Just like a marriage, a relationship with your contractor hinges on your ability to communicate. A long remodeling project can test the most patient of homeowners, but like most marriages, your problems can be resolved or minimized if you just talk.
The following questions and tips may not guarantee a seamless relationship, but provide important guidelines to keep the lines of communication open during your project.
- Ask for a list of references and don't be shy about calling them.
While it seems like a no-brainer, people tend to trust what they hear, especially when it comes from a professional. First impressions are certainly important, but speak with two or three people who have used the contractor and have had experience working with them for several months.
Here are a few important things to ask:
- How was the quality of the workmanship?
- Did the contractor stay on budget according to the original estimate?
- Did the contractor require change order forms, and if so, was there a change fee?
- How punctual was the contractor? Did he meet benchmarks on time?
- Was it easy to communicate problems as the project preceded?
- Was the job site clean and safe?
- Was the contractor on site to supervise?
- Would you use this contractor in the future?
Note that not all references are the same. Ask for a reference from a client whose job is in progress or has been completed within the last 12 months; a client whose job has been completed within the last three years; and a client whose job is more than three years old. Any finally, check with your municipal courts to see if the contractor has been involved with any lawsuits.
- Don't be pennywise and pound-foolish; compare on more than price.
Of course the bottom line is a substantial factor in deciding who is going to get your job, but it should not be the be-all and end-all. A good rule of thumb is to solicit at least three bids, and require that each bid has a breakdown of materials used for the project. This will allow you to compare whether all things are equal -- or if the quality of materials differs between bids. If one is considerably lower then it's likely that the workmanship, or materials used, is of lower quality. Remember the old adage: If it's too good to be true – it probably is.
- How long has the contractor been in business?
No one can be in business for long in this field if they're not good at what they do. I recommend hiring someone who has at least five or 10 years of experience. The longer someone has been building the more likely it is they have been doing it correctly.
Proper insurance coverage really does matter.
It is critical to verify that the contractor has the proper insurance in place prior to starting. This will protect you from potential lawsuits due to work-related accidents.
There are two types of insurance a contractor must carry in order to operate: General Liability Insurance - which covers you in case there is damage on the job site; and Worker's Compensation Insurance - which protects you in case there is an accident on the job. Independently verify that these policies are up-to-date by contacting the policy issuer and requesting copies be sent directly to your home. Prior to work commencing, your name and address should be included on the policy itself as an additional layer of security.
- Read – don't skim – a contract.
The paper you sign is legally binding and should specifically spell out what the contractor is being hired to do; the estimated start and end dates; materials that will be used; a payment schedule; and warranty information. In addition, make sure there is a clear dispute resolution clause that will allow you the ability to have your grievances acknowledged and arbitrated on.
Keep your expectations realistic: homes are built out of organic materials that are subject to warping, cracking and changing over time. Contractors are not omnipotent and not every problem can be foreseen prior to commencement. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer. When it doubt, talk to your contractor.
And remember, with Hire it Done contractors, you can always contact us to help you through any stage of the process.