Checklist for Hiring a Remodel Contractor/ Tips on making your remodel project a reality
When it comes to remodeling our homes, it is a big decision that takes time, money and planning. From the dreaming stages through to the planning stages of your project, hiring a remodel contractor is an equally important decision. A contractor is basically a project manager who takes your vision of what remodeling you want done and turns it into a reality. Most people who try to take on major remodeling projects on their own end up spending more time and money than necessary and a contractor can take some of that stress off while also ensuring quality and consistent work. Ideally, you want to find a remodel contractor who is reliable, trustworthy and offers a fair price for your project.
Know what you want
Before even thinking of hiring a contractor, consider exactly what remodeling you want to do. Be specific and do your research on what is in your budget and what isn’t. For example, if you are remodeling a basement, ask yourself, what do I want to use this space for? Do I need lighting, plumbing, etc.? Try to consider all of the remodeling needs, not just the cosmetic, and plan out your desired results. It is also helpful to gather visual ideas of what you want. Look in magazines or online and try to find a few images to build an “idea file.” This idea file can be added to for as long as you want, and can come in handy later when you are meeting with a contractor.
Assess needs from wants
After deciding exactly what you want, it is time to let reality set in a bit. Try to make two lists: needs and wants. Needs would be necessary components of the remodel, for example an outdated plumbing system or a settling wall. Wants would be a new bar line in the kitchen or maybe an extra bathroom in the house. Of course it’s okay to have more wants than needs, after all most renovations are exactly that; but by balancing needs and wants, you can more easily make cuts when it comes time to budget and make compromises. You can also make a short list of negotiable and non-negotiable items, similar to a wants and needs list but more specific to your project.
Get a plan in place
So now you have your renovations dreamed out and you have assessed your needs and wants. It is now time to put a somewhat concrete plan in place. Think about your desired timeline for example. Is this something you don’t mind spending six months to a year on, or are you on a tighter deadline? If you could choose, what projects would you want remodeled first and why? For example, maybe you want to start with the bathroom first since you have other working bathrooms in the house, or maybe you want to start with remodeling the entire kitchen because you know you are on vacation that week. The timing is something to consider along with the actual desired work and end result so try to plan out not only what you want, but when you want it. The contractor will of course have some suggestions of their own, but coming into it with a plan is helpful for both you and the contractor as it allows the contractor to see exactly what your end result looks like and how they can better meet that end goal. Bottom line: don’t leave them guessing!
Now that you have a general plan in mind, start doing your research. Start by asking friends, family or co-workers for personal recommendations and then consider visiting lumber yards or other sub-contractors to ask about contractors they may work with. Trustworthy, reliable contractors will have a good reputation in the area so it’s a good idea to ask around as much as possible. Another idea, if you don’t have any acquaintances who have worked with a contractor before, is to check the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). On their website, you simply enter your zip code and search the results that appear. All of the contractors listed are contractors who voluntarily follow a strict Code of Ethics and make a commitment to professionalism through the NARI screening process.
Know the Right Questions
Even after doing your research and finding a reputable contractor, you still need to know the right questions to ask before committing to working with them. Some important questions to consider asking potential contractors are:
- Do you have professional references you can share? Clients who you have done work for similar to my remodeling project?
- What are some past projects you have worked on that you were proud of and why?
- What makes you better than other contractors in my area? What can you offer that other contractors cannot?
- What subcontractors do you work with? What do you look for in a subcontractor? Will you take responsibility if something on their end falls through?
- What type of insurance do you carry?
- Do you follow a professional Code of Ethics?
- Will my project require a permit?
These are just a few of the many questions you can ask a potential contractor, but as a general rule, you always want to ask questions in the categories of: payment, quality of work, expectations, and timelines.
Set up interviews
Once you have narrowed the list down to a handful of reputable contractors, based on recommendations and research at this point; it’s time to speak directly to each contractor for yourself. Most contractors are happy to meet for in person one-on-one interviews but some do prefer phone interviews so just request a time to speak with them and set up an interview as soon as possible. Using the list of questions you developed in the previous step, have a few questions specific to each contractor in addition to the general questions you have. For example, if you have a personal reference, maybe ask details about that specific job from which they came recommended. A good tip for ending the interview is to ask, what questions do you have for me? If they have no questions, this can be a red flag but no reason to throw them out of the running just yet.
After choosing a few top contractors for your project, contact them directly and ask for a bid. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to get at least three bids before hiring a contractor. It’s important to do this because you want to avoid being overcharged, so seeing multiple bids allows you more negotiating power and the ability to compare rates and the price range for the work you need done. When you ask each contractor for his or her bid, give each contractor the same information on your project (materials, desired time line, etc.) because you want fixed bids, not contingent on the materials or time it takes to complete the project. In addition, when asking for bids make sure that each contractor is clear on the scope of your project and every expectation you have. Let them know what items of your project are negotiable, and what is not.
Make the leap
Well, the research has been done, the questions have been answered and the bids have been placed. Now what? It’s time to make the leap and choose the best contractor. Obviously, you want to choose the contractor whose bid is the best price but also the best quality so once the bids have been placed, contact the contractor with the lowest bid and ask a few more questions before hiring them. Some of these questions may include:
- Is this a fixed price?
- Are there any factors that could cause the price to rise or fall?
- Can I make any changes once the deal is made? Can you make any changes?
- What happens if we run into issues down the road? What costs are included and what are not? (for example, is someone is injured, if there is inclement weather, etc.)
Obviously, it is impossible to know everything that “could” happen but the goal is to feel comfortable and confidence with your decision, so just asking about the “what ifs” can give you peace of mind. The final step is now to get it all in writing. Most contractors automatically know to draft up an official contract but make sure you ask for one anyway. Before signing the contract, make sure you ask for a copy to look over for a few days. Spend time looking over the agreement line by line, making sure that all of the details of your project are covered and there will be no surprises down the road. If there are concerns about missing items, unaddressed items, or odd wording, ask the contractor to clarify or add in those items before signing. After the contract looks good and the terms of agreement are agreed upon by both you and the contractor, sign away! Congratulations, you just hired a remodeling contractor for your project.
Free Checklist to organize your renovation, research and find a reputable contractor, and know the right questions to ask before committing to working with them.