Looking for a little R&R? Renovation & Remodel work, that is. Before you even think about starting the process, consider these insider tips for choosing a contractor straight from the mouths of the trade pros themselves.
Q: What are common errors homeowners make when choosing a contractor?
Choosing a contractor based solely on price. The lowest bid is not necessarily the best option, especially if you prefer finer craftsmanship. Equally important, is not checking references. Anyone can make a website – what you want to do is see their past projects and even possibly speak to previous clients.
Q: Why do bids come in varying so greatly in price? How negotiable are they?
Varying prices come down to that contractors experience, the quality of their work (and the products they use), and even the size of the company. A larger firm with dozens of employees and clients will often charge more. Likewise, some contractors may take shortcuts and/or use lesser quality products which can make their bid lower. Keep in mind, cutting corners now often leads to more repairs down the road.
An example of this is the window brand you choose. A vinyl window may be cheaper in the short term but will need to be replaced in 10 years (or less). Paying a little extra for a fiberglass window, like Integrity from Marvin, is more expensive in the short-term but you won’t have to replace them for at least 20 years and you will save money on your utility bill because of their energy efficiency.
Finally, if you want to work with a specific contractor, but can’t afford to, discuss scaling back the project a little to a price that fits your budget. However, never use poor-quality materials to save budget and never pay in full until the last bit of the job is completed.
Q: What’s the best way to check a contractor’s reputability?
Word-of-mouth: Ask people you know for recommendations.
Referral Services: Think Angie’s List.
Social Media: Social media platforms like Instagram, Houzz and Facebook are great ways to find local qualified, professionals in your area. Many of the up-and-coming contractors use these mediums to showcase their work and their finished projects.
Once you’ve narrowed down the possibilities to a few names, visit your municipality’s website to check local records and confirm that each contractor is licensed, bonded and insured and doesn’t have any unsettled disputes.
Q: What’s are sure signs at the start of a project that you’ve hired a good contractor?
Is he responsive to your emails, phone calls, inquiries, etc.? Is he listening to you? Is he taking good notes? How clean does he keep the work site in the first few days? Do your personalities click?
If you’re happy with the answers to these questions, chances are you’ve made a smart hire.
Q: Alternately, what are signs at the start of a project that the contractor may not have been a good hire?
Demolition is a tough way to determine your contractors work. Instead, rely on how they are communicating with you. Responsiveness to your emails/calls, readiness to hear your thoughts and answer your questions. The more conscientious they are with their client, more often than not, the more conscientious they are about their handiwork.
If your contractor asks you to get permits – run in the other direction. In most areas, you have to be a licensed contractor to pull a permit, so this request may be a sign that he/she doesn’t have a license or that it has lapsed.
Finally, be wary of any contractor that demands a large deposit early on. Some don’t require any money up front, others may ask for 30% on signing the contract. Any more is not necessary.
Q: What’s the typical markup on materials?
Typically, markup is anywhere from 15-50 percent. If that seems steep, consider that a contractor is charging you the markup on discounted prices (they are professionals who can buy materials for cheaper than non-trade pro). Contractors are essentially acting as the manufacturer, so if something breaks or the product arrives damaged, they are responsible for fixing or replacing it. That’s not the case for items you buy on your own.
Q: How often will my contractor be on the job? If I want to see him personally and not just his subs, should I establish that up front?
This largely depends on the size of the company. The person you hired may not be the one swinging the hammer every day. Either way, you should be able to reach your contractor easily if you have a question or problem. Make your expectations known at the beginning of the job, so you are not disappointed along the way.