Making the decision to remodel is exciting, but don't let that enthusiasm impair your good judgment in finding and hiring the best contractor to suit your particular home remodeling needs. Rather than hiring the first contractor you interview, be prepared to screen at least three potential hires.
While a referral from a friend or family member is a great first step in identifying potential candidates, do your own research, including checking references and your local Better Business Bureau or state's Consumer Affairs Office. As an added precaution, check with the remodeler's suppliers such as the local lumberyard or building inspector.
Get it in Writing
Do your homework first so you understand your options and potential problems. Ask targeted questions about your project and whether the contractor is skilled and experienced in the type of work you need. If you're embarking on a high-end bathroom remodel, look for someone who has worked on similar projects. If you can view the work in person, by all means do so.
Always get a written contract that outlines the project start date and completion date, a detailed list of what will be done and materials used, payment schedule, cancellation policy and warranty. Don't sign the contract until you fully understand and are satisfied with its terms.
If the contractor asks for a significant portion of the project fee up front (more than a third) or to be paid only in cash, be extremely wary. Some states place limits on the allowable down payment. For example, California limits down payments to either $1,000 or 10 percent of the project price, whichever is less.
Don't get enamored by a low bid, no matter how tempting. It is possible that the contractor doesn't have the experience to properly price your job or is willing to take shortcuts or use cheaper materials. Likewise, a high bid doesn't guarantee exceptional work. Get as many bids as you can, making sure you're comparing apples to apples about the scope of the project and the quality of the materials. Evaluate each bid based on value, rather than on price alone.
Get More Information
While price and how long the job will take are important considerations, determine if a potential contractor is reliable, trustworthy and experienced.
For more advice on selecting a contractor, visit the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's website.
Some good questions to ask are:
- How long have you been in business? How many projects similar to mine have you completed in the past year?
- How is your company organized? Will you be using full-time employees or subcontractors? Who will supervise these workers and take responsibility for the entire project?
- Do you have workers compensation and liability insurance? Can I see a copy? (Even if the contractor shows you a written policy, there is no guarantee that the policy is still valid, says the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Verify by calling the insurance agency.)
- Do you have a list of customer and business references I can contact?
- Are you a member of any national trade association? Have you or your employees had any special training or education?
- Do we need permits for this project and will you take care of those?
Remodeling can be fun or it can be frustrating. Taking the time to find the right contractor won't guarantee flawless execution, but your contractor should be able to minimize problems, find solutions and work with you to make the project a success.