomplish and how to get the best return on your investment. Then, let contractors make recommendations on how to achieve your desired results.

Step 1 - How To Find Good Contractors

Word of mouth is often the best route. When asking for recommendations, be sure to ask WHY someone thought the contractor was good, what it was like working with them, and if the project came in on time and on budget. Also, ask if they would hire them again.

Social networks are an excellent place to start. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations on Facebook, Nextdoor, and other sites where you’re connected to local residents. On Nextdoor, you can post a request for recommendations or search the site for past posts and suggestions.

Research online reviews on sites like Google Local and Yelp, check the Better Business Bureau, and look for ratings on Facebook business pages.

Your local government’s public works and building departments may be another good source for contractor recommendations since they inspect and approve (or refuse to approve) the work of many local providers.

Ask a local Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) too. Real estate professionals are an excellent resource for identifying top-notch contractors and other service providers.

When doing your research, see if any lawsuits have been brought against the providers you are considering. This is usually as easy as entering the legal name of the business and “vs.” as your search term. (For example, “Brown Construction LLC vs.”)

Step 2 -  Research the Top Prospects

Once you’ve identified several potential contractors, it’s time to learn more about them and study their work.

When judging quality, don’t rely exclusively on photos displayed their website. “Attractive” and “well built” aren’t always the same.

Also, if you spot problems in the supplier’s website images, which represent their best work, it’s a potential warning sign that their regular work is below your standards.

Keep in mind that new construction projects often look admirable. If you ask, most contractors will also provide examples that are several years old.

Check the contractors’ credentials. Determine what licenses are required for your area and research any designations or professional memberships. Do the designations cited represent something meaningful? Has the contractor maintained their professional memberships? Do they appear in the association’s online directory?

Step 3 - Get Accurate Bids

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to request bids. Limit your options to the top two or three candidates, to simplify the process of comparing quotes.

Invite each contractor to your home to discuss your project, providing identical job requirements. Upon gaining a firsthand look at what’s involved, the contractor may offer recommendations. If you like these ideas, you may need to loop back with your other candidate(s), for consistency.

Ask for written and binding bids that specify what’s included, so that you can make accurate, side-by-side comparisons. Review the bids line by line to compare prices and make sure they cover the same scope of work.

Also, ask each contractor to provide references. Talk to these former clients, for additional perspectives on the contractor’s work, their customer service, and whether the bid and completion date was accurate.

If the bids include quotes on subcontracted labor, ask how these amounts are determined and make sure the contract contains a clause that protects you, in case the contractor is working off “guestimates” and doesn’t have a firm quote from a subcontractor.

Step 4 - Making a Decision

The lowest bidder isn’t always the best choice since new contractors often offer lower prices. It may be a deal, but it also means they may not have the experience or expertise required for your job.

Good contractors are in high demand and may have multiple, simultaneous projects. Before making a decision, find out what’s currently on their list.

Depending on the size of the company, too many projects may mean yours will take longer to complete. If your project is going to cause significant upheaval in your life (like losing your kitchen for a month or more), the construction schedule may factor more significantly in your decision.

If possible, notice how the contractor interacts with subcontractors. This is another dimension that may be more important than price since a good working relationship will make your project go smoother. Consider meeting them on a job site to see how things run. Listen and take note of how they talk to each other.

Step 5 - Protect Yourself

Don’t pay in advance (beyond a nominal good faith deposit, if required). Set up a payment schedule wherein a percentage of the project is paid as milestones are met. Don’t make the last payment until all work is complete.

Contractors can declare bankruptcy in the middle of your job or go out of business. If you paid up front, you might be out of luck.

Depending on the scope of your project, you may want to ask your attorney to review the contract. As a legal agreement, contract terms and conditions frequently include these and other items:

  • Binding bid (cost)
  • Specific payment schedule (based on project phases, instead of dates)
  • Detailed scope of work
  • Change-order clause
  • Warranty on the work
  • Dispute resolution

Perhaps most importantly, make sure the contract includes a waiver of lien. Why? If the contractor fails to pay subcontractors or suppliers, this will prevent those entities from putting a lien on YOUR property, seeking payment.

A Final Bit of Advice

Remodeling, even under the best circumstances, can be frustrating. Don’t hire a friend or even a friend of a friend. If you aren’t happy with the results, it will hurt your relationship. If there is a serious problem with the work, you risk losing a friend. If the problem escalates into legal action, the friendship is toast. Finding an independent contractor is a lot easier than finding a new friend.