Hiring a contracting company to remodel your home can feel like a leap of faith. You're entrusting them with thousands of your dollars and inviting them to turn your home into a work site. Finding a company that you can trust is a given, but there's more to it than that.
When I hear about problems arising during a remodel, they're not usually caused by dishonesty. Rather, they're caused by a failure of both the builder and the homeowner to talk through the details and mutually agree on expectations before work begins. Getting on the same page with your remodeling pro can take a little extra time, but you'll be glad you did. Ask contractors you are interviewing these five simple questions so you're not faced with major surprises later on.
1. Will your bid be an estimate or a fixed price?
This question is powerful and may be the most useful in qualifying a contractor. With few exceptions, the world of remodeling contractors is divided into two types: those who offer fixed pricing and those who operate on a "time-and-materials" basis. When talking to a contractor, be sure to clarify whether the amount you're quoted is just an estimate or a truly fixed bid.
2. How long have you been in business?
While many honest, hard-working people start remodeling companies every day, many lack the experience and judgment of more seasoned professionals. With its ups and downs, the construction industry tends to attract quite a few opportunists when business is booming and then weed them out when the economy dips. Remodelers who count their experience in decades usually have shown their ability to consistently deliver value to their customers.
3. How clean will you keep my house?
There's no getting around it: a remodel is a major invasion of your personal space. When it comes to job site cleanliness, there are two areas to consider. First, ask how a contractor will keep the work areas tidy. Is there anything in the contract specifying that he or she will at least do a daily cleanup? Second, don't forget the parts of your house that aren't being remodeled. What's the contractor's plan for controlling dust, dirt, and debris from getting everywhere? Does he or she lay down floor protection, use active filtration and dust-collection systems?
4. How long have you worked with your key subcontractors?
The general contractor you hire will likely turn around and hire subcontractors to do the bulk of the hands-on work. Your contractor will be like a DJ making the electrician, the plumber, the painter, the dry-waller, and other subs dance. If he or she doesn't have long-cultivated relationships with these folks, then your project's timeline or the quality of the work will likely suffer. In a busy building climate, this puts your project at risk of serious delays.
5. How detailed are your project schedules?
You probably know some very organized people in your life. Maybe you're one of them. These are the people who set goals, create a timeline, and do what it takes to follow through. In the world of construction, scheduling and organization is absolutely key. Ask to see a contractor's schedule for a recent project. Is it a detailed gantt chart showing the beginning and end dates of the major elements of the project? You should also ask if there will be a dedicated project manager onsite at your home throughout construction and how many other projects your contractor will be working on at the same time as yours.
In the end, trust your gut feeling!
When you get to the final decision, trust your gut. It’s easy for people to tell you all the things you want to hear, but if it feels like someone is not being genuine or honest, they probably aren’t. After speaking with a few contractors, imagine which of them you would want to deal with if things go south on the project.
I hope these questions provide a good starting point as you begin searching for a contractor. For additional critical questions, worksheets, and step-by-step instructions to walk you through the whole process, I encourage you to read our Guide to Hiring a Remodeler.