Dreaming up a new kitchen or spa-worthy bathroom may be the most fun part of renovating, but choosing the right renovation contractor is the most important part. This person will rip out your walls and spend your money, so it's really important that you like and trust them enough to embark on the remodeling journey together.
We've all heard nightmare stories of homeowners who wound up chained to the wrong contractor. Don't be one of them! Asking these questions might help you make the best hire:
Customers are your best sources for information, so don't be afraid to ask a potential contractor if you can speak with their past customers. Put on your reporter's hat and ask questions like, "Were deadlines and expectations met?" and "What were your best and worst experiences?" Christina Hoffmann, content manager for HouseLogic.com, recommends checking online reviews, too. "Look at Yelp, Angie's list, and online forums," she says. "Make sure you’re seeing the full gamut of what people are saying."
Don't just ask for an overall price estimate. "One of the most important questions to ask is, 'Can you itemize prices?'" Hoffmann says. "Then you can compare apples to apples. If prices are not itemized, you don't know what they’re charging for." An itemized list also lets you identify areas where you can make changes to shave costs.
Remodelers must perform quality work and maintain a good reputation to stay in business—plus, you're paying for their relationships with other contractors or suppliers. "Ask how long they've been doing business locally," Hoffmann recommends. "You want them to be established and have an established team of subcontractors."
Most states require contractors to pass an exam and take annual education courses to maintain a current license; insurance covers employees. That way, if someone gets hurt on the job, the company's insurance covers the medical bills. Otherwise, an injured worker could come after you, the homeowner, to foot the bill. A surety bond is liability for you in case the contractor doesn't finish the job or goes out of business.
Permits are required for most professional remodeling jobs. This ensures a building inspector has reviewed the project and approves. Be leery of contractors who are willing to work without permits!
After hearing their own schedule and assessing your project's needs, work together to set out approximate start and end dates. If you need the project wrapped up by a certain date—like the bathroom for your New Year's Eve party—say so upfront. Contrary to how it works on renovation TV shows, delays are common and projects rarely wrap up in a tidy fashion. Plus, "Legitimately, there are things contractors can't see until they start, like what's under the floor or behind the wall, like mold or rot," Hoffmann notes.
Is the contractor you're speaking to performing the work, or will it be someone else? "The general contractor isn't necessarily the guy coming to your house every day," Hoffmann says, "so you might want to ask if you can meet the job foreman ahead of time." Again, it's nice to know the human(s) who is in your house, using your bathroom every day.
Every detail should be included in a contract, such as payment schedules, timetables, materials to be purchased, and other essential items. Before any money changes hands or works starts, you must have a signed contract. A solid contractor wouldn't balk at the idea of a contract.
Answers to these all questions should leave you feeling comfortable with your new remodeling contractor. If anything feels a bit off, then follow your gut and keep looking.
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