If you've decided you want to hire a contractor to do your renovation, whether it’s simply some changes to your bathroom fixtures or building a new addition that includes a new family room, kitchen and bathroom, you want to be sure the finished product is something you’ll be proud of for years. That’s why hiring a contractor is an important decision and definitely not one you should rush through.
Consider that the contractor you hire not only needs to have the necessary tools and experience to do the job, but also the technical, interpersonal and business skills to do it right. You also want your contractor to have experience in jobs similar to yours so you know he will understand what material and techniques to use and know he has kept up with new materials and techniques.
How to find the right contractor
Start by asking for referrals. Family members, friends and people you work with are all good sources. You could also check with employees at local building supply stores, homebuilders associations and in some areas, local building departments. Don’t take someone’s recommendation that ‘this guy built me a great deck so he’s be good for your bathroom’, you want referrals who have done work similar to your project.
Assuming you have a least a fair idea of what your project consists of, ask a few likely contractors to come over and discuss your project. This is an opportunity for you both to get to know each other and for the contractor to give you a rough idea his interpretation of the costs and complexity of your project.During your meeting, ask lots of questions like:
- How long have you been in the business?
- What kind of work do your specialize in?
- Have you done a similar job?
- Would you use your own crew or subcontractors?
- What types of work are you (or your subcontractors) licensed to do?
- How do you foresee managing dust and material removal?
- Will you provide a work schedule?
- Do you have both liability insurance and workmen’s compensation coverage?
- Will you provide a written contract?
- Will you arrange for all the necessary permits and inspections?
A good contractor won’t mind answering your questions and this is a good opportunity to find out whether you can get along together. Poor communication now doesn’t bode well when a problem pops up in the middle of your renovation.
Also ask for references from at least three places where the contractor has done similar work. Be sure to follow up on the references by calling or even visiting to see the results of the contractors work. Here again ask questions.
- How was their experience with the contractor and his crew?
- Are they satisfied with the quality of the work?
- Were there any problems and how were they resolved?
- Did the contractor keep the work area clean and clean up afterwards?
- Was the work done on schedule?
- Most important – Would you hire the contractor again or recommend them to family and friends?
For any contractor to give you a valid estimate, you need to provide them with at a minimum, a written specification. This specification needs to be as definitive as possible, defining for example, types and grades of flooring, tile selection including material, size color, type and grade of fixtures.
Ask at least three contractors to provide written estimates and ask that they present them in person so you can discuss the details. At the meeting, go through the estimate carefully. It should contain everything the contractor needs to do your job and address everything you asked in your specification document as well as a work schedule. Assume anything not in the estimate won’t be included in your job.
Don’t choose your contractor on price alone. You should be prepared to pay a fair price for your project, since a good contractor will ask a fair price for his work, and he’s worth it. Also factor other elements into your decision making. Things like the contractor’s experience in work similar to yours, his reputation in the area, and your ability to get along with each other. If there is one contractor who has good numbers but you just don’t feel right about something, you’re better off going with the contractor you ‘gut’ tells you is the right one.
Taking the time to choose the right contractor will make your renovation project a whole bunch easier to live through.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer and frequent contributor to DoItYourself.com. He has numerous articles published on the web as well as in print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada.