By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Choosing the right contractor is a critical step in remodeling. No matter how well your architect designs the plans or how vividly you envision the project, the contractor can literally make or break the final outcome.
While each member of the design team has an important role, the contractor’s part is undeniably significant.
So, how do you choose a contractor?
Forego the yellow pages on this one and collect recommendations. Ask for referrals from your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had remodeling done.
Selecting a good general contractor is important because he or she will oversee the whole project.
Ask architects, engineers, home inspectors, local lenders and insurance professionals; anyone who works with contractors professionally will know someone good to recommend. Gathering as many referrals as you can will tell you which contractors have a good reputation in the community.
You can also research contractors through local trade associations, such as the local home builders association. Contractors who are involved in trade associations are generally more professional. If they are active members, you know they invested in their business and are serious about what they do.
Once you have a list of potential contractors, interview and assess the candidates. Evaluate their credentials. Make sure they are legitimate by confirming that they have a current building license on file with the state. Make sure they have a permanent address, phone number, e-mail, etc. Confirm that they have insurance and that the limits are sufficient for your project. (A contractor should be able to supply you with a copy of his/her current policy.)
Invite the contractors to your house to review your plans and see your existing house. Are they professional? Do they respond promptly to your inquiries? Are they on time to meetings? All these things will give you an idea of what kind of team member they will be if you hire them.
Ask each contractor to show you a portfolio with photos of his completed projects. Also ask for references from your candidates and make sure you really call them. Find out if the contractor was clean, on time and on budget. How well did they deal with problems that came up during the job? Was the contractor easy to work with? Was he on the job site regularly? Responses from a contractor’s former and current clients can give you an accurate picture of how it would be to work with them.
Discuss the contractor’s current and projected schedule. Ask how long he thinks your job will take and when he can start. Sometimes patience is required; good contractors are usually busy.
When you have identified three or four contractors with whom you are comfortable, provide each of them with a set of completed plans and specifications to obtain bids.
Be specific in requesting an itemized bid (not just one big lump sum) and providing a deadline for submitting a bid. Most contractors in Utah will provide a bid free of charge, as this is the marketing portion of their business. Make sure you ask them to specify whether their bid is a fixed fee or a time and materials estimate.
If you have provided the contractors with complete plans and specifications, the three (or so) bids you receive should be reasonably close. Take time to review each carefully and compare them as best you can. If you see exceptionally large discrepancies in any area, discuss this with the contractor. And remember the lowest price isn’t always the best choice.
An inexperienced contractor often lowballs the bid just to get the job, but that may mean he won’t be able to stay within budget. If one contractor is dramatically lower than the others, he really may not be able to do the job for the price and you will pay later.
Once you have gone through all the steps, you can confidently choose the contractor best suited for your project. Remember: Choosing a contractor is an important step, but it is not the first in remodeling. Choose a good architect to create the plans and specifications that will enable you to collect accurate bids. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.