So you have been putting off that remodel job long enough…. The kitchen needs a new look, the bathroom a facelift, maybe the yard needs some curb appeal. Whatever your home improvement project might be, you have some big decisions to make. The most important of them all if you are hiring out the work is what contractor are you going to use. With so many options out there today how do you find the right one for your project, or more importantly how do you avoid the wrong one? We have some easy suggestions that will help you find a quality contractor for your next home improvement project.
Where Do I Begin?
First things first, where do I start my search for a contractor? Every quality contractor knows that their best advertisement is word of mouth. Start with people that you know such as friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. Let them all know about the upcoming project that you are planning and a magical thing starts to happen and you won’t even have to ask. They are going to give you suggestions (and you should take notes on this). They are going to tell you about their experience with their project, what they should have done but didn’t, what they wished they hadn’t done, what they liked, didn’t like, what they would or wouldn’t do again. They are going to give you great ideas and tips that will help with your project and most of all they are going to give you a recommendation of who the best person for you should be.
Another increasingly popular way to find a contractor are paid online sites such as Angie’s List and Home Advisor. These websites for a minimal fee will do much of the research for you. They will pre-screen contractors for services, and due a background check. If the contractor meets to their standards they may be listed on the site. Once you are a member all you need to do is run a search for what work you want done and plenty of qualified contractors come up. Each will be rated and have reviews from other members who have used them in the past. Many will even offer discounts for members and may also help resolve disputes between members and service providers.
Another option: Use a search engine to find a qualified contractor. It’s very easy and widely used today. Simply go to a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo (just to name a few) and type in some key words for the service you need and a list of contractors will come up. A good idea is to type in your city/town as well as state (i.e.there is more than one Springfield) so you are more likely to get local contractors. Not only will you get a list of contractors but many of them will be rated and have reviews from previous customers. Don’t forget you can always dig out the phonebook, if you even have one anymore (hint: it’s on the internet now).
How Do I Decide Who To Hire?
At this point you have done your preliminary search, you have talked to friends and family, searched the web and you have come up with a list of 3 to 5 contractors to call for an estimate. First things first! Ask if they charge for an estimate. Believe it or not, some contractors still use this practice. I for one do not believe that under any circumstance that it is necessary to pay for an estimate. You can find plenty of excellent service providers that do not charge for this. But if you don’t mind paying, then at least you will be prepared. Another question you want to ask is if they are insured. If the answer is yes, ask them to bring proof of insurance when they come for the estimate. Contractors get asked this question all of the time and many will even offer it without being asked. If the answer is no, then cross them off of your list! You do not want them working on your property.
Now it’s time to schedule the appointments! Whomever the decision maker is should plan on being there for each of them. If it is a team effort, then each person should attend. I like to schedule mine all in the same day and back to back. I love it when you are just finishing with one contractor and the next one shows up. Now they know they have competition which helps to keeps them honest, and I believe you get a more competitive estimate.
Now you are on to the estimate. Remember this very important as this is an interview for the contractor and the good ones know this. Given the nature of the service industry, don’t expect a suit and tie. However... if they show up looking like a hot mess, there is a good chance that they run their business the same way so PROCEED WITH CAUTION! If you did your homework, checked reviews and received good referrals from people you know then you probably have already weeded out these individuals. As you go through the process, explain to them what you want done and the end result you are looking for. This is called a scope of work and it’s a very good idea to have it written down on paper. Have one copy for yourself for each contractor and one copy for each of them. Take notes on what is talked about, any suggestions made or ideas that you come up with. You may find that at the end of this phase your home improvement project will look much different than when you started. And you will have notes for each meeting to refer to. When you are all done you may want to touch base with each of them one more time to inform them of any changes to the plans so that they can modify their estimate. It does you little good if you are comparing one estimate for a 10x10 room and another for a 10x15, so please be sure to compare apples to apples.
As you are talking through your project takes notes on the individual as well. How do they present themselves? Were they on time, respectful, polite? Are they a good communicator? Even take notes on any personal things that might come up like if they have kids or what their favorite sports team is. Don’t fish for them (that’s creepy) but if they come up make a note of it because it will be useful information when you are managing your contractor. Ohh….. yes you will have to do this but we will be here to help you that will be the subject of an upcoming blog. Also in helping you choose if you had a hard time communicating, don’t be surprised if during the process something doesn’t come out quite the way you thought and the conversation starts out like “Don’t you remember when we talked about ……..” You also want to know if they add any valuable insight, design ideas, suggestions, and ways to save money on the project and still keep the quality you desire (that one is my favorite). If you don’t hear any of this during the interview, straight up ask them “Do you have any ideas to save money on the project”? and see what they say!
OK so now you have made your list, had your appointments, conducted your interviews, who do you go with? You know they are all quality because you have done your homework, so go with the cheapest right? Not so fast…. Remember your notes as there are other things to consider. Do they communicate well? Did they have good ideas for the project? Can they help save you money? Sometimes go with your gut!! When you know you have quality contractors to choose from (and you will know) going with your gut is as good as any reason. I’ve done it plenty of times and am happy I did. Before you act on that gut instinct, there are a couple of things you might want to look into. First, ask them for and references. This is a common question and they should be prepared for it and offer up several right away. Give them a call and ask any questions that you might have. Ask them how long they have been in business, my rating system is as follows:
1-2 years - Be cautious (Most businesses fail within the first 2 years)
3-5 years - OK
6-10 years Good
10 or more - Best (Only 30% of businesses make it this long)
Just because they haven’t been in business ten years does not mean they don’t do quality work, every great business has a start date. It’s just another factor in the vetting process for you to consider. I know people who won’t hire a contractor that hasn’t been in business for at least five years. The flip side to that coin is if you find a great contractor just starting on their own, they may be willing to give you a great price to get the job which would lead to referrals and references for them so they can grow. One thing that I would strongly recommend is to do a background check. This does not have to be difficult. You can go down to your local courthouse and check the public records if you’d like. I wouldn’t suggest taking a ton of time to do this because at this point you have been referred to them, read reviews and checked references. Nothing is definite in life but chances are good you have weeded out any seedy characters! You still need to do your due diligence. Run a google search on the individual’s name and business name see what comes up. Many times any newspaper articles, police logs, court appearances, liens or arrests may show up. It may not all be bad as well. I’ve done searches and have found good-will articles about contractors I’m looking to hire as well. If you want to try and go deeper look at sites such as beenverified.com. These are paid sites but will dig deeper into an individual’s background.
So now after you have chosen your contractor, you should schedule one final meeting before the work takes place. At this meeting you are going to do several things: sign a contract, probably pay a downpayment, and tie up any loose ends. First the contract. Make sure you have everything in writing, and I mean everything. Your scope of work that you used for the interview should be included, make sure it is up to date and specific as to what is going to be done and I mean down to the exact color of paint and style of hardware you plan on using. By the way this is for several reasons: 1) everything is stated clearly for both parties to have and 2), it can save time and money. If they have any questions they can refer to the scope of work. This will help avoid delays and keep the project moving. The more specific the better, more on this in an upcoming blog. In addition to this, make sure you have the start and end date of the project agreed upon in writing. Of course this should include the cost of the job, how much (if any) of a down payment they want, and if there is a payment schedule (that also should be in writing and agreed upon before the job starts). Depending on the size of your job this will change. If it is an emergency or simple repair you probably won’t pay a downpayment. If your building or putting on an addition expect to pay a sizable amount upfront (maybe even up to half) and then periodic payments as the job progresses. Either way it should be in writing and agreed upon between both parties so there are no surprises and no confusion. Finally, do not ever pay 100% of the bill until every aspect of the job is complete and you are happy! You generally have 30 days to pay the bill after it has been issued. I usually wait a couple of weeks just to see if anything pops up that I might of missed in my inspection or that was not completed properly. Even the best contractors have issues that come up with jobs. It’s not a big deal most of the time and you can expect issues to happen now and then. It’s only a big deal if they don’t honor their work and come back to take care of it.
Good luck to all of you with your home improvement projects, I hope this helps you find a qualified contractor. If you have any questions feel free to contact us we are on Facebook at Chris and Gina Buy Houses. Please make sure to give us a LIKE, and check us out at our website at www.chrisandginabuyhouse.com
Watch for our next blog about managing contractors and your home improvement project!