Ultimate Guide to Finding a Remodeling Contractor You Can Trust
A Comprehensive Guide on How to Select the Right Contractor for your Remodeling Project
Welcome to your home renovation: where the tv shows make it look easy, but your reality turns out to be nothing like their fairy tale experience of finding a remodeling contractor (we can talk about HGTV shows another time).
Home Remodeling Shouldn’t Be Scary
The fact is that most homeowners approach the remodeling contractor selection process with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.
It’s not for no reason, after all, there is a homeowner every day around the country who is fed up with their renovation project (regardless of whether the quality is excellent or not by the way). So, I asked myself what tools do homeowners need to be able to choose a remodeling contractor with complete confidence?
Choosing a Contractor is Easy with the Right Tools
This Guide was created to give you the tools you need to find qualified remodeling contractor candidates to remodel your home. It contains information on how to assess them so that you can make the right decision on whom to hire for your project.
Remember as you read through this guide that the number one goal—in addition to ensuring you get quality work of course–is that you have peace of mind and the least amount of stress during every facet of the project. If you’ve ever done a good-sized renovation before, you know the feeling toward the end when you say to yourself “ugh. I can’t wait for these guys to be done so I can have my house back.”
Get the FREE report: “8 Home renovation stages DE-Mystified” to learn about every single stage that your home renovation will go through.
Steps to Take to Find the Right Remodeling Contractor
Below is a summarized list of the steps that you’ll need to take to find and hire the right remodeling contractor for you.
- Where to find potentially good contractors
- How to interview them
- Plus, the one question that even folks with experience don’t know to ask.
- Questions to ask the Contractor’s references
- One question to ask that may get you a surprise response from the Remodeling Contractor’s references.
- Contractor interview section
If you don’t remember any of the other questions, you must remember to ask these simple yet powerful ones that will reveal how protected (or exposed) you would be if you decided to work with the contractor.
Finding Potential Home Remodelers
Did you know that there are other options for finding remodeling contractors besides searching the internet? It’s true! Below is a list of reliable alternatives you can use to find potential home remodelers.
Locate Happy/Satisfied Remodeling Clients
If you are planning a remodeling project, begin your search for competent, reliable, and honest remodelers in your neighborhood.
Start in Your Neighborhood
Take a drive around your neighborhood to discover where remodeling jobs are underway and collect names. Most remodelers will post yard signs advertising their business in front of homes in which they are working. Look for other clues such as trade contractors’ vehicles or construction dumpsters. When you see a sign identifying the remodeler knock on the door and speak with the homeowner.
Ask Your Friends
Other sources for references are friends or colleagues at work or school; clubs, professional organizations; charity or service organizations you belong to and local social media friends or Groups. Be bold! The more people you ask, the more referrals you’ll get. Be sure the people recommending the contractor have had work done by this remodeler.
Additional Sources for Remodelers
Here’s one to consider: Every weekday morning between 7 am and 9 am, you can go to any of your major hardware stores like Home Depot and the likes. During this window, collect business cards and tell them that you will be calling them at some point.
Selecting Potential Remodeling Contractors
Choosing the right remodeling contractor can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re armed with the knowledge you need to make the right choice.
Choose a Remodeling Contractor You Can Work With
Your goal is to locate a remodeler with whom you can work. Once you begin to interview remodelers focus on the people who listen carefully to you and whose interest in your project impresses you.
The object of this quest is to hire a compatible remodeler with whom you’ll be able to work successfully for the 1 – 12 months a large project may take. Keep in mind; you are opening your home to this person for an extended period, and you should be able to trust them.
The Introductory Call is Your First Contact with Prospective Remodelers
Most people don’t like interviewing remodelers because they don’t have confidence in their ability to discern if a remodeler is honest. Frankly, it’s not comfortable calling a list of strangers back to back to back. I mean, you might be willing to do some other crazy things if you didn’t have to do this one thing.
Don’t worry. By the time you’re done asking questions, the contractor will be wondering where you came from and how you knew to ask all these questions (shhh, don’t tell them we shared this with you.)
Be Prepared Before You Call
Be ready to describe your remodeling project in detail and state when you’d like to start construction. Now you are prepared to begin the interview process.
10 Questions to Ask When You Make the Call
When you call the remodeling contractors on your list you should have the following questions on hand:
Have you completed a remodeling project like this before?
When can you start the job?
How long have you been working in renovation/remodeling?
What is your company’s permanent business address?
Is your business registered with the province?
Can you tell me about a project where you had to go back and make a correction after the job was completed?
a. This question helps you gauge their response to issues raised once a project has been completed. If they have been in business over a decade and have never had to go back, that’s a bit much. Things happen on-site that a contractor may have to deal with later.
Can you provide a list of references that I can contact that includes a project where you had to return to repair or correct your work? Please include the type of project (i.e., kitchen, bathroom, deck, etc.)
Do you have adequate general liability insurance, and can I see it at some point before we commit to any work?
Do you belong to any business or builder’s organizations (e.g., Better Business Bureau, Home Builders’ Association- for building, etc.)?
When can we meet to discuss this project further?
a. This question is only if you’re encouraged by their answers to questions 1-9.
There is no script for these calls. In fact, during the course of some conversations, a remodeler may offer everything suggested above and more on the call.
Be observant of how easily the conversation proceeds. After you hang up, make a few notes on the discussions.
- What were your first impressions of the remodeler?
- Did he or she listen to you well?
- Did he or she respond to your questions to your satisfaction?
Good Contractors Should Ask You Questions Too
When a good remodeler speaks with prospective clients, they usually try to judge how serious they are by asking specific questions about their design ideas and budget.
Example of Questions a Remodeler Should Ask You
To give you an idea of how prospective remodelers may handle your call, here’s how we deal with the initial conversations. If the potential client is planning an addition to their home, we ask the following questions.
- How large will the building addition be and what type of rooms are included?
- Please describe in detail what your vision is for the new space.
- Will kitchen countertops be a laminate finish, ceramic tile, or polished granite?
- Will bathroom fixtures be nickel, brass, or chrome?
- What flooring will be installed in the new rooms–hardwood flooring, tile, vinyl or carpet?
- What’s your budget for the project?
- Where is the project located?
- How soon do you want to start?
These questions give us a good indication of the level of finish the homeowners are considering; an idea of the client’s project requirements, and that the client is serious about the project and will likely move forward.
A quality quote takes us (the remodelers) several hours to create—not including driving to meet you and checking the project site. They want to ensure that the client is ready to move forward with the job and that neither party is wasting their time.
The Budget Question
A remodeling contractor may ask you if there is a preliminary budget for your project. Your response lets the remodeler know whether you understand the real cost of remodeling your home.
Do some serious research to ensure your budget is realistic for remodeling a home in your area. Being practical about how much you can afford to spend on your project is going to take you a long way down the road to completing the home remodeling project of your dreams.
Be skeptical of any contractor that gives you a low-ball bid because they could be trying to get in the door to raise the price after they have started the project.
Trust but Verify – Interviewing Remodelers References
Once you’ve contacted a few remodelers and have collected their references, it’s time to verify. When you call the homeowners, you want to make sure that the information the remodeling contractor gave you about their project outcome was correct.
Below is a comprehensive list of questions to ask the homeowners (note #14 puts a twist on things):
Determine the quality of the homeowner’s experience with the remodeler by asking whether he or she was competent at all points in the process? Would they use him or her again?
Ask how well the remodeler predicted the cost of construction, especially the difference between the preliminary estimate and the final project cost.
a. The numbers aren’t always the same but ask how close the bid was to the final price and how easy it was to arrive at a final contract price. Also, ask how much change orders (changes requested by the homeowner after the project began) affected the final price.
Could they communicate well with the remodeler?
a. Did the contractor listen to their concerns?
b. Did they respond quickly to their questions and requests?
c. Was it easy to work with the remodeler?
Were they happy with the quality of the work?
Were they satisfied with the remodeler’s business practices?
How close was the preliminary estimate the remodeler provided to the final contract price?
How well did the remodeler work with the homeowner to resolve any differences that arose during construction?
Did work crews show up on time?
Were the homeowners at ease with the trade contractors the builder used?
Did the work crew clean up the job site daily?
Was the job completed on schedule?
Did the remodeler fulfill their contract to the homeowner’s expectations?
Ask: “pardon me, but I think I have my notes mixed up. I believe he said that he remodeled your basement?” (keep in mind in this scenario, the remodeler told you he did their bathroom. Once you intentionally state the wrong room, be quiet and wait. You may be surprised at their response.)
Was a construction project manager or lead carpenter on the site every day?
Was the site supervision adequate?
Did the homeowner hire an architect? If so, how well did the remodeler work with the architect?
Did the remodeler hold regular progress meetings with the homeowner?
Were the final details finished promptly?
Would you use this remodeler again without hesitation?
Was the remodeler trustworthy?
Do you believe that you got satisfactory value for the money spent?
How has the remodeler handled warranty claims?
Would you recommend the remodeler unconditionally?
The more you learn from other homeowners about prospective remodelers, the higher your comfort level with your choice of the remodeler. The higher your comfort, the greater command you will have over the process.
As with homeowner interviews, ask any questions you may have. Asking informed and detailed questions are the key to proper research. If you don’t ask questions you are giving up your responsibility in the process and possibly compromising the quality of your project.
Scheduling the In-Home Consultation
Here’s something to think about once you’ve chosen a remodeler to come to your home to see the project site and give you a bid.
Professional remodelers are extremely busy. You may have to be patient when you try to set up your meetings. If someone you are interested in hiring doesn’t return your call, give him or her a second chance. If they don’t return your second call, cross them off your list.
Just as you want to avoid fly-by-night remodelers or handymen, you also want to avoid someone who is too popular. If a contractor doesn’t have time to return your call now, I want you to imagine how stressful it could be once the work on your house begins.
Choosing Your Home Remodeler
After you’ve held your meetings and narrowed your remodeling candidate list to one name, you are ready to select your remodeler.
You are ready to move ahead if you’re confident your remodeler meets these two principal selection criteria:
- The remodeler is committed to fulfilling your project requirements.
- The homeowner references testify that he or she provided excellent value and delivered high-quality work.
Work with this remodeler to create a design and specifications for your project.
Creating the Design and Specification for Your Remodel
A design contract is often the first step because architects; design and build companies, and many remodeling companies charge fees for the design and preparation of remodeling documents. For now, that commitment is the limit of your obligation.
This step represents a commitment for both of you. Until you have signed a construction contract with a remodeling company, you have not made a legal construction commitment.
Building a Team You Can Trust
Your priority is to create a team with whom you’ll build your dream space. If the team isn’t working, you’ll recognize it early on. The main sign will involve a lack of progress in your design.
Your communication with the remodeler, architect, or designer should be clear and easy to interpret, just as it would be when discussing it with a good friend. They should also show proper attention to detail. All design revisions should contain the exact changes you asked for, and the revisions should be returned to you within the agreed-upon time frame you and the remodeler set together.
You now have the information you need to choose an excellent remodeler. The basic process is a simple one. Ask lots of questions. Keep asking questions until you’re satisfied you have what you want. Make sure you get satisfactory responses to all your questions. Your decision on whom to hire to complete your remodel will then be an easy one.
Questions to Ask Your Remodeling Contractor Before the Project Begins
These are the questions to ask your remodeling contractor after you’ve completed the screening process. If you forget to ask any other questions, you should not ignore these.
The purpose of each of these questions is to reveal just how protected (or exposed) you will be during and after the course of the renovation should you choose this contractor. Ready?
How does the remodeler protect you at the end of the project, from having workers come back and saying they have not been paid? (they should be able to provide you with a lien waiver form stating that everyone has been paid in full)
Who will be the project manager or lead carpenter?
How would the remodeler make sure that they stay committed to the timeline that they give you and how would they handle going past the deadline? (you would want the remodeler to provide you with some written timeline guarantee barring circumstances beyond remodeler’s control)
Will a supervisor be on the site full time?
Will the remodeling company provide a written remodeling schedule?
What’s the company’s routine regarding communication with the homeowners during the remodeling project? (you want there to be scheduled meetings throughout the project to assess where things are and what’s coming next)
Who will attend any meetings?
How would the remodeler show you that they fully understand what you need to be done? (they should be willing to provide a detailed scope of work that addresses what will be done on the project, and you would review and approve it)
How often will folks be on your project? (Ideally, you want there to be someone on site every day or at least every weekday, and if not, you need to know why and know early)
How do they handle unforeseen issues that come up on your project? (You want them to provide something in writing somewhere that if items arise, they will not proceed to do the work without your written consent. This alone can potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars to have in writing)
How does the remodeler structure payments? (The most important thing is that there should be written payment schedules that are due based on completed milestones and not based on time lapsed. Very important. Also, you must hold back a percentage of the entire project amount (about 5 – 9% of the project cost that will only be released when the project is 100% done. Not 95% or 98%. 100%)
What are the remodeler’s procedures regarding dedicated “command center” in the home? (They should work with you to assign a specific area where all the cutting and such will take place)
What sort of accountability will the remodeler put in place for after the project is completed? (You want a written warranty that can span a while.)
There you have it! It would be best if you were comfortable finding the right remodeling contractor for your project now. Remember, you are looking for a contractor that will do quality work and also maintain your peace of mind through the entire process (you don’t need to age a few more years just because of a renovation project). The one thing that brings most of these “fail-safes” together is simple: Get it in writing…every time!
Contact us to schedule an initial screening call today!