Step By Step Process for Evaluating Remodeling Contractors

Questions for Evaluating a Contractor 

A well done remodel can add lots of value to your home and make it more enjoyable for your friends and family for the next decade or more. But a poorly done update can lead to a lot of frustration and regret. The difference often comes down to the contractor you choose. 

Ask these questions of every contractor you meet with (even us!) and you’ll be on your way to finding the right contractor for your needs. 

Key Message

‘Contractor’ is a catch all term that can mean many things. A Trade Contractor is very different than a Licensed Contractor.

Quality work is key, but don’t overlook quality of service. A well built project is often ruined by a process that takes much longer, costs more and creates a lot of frustration and disruption to your daily routine.

For larger remodeling projects you want to meet with Licensed Contractors who specialize in remodeling. New construction and remodeling may seem similar but they are significant differences in the type of contractor who do each.

First Read “Types of Contractors Below”. Then review our checklist for evaluating contractors.

There are 4 Stages Where You Want to Evalute Potential Contractors

Stage 1: Website Research

It’s surprising how many people call for estimates with out doing any initial reseach online.

Good website research will save you time and make sure you are calling the right contractors.

Stage 2: Initial Phone Call

This is where you get your first sense of the level of service a contractor provides and how organized they are.

Stage 3:  In Person Consult

For most contractors this is the final time you will see them before making a hiring decision.

Stage 4: Office/Showroom Visit

Bonus if they meet in person to review your estimate with you (if they don’t offer to review the estimate with you I would ask them to).

    There is a lot of confusion about the different types of contractors that gets people in trouble on thier projects. To confuse things further the term ‘licensed and insured’ is used incorrectly by many trade contractors and dishonestly by others.


    Three Basic Types of Contractor:

    For simplicity sake it’s easy to think of contractors being in three buckets: trade contractors, licensed trade contractors and licensed contractors.

    1. Trade Contractors (tile, Drywall, carpenters etc…)

    Trade Contractors are unlicensed. No licensing is requited by the city, country or state of Florida.

    Think tile contractors, drywall contractors and carpenters. A trade contractor can perform multiple trades as well, as long as none of those trades require a license.

    Handyman services are a type of trade contractor. Unfortunately a lot of these services pass themselves off as licensed contractors and perform work they should not. That’s what get’s people into trouble.

    2. Licensed Trade Contractors (Electricans, Plumbers, HVAC, Roofing)

    Licensed trade contractors are required to be licensed by the State of Florida. To get a license you have to:

    1. Pass a lengthy exam that covers building code, business practices, and technical skills

    2. Prove work experience including referrals from other licensed contractors,

    3. Carry minimum amounts of insurance and pass minimum financial requirements

    4. Acumulate continuing education credits to renew your license every 2 years

    Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC and Roofing are Licensed Trade Contractors. They perform a single trade but are required to be licensed.

    3. Licensed Contractors (aka GC or Builder)

    This is what most people refer to as a ‘General Contractor or GC’ but in reality there are a few types of Licensed Contractor. Licensed contractors undergo the same strict process as Licensed Trade Contractors.

    1. General Contractors (license # starts with CGC followed by 7 numbers) can build anything, commercial or residential of any size of height.

    2. Building Contractors (license # starts with CBC followed by 7 numbers) can build anything residential but are limited to what is called “light commercial’ work.

    3. Residential Contractors (license # starts with CRC followed by 7 numbers) can only build residential structures under 3 stories. Our residential license number is CRC1331326 for example.

    You can look up any contrator online to see if they have a valid license: Florida Contractor License Lookup

      So What Does ‘Licensed and Insured’ Mean?

      If a Trade contractor tells you they are ‘licensed and insured’ but don’t have a State Certified Contractors License as outlined above then they are confused or lying.

      A lot of trades use the term ‘licensed and insured’ without understanding what it means, they just know that’s what people want to hear.

      There are no licenses for most trades. If you want to be sure then visit the website listed above to check.

      Insurance Requirements

      There are 4 types of insurance you want your contractor to carry:

      1. General Liability Insurance protects against damage to your home and injury. Licensed Contractors are requited by law to carry a min $300,000 policy though better contractors will carry a $1,000,000 policy.

      2. Workers Compensation Insurance covers workers who are injured on the job. Any business with employees are required to carry is by law. Owners and partners can file for exemption.

      3. Commercial Auto covers damage or injury from auto accidents (contractor backs ino your mailbox for example)

      4. Builders Risk Insurance protects against material theft or damage from things like storms during contruction. Builder’s Risk is most often used during new construction but can be used in remodeling as well. Each policy is bought specific to the project.

      Getting Proof of Insurance

      Proof of insurance should be on the contractors website, we email a copy to every new client before our first meeting.

      But the best way to collect proof of insurance is to ask you contractor to have thier insurance company email proof of insurance to you. That is the best way to know the policy is still in effect.


        Choosing a Remodeling Contractor, evaluating a contractor

        Evaluating a Contractor Step 1:

        Website Research

        Any good contractor should have at least a basic website. It should be easy to find their contact information, license number and an explanation of how they work. 

        In addition they should have case studies of past projects, a list of services and frequently asked questions. 

        What to Look For:

        On The Home page:

        License number, description of services, testimonials, how to get an estimate.

        On the About Page

        How many staff and what are their roles? Do they have designers and project managers in house? Do they have support staff?

        Does it show proof of insurance and their license?

        Services Page

        Do they specialze in the type of work you want done or do they do a whole bunch of different things?

        Project Gallery/Case Studies

        How does the work look? Does the type of work in their project gallery match what their services page says?

        Cost page

        Do they have a cost page to with some basic cost ranges for different project types?

        Schedule a Consult

        Evaluating a Contractor Step 2

        The Initial Phone Call

        The initial call can tell you a lot about a contractor, how organized they are and how they work.

        Observations to Make on the Initial Call

        1. Is the phone answered quickly and professionally?

        Are they preparred and seem to have an organized process for collecting the information they need?

        Do they take the time to explain how they work and answer your questions thoughfully?

        If you leave a message do they call back promptly?

        Questions to Ask

        1. When can the intial home visit be scheduled and when can you expect to receive the estimate?

        2. What is included in the estimate?

        – Conceptual plans?

        – Design costs?

        – Project management costs?

        – Line item labor and material costs?

        3. How detailed is the estimate?

        4. How close are your estimates to actual final project costs?

        5. What do you thing a realistic budget would be for this project?

        6. Do you review the estimate with me? If not, what happens if I have questions or want changes made?

        7. If I approve the estimate, what happens next?

        8. Do you have a designer on staff or one you recommend?

        9. Who orders materials and how are they stored?

        After the Call

        • Do you get a follow up email summarizing the call?
        • Do you get an appointment confirmation?
        • Do they send additional information? (we send license and insurance info for example). 


        Evaluating a Contractor Step 3

        The In Person Consult

        Nothing is more valuable than an in person meeting. Ideally you would have two meeting with your contractor… A home visit to discuss the project, your needs and for them to get detailed measurements. And a second visit to review your estimate together.

        The second meeting can be back at your home but I think its a good idea to visit their contractors office or showroom so you can meet other staff and get a better sense of their business.

        To Prepare for Visit:

        1. Print a list of things you want done

        Having a list ready for each contractor helps avoid confusion. It also acts a guide so you can ask speficic questions about how things are installed.

        2. Do a little organizing.

        Having the room(s) and counters clutter free will just help to get more accurate measurements.

        Questions to Ask:

        1. Do they use sub contractors or in house labor?

        Licensed trades like electric, plumbing and HVAC must always be subcontracted. In house labor usually means using ‘jack of all trades’ type guys to do the work. Usign sub-contractors means a specialist is doing each part of the project.

        2. Are the in house staff employees (w-2) or independent 1099 contractors?

        This could be a red flag….Some contractors 1099 their employees to avoid workers comp and income tax costs. This shifts more risk to the homeowner.

        3. How do they protect the home, control dust and dispose of debris?

        Will there be a large rolloff dumpster on site? Are HEPA filters used during demo?

        4. Who provides materials?

        Do you need to buy and store them or does the contractor take care of that?

        5. How are materials stored on site?

        Do they have a trailer or do you need to provide garage space?

        6. When can I expect my estimate?

        Do they meet with your to review it in person or do they just email it to you?

        After the Home Visit

        •  Do you get an email summarizing the meeting?
        • How long does it take to get the estimate ?
        • Do you feel confident the estimate is accruate?

        Bonus: Office or Showroom Visit

        While not many contractors have thier own showroom like we do it is a best practice to review the estimate together whether that is back at your home or in their office or showroom. 

        Good estimates are quite lengthy and costs can vary widely depending on the Scope of work and materials included. 

        Reviewing the estimate in person with your contractor allows you to ask questions, understand the estimate completely and explore options. 

        Options For Planning a Remodel

        A common question is ‘where do we start’? It can be confusing as to whether you start with a designer or a contractor. Or maybe you should start by visiting showrooms and looking at materials?

        You can start with a designer but they will not be able to provide you an accurate estimate of labor costs. 

        You can start with a contractor but many won’t bid without a design or won’t be able to provide an accurate estimate without one. And they rarely can provide accurate material costs. 

        That’s why working with a design build remodeling contractor like McManus Kitchen and Bath makes sense. All of our estimates include design concepts and a Good Better Best estimate. Learn more here.


        Who Does What?

        Showrooms Designers Traditional Contractors McManus Kitchen and Bath
        Product Knowledge Yes Some No Yes
        Design Expertise Some Yes No Yes 
        Provides Estimates No No Yes Yes 
        Manages Project No Some Yes Yes
        Construction Expertise No No Yes Yes
        Has a Showroom Yes No No Yes


        Evaluating an estimate

        What Should Be Included In A Remodeling Estimate:

        1. Summary

        A paragraph or two at the very top that explains the scope of work in plan language and includes any special notes from the consult.

        2. General Items Section

        • Jobsite info, notes on set up and debris removal
        • Note on permits and building code issues
        • Notes on design work, material selecitons/allowances and plans
        • Notes on project management
        • Notes on timeline – time to design, plan, order materials  and proposed start date

        3. Labor Section (Scope of Work)

        • Itemized list of labor by trade
        • Shoudl include quantities (sq ft, linear feet, each) and a description
        • Should have notes about installation standards and materails to be used

        4. List Installation Materials Included

        • Rough materails like drywall, thinset, etc..
        • In general any material that does not need to be selected by you should be included here,
        • these are materials provided by the contractor, not allowances.

        5. List of Selections or Allowances

        • Line item list including quatity and cost
        • Examples of materials that fit the allowance amount (so you know they are realistic)

        6. Cost summary 

        • Labor Cost Total
          • Subcontracted labor total
          • In house labor total
        • Material Cost Total
          • Rough material costs
          • Selections
        • Shipping and Tax
        • Project total

        7. Timeline Summary

        • How long to design project
        • Lead time for materials
        • How long to build project
        • Approximate start date

        Evaluating An Estimate

        1. How long is the estimate?

          • If an estimate includes all the items we outlined above it should be at least 3-5 pages.
          • Avoid single page estimates – they certainly lack detail and there may be hidden costs.

        2. What is included in the total?

          • It should be very clear what is included and what is not
          • Some things to look for:
            • Design services
            • Material selection services
            • Appliances
            • installation labor
            • installation materials
            • project management fees
            • Selections or Allowances
            • Debris removal
            • Permits

        3. How Accurate is it?

          • It can be hard to assess labor costs but some quick googling should allow you to compare material costs.
          • Avoid surprisingly low estimates.

        4. What’s the next step?

          • This is a rough estimate, what is the process for getting a more accurate proposal
          • Is there a design and selections process?
          • Any more home visits needed?
          • Do they provide a fixed price proposal or do they do “Cost Plus” where they just bill you for actual costs and markup as they go?
          • Most construction lawsuits invovle cost plus contracts

            5. Is there a warranty?

            • 1 year warranty is required by law
            • 3 – 5 years is ideal
            • What is included in the warranty?

            Let us know what you think

            If you found these checklists helpful or would like to see something added to them let us know!  You can contact us here.

            Estimate from a Remodeling Contractor

            Schedule A Design and Budget Consult

            • Clarify Your Design Ideas with 3D Renderings
            • Detailed Estimate of Materials and Labor
            • Explore material and fixture options in our showroom