4 Step Guide for Choosing A Contractor
Hiring a contractor for a large remodeling project takes time. Plan for at least a month of doing research and collecting estimates. It can take 2 or 3 weeks from the initial phone call until you get your estimate, even longer for some contractors.
There are 4 Basic Steps to Follow:
- Research your Options
- Make the Initial Phone Call
- Schedule the Initial Estimate
- Compare the Quotes
Research Your Options
Usually when we ask ‘what type of contractor are you looking for’ we get an answer something like this:
“I want someone who can do a quality job at an affordable price”
While that’s a good sentiment it’s not a very useful criteria for choosing a contractor as the word ‘quality’ and ‘affordable’ mean different things to different people.
Make A Short List Of Contractors
- Start with A Google Search
- Ask Friends on Facebook
- Call Your Local Builders Association and Ask for Referrals
What Are You Looking When Choosing a Contractor?
Here are some things to consider:
- Do you need design help?
- Do you need help with product selections?
- Is a 'jack of all trades' type guy OK or do you want specialists to each part of the work?
- Should they provide all materials or will you buy, pick up and store everything?
- How important is a clean organized jobsite to you?
- How important are daily communication and progress reports?
- How important is an accurate schedule and project that finishes on time?
With those questions in mind start your research:
Check Their Online Reputation
When choosing a contractor online reviews are not the only qualification they can help you evaluate potential candidates. Be sure to take the time to read the reviews and any responses the contractor gives (good contractors will respond to all reviews good or bad).
Watch out for short reviews like “these guys are great” or reviews with no comment at all. In remodeling, when a customer takes the time to leave a review they typically write a longer paragraph to explain their experience. Short reviews could be fake or just from friends of the contractor.
And don't be scared off by bad reviews right away. If everything else about the contractor seem good, make note of the bad reviews and ask about them when you call, their answer can say a lot about them.
Visit their website and spend some time looking around
It's 2019, it's reasonable to expect a contractor will have a website that explains how they work and who they work with. It will answer a lot of the questions we’ve outlined below.
Not having a website shouldn't be a complete disqualifier but it does indicate that they may not be in this for the long term or that they lack a certain amount of business sophistication.
Post to social media to see if any friends have had experience with them
Many communities in Tallahassee have Facebook groups or Next Door groups that are great for asking about local contractors.
Check license and insurance info (this should be on their website)
License and insurance info should be on the contractors website but if not you can find their license on DBPRs website. You can’t have a valid contractors license without valid general liability insurance.
The Initial Phone Call:
When you start to make calls make sure you are in a quiet place without any distractions. Good Contractors will be ready to spend 15 or 20 minutes on the phone with you to answer all your questions during the initial phone call.
What to look for one the first call:
- Do they answer on the first call?
- If not do the get back to you within a few hours?
- Do they follow up phone calls with emails to confirm meeting dates etc…
- When they answer do they sound professional or just say “yeah?”
- Do they take time to explain things to you on the phone or do they sound rushed and distracted or bored?
What to tell them on the first call:
A good contractor is going to ask a series of questions so they can understand your project and what your expectations are. You should be ready to tell them:
- What you would like done (or the problems you are having if you’re not sure exactly what can be done)
- How long you’ve been thinking about remodeling
- When you would like the project to start
- If you’ve remodeled before
- What qualities you’re looking for in a contractor
- What your priorities are: lowest price, design and product selection help, dust control, fast completion etc…
- How you got their info and why you chose to call them (as opposed to a different contractor)
- Your approximate budget (if you know it)
Questions to ask on the first call:
- Tell me about your estimate and design process
- Describe a typical project from start to finish
- Do provide all permits and working drawings?
- How long have you worked with your sub contractors?
- Do you do background checks and insurance checks on your subs?
- How many projects like mine do you do in a year?
- How long a typical project like mine takes to plan and take to complete
- What would be a typical cost range for project like mine?
- When is the next available time on your schedule for a project like mine?
- What it the coverage of your general liability insurance?
- The state minimum is $300,000, we recommend they have a $1,000,000 policy
- Do you carry commercial auto insurance?
- Do you carry workers compensation insurance?
The First Appointment:
Most contractors will start with a visit to your home in order to give you an estimate. How they act and perform on the initial visit can say a lot about their work practices in general.
Things to look for:
- Did they confirm the appointment ahead of time?
- Were they on time?
- If they were not on time did they call ahead to let you know they were running late?
- Do they look clean and professional?
- Do they listen to you during the appt?
- Do they seem knowledgeable?
- Do they seem organized?
- Do they take detailed notes and measurements?
- Do you get a good feeling from them?
- Bonus - sneak a peak at their work vehicle- is it clean and organized or is it a hot mess?
After the First Appointment
How a contractor acts after your initial appointment is also important. If they are unresponsive or slow to reply that could indicate trouble. How they behave before you sign a contract with you is a good indicator for how they will behave after you sign the contract.
- Do they send a follow up email?
- How long does it take to get your estimate?
- How responsive are they to follow up calls or emails from you?
Optional: The Second Appointment
Some contractors will want to meet a second time so they can review the estimate with you and answer questions / make changes based on your feedback. Others will not. It's my opinion that the best contractors will want to meet with you to review the estimate in person. Its the best way to make sure there are no misunderstandings and that you fully understand the quote being given.
How Long Until You Get The Estimate?
If it takes a long time (more than 5 to 7 working days) to get an estimate from a contractor its a sign that they are either
2) Not familiar with estimting your type of project or
3) Really are not interested but are not professional enought to tell you.
The exception would be if they reached out to let you know why it was taking so long.
Comparing Experiences and Quotes
The final step in the process is comparing the experience you’ve had with different contractors and comparing their quotes.
Here’s what to look for in the actual estimate:
- A good estimate starts with accurate measurements. If your contractor does not take accurate measurement during the initial visit I would consider that a red flag.
- A good estimate is itemized, each part of the project should be costed separately. This allows for a better discussion of changes that can be made if the estimate exceeds your budget but it also helps you to understand all the costs involved in the project.
- A good estimate takes time to produce. Typically it takes at least 60 to 90 minutes of measuring and discussing the project and another few hours in the office. Estimates given on site after only a brief discussion should be considered ballpark figures only.
- Gut feeling - did you like them?
- Did they always act professionally?
- Was communication timely?
- Was their truck clean, organized and well maintained?
- Were they always clear about what to expect?
- Did they seem knowledgeable and experienced about projects like yours?
- Were they honest about things they did not know or would need to research?
- Did you get to meet other people in the company? How was that experience?
- Can you imagine these people being in your home for 6 weeks or more?
Comparing quotes can be more of a challenge. Sometimes the prices can be so far apart it’s hard to understand why. And estimates are not written in the same format from contractor to contractor. We wrote a short blog post on comparing quotes, you can read it here: https://mcmanuskitchenandbath.com/how-to-evaluate-a-remodeling-contractors-estimate/
5 Reasons Prices Might Be Different
1. MarkUp and Profit
You can’t control the markup and profit your contractor will charge but the best contractors are going to have higher markup and profit numbers. They use that money to invest in staff training, better equipment and to have an emergency fund for when things might go wrong on a project.
Contractors who don’t charge enough to cover these costs are always running out of money to cover basic expenses. They may use cheaper materials and equipment to cover the difference, opt out of important insurance coverage or worse.
3. Allowances - Realistic or Not?
Allowances are budget amounts included in the estimate for things like cabinetry and plumbing fixtures. Many contractors will low ball these numbers to make their bid look cheaper. Once you realize the cost of these items is thousands more than the estimate indicated it’s often too late to change contractors.
3. Design and product selection costs
Some contractors do not provide any design or selection services, they will leave that to you. Others will say they do design work but actually will just send you to another showroom in town and leave you alone to work with them. The design and selection costs are not included in their bid.
4. Permits and working drawings
Some contractors include the cost of permits and working drawings, others do not and will charge for them as a change order after the project is approved.
5. Accuracy - Could they just be wrong?
Some bids are just plain not accurate. Either the contractor forgot something or greatly underestimated the cost of something. This can be very dangerous because once the contractor realizes their error they will either bail on the job or start cutting corners to make up the difference.