Choosing a Reputable Contractor
Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
There are laws in place to protect you. Every city, municipality and state has minimum building standard laws for all construction, remodeling, additions, alterations, and repairs. This law requires all new homes and remodeling work to be completed to local codes and provides for third-party inspections. All builders and contractors must follow the same rules and meet the same standards. These measures protect you from poor construction methods and provide you with assurances that your home will be remodeled to scientifically-tested standards.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Don’t relax just yet. You’re entrusting someone with what is probably your largest asset , and their only required guidance is a code that provides a minimum standard. Want to rest easy that you’ve got a good professional contractor? Here’s the homework assignment:
- Call your local builders association for a list of its members.
- Solicit two or three bids for the work you need; do not automatically accept the lowest.
- Beware of an unusually low bid or low advertised price. No matter what he signs, the contractor has to be able to afford to pay for labor, materials and overhead or you’re both in trouble.
- Make sure all bids are based on the same set of plans and specifications.
- Discuss the bids in detail with the contractor to make sure you understand the reasons for any variations in price.
- Ask for an insurance certificate to verify current workers’ compensation, general liability insurance, and property damage, and personal liability in case of accidents.
- Make sure the contractor has a permanent business location and a good reputation with local banks and suppliers.
- Call the Better Business Bureau to find out how long the company has been in business and whether there are any unresolved complaints against the firm registered with either.
- Check to see if the contractor has a good reputation with suppliers and building officials.
- Incorporate any warranties, guarantees or other promises in your written contract.
- Always insist on a written contract, written change orders, and a building permit .
- Select a contractor you are comfortable with–one who understands your tastes and needs and with whom you can communicate easily.
Ask your contractor about the quality of their work. Do they build to code? When do they build beyond code? “Beyond code” will ensure the durability and energy efficiency you want in your home. Ask the contractor if he or she has attended any code training. If he or she uses subcontractors, do they build to code? Is your contractor as interested in green housing technology as you are?
Take your time. Most problems occur when consumers fail to investigate contractors carefully before hiring them.
When you’re ready to look for a remodeler,
10 Questions to Ask a Remodeling Contractor
Ten is a handy number for a title. We were aiming for ten, but couldn’t restrain ourselves. Here are sixteen.
- Are you licensed to work in this state?
- How many years of remodeling experience do you have?
- How many and what kind of remodeling projects do you do each year?
- In how many of these have you integrated the technologies I’d like you to use?
- May I talk to some of your previous customers about the work you did for them?
- May I have a written estimate, good for six months, for the project?
- May I see examples of your previous work, either in person or in photographs?
- Are you insured to cover worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case of an accident?
- Will the contract allow me to make a down payment, a second payment when you complete the job, and a final balance of 10-15% when I’m satisfied that it’s complete?
- What is your policy on canceling a project?
- Will there be a preconstruction conference?
- When do you expect to start work, and how long do you estimate it will take?
- How much of the work will be subcontracted? How regularly do these subs work with you?
- Will you or a foreman check on the job every day?
- Who will be my contact during the job, and how regularly will I have access to him?
- How do you ensure minimal disruption to the home during the project?
There are lots of good remodeling companies out there, but there are also some shady ones or ones that do shoddy work. Here are some steps to protect yourself and ways to spot a good remodeling company.
Get Referrals: Ask friends who’ve had remodeling done recently if they’d recommend their remodeling company. Another good source of referrals is real estate companies, who keep lists of qualified remodelers handy because their clients may need to get work done before selling a house. General contractors are another good source of referrals. If they can’t do the work themselves, they probably know good subcontractors.
Check for a License: Licensing requirements vary by state. However, most states require contractors to undergo testing – to validate their competence – and background checks. Search at your state’s licensing board or at various contractor/remodeling sites which list licensed contractors. You can also visit your state’s licensing board website to see if any complaints have been filed against the remodeling company.
Check them Online: Look at the listings for the Better Business Bureau and your local chamber of commerce. A company with numerous unresolved complaints might not be the best bet. Also, look for membership in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), which requires certain professional standards of its members. NARI also offers special certifications in kitchens, baths, green remodeling, and other specializations.
Interview: Online you can find lists of good questions to ask a remodeling company in your initial interview. Don’t be shy about asking pointed questions about qualifications and process. You should have a good idea going in of each step in the process and what the contractor’s responsibilities are. You should know who would be working in your home and how they relate to the remodeler – are they subcontractors or employees?
Look for Experience: Ask the remodeling company how many similar projects they’ve done in the past five years. Ask to see pictures of similar projects or visit worksites where work is ongoing. You want to hire a company that’s had a lot of recent experience with your kind of project – not someone who’s just done it once or twice. If they mostly specialize in kitchen remodeling, they probably aren’t the right people to do your two-story addition. Also, make sure that their experience is mostly residential rather than commercial.
Check References: A good remodeling company should be able to provide you with names and numbers for several past clients with projects similar to yours. Be sure to call several of them. Ask specific questions, not just about the end result, but also about the process. Were they easy to deal with? Did they listen to customers’ concerns? Did they keep disruption to a minimum?
Written Contract: This is essential even for small jobs. Your remodeling company should be able to provide you with a written contract specifying the work, materials, payment terms, work completion date, etc. It should specify who will obtain the building permit. Don’t settle for a verbal agreement and beware of companies that ask for all or most of the money upfront. Remember, the contract is the only thing that can protect you if things go wrong. Insist on it. If you don’t understand everything in it, consult a lawyer.
Have you had a bad experience with a remodeler? How could you have prevented it?