How to Select A Contractor for A Home Renovation

If you’ve read How to Start a Home Renovation, you know that typically the contractor is the last big step in the set-up process.

Ask around! You probably have family or friends that had some type of work done to their home. The best way to find a contractor is by word-of-mouth. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions to a previous client, see the contractor’s work, and see how it holds up overtime.

We found our contractor through our architect. Like I mentioned in How to Find An Architect, we didn’t know anyone who had this much work done to their home. We had lots of friends and family update basements, kitchens, and bathrooms, but no one who had reconfigured rooms –including loadbearing beams, and running brand new plumping and HVAC.

The next best person we knew that could help us find a reliable contractor was the architect we selected! Your architect and your contractor are going to work together throughout the renovation, but they will work together A LOT during the planning stages.

We interviewed 3 contractors that were all recommended by our Architect that he had worked with previously.

How to Interview a Contractor:

Once you have the plans drawn up from the architect, you will show them to each contractor. It’s best to walk them through your home and explain anything in the designs that are complicated, or you feel are very important to you. The contractor will need a general feel for your style, so be prepared with ideas for finishes and any big-ticket items that are important to you. Each contractor will come back to you with a bid for your project.

Load bearing wall removed

Here are some good questions to ask:

When will you be available to start our project?

A good contractor is always busy. They might have other commitments and projects they need to finish up before they can start yours. It’s always good to ask what their timeline is going to be.

How long do you think it will take for you to complete the work?

Get an idea of how long your project is going to be. This timeline in conjunction with their available start date is going to give you a better idea of when you’ll truly be finished the project. We chose to start our renovation after Christmas even though the contractor was available a few weeks before because we didn’t want to be under construction during the holidays. For a large job, you’re going to need permits from the township and inspections during the renovation. We didn’t want our timeline to be delayed because officials were taking vacation either.

Have you worked in our township before?

Each township has its own set of codes that your contractor will need to know about in order to pass inspections. If they haven’t, it’s not a big deal, but if they have experience if your township, it’s helpful and will likely speed things up.

Each township moves at it’s own government-related speed. Don’t expect Chick-Fil-A level service here, guys. That’s the best level-setting expectation advice that I can give you. There will be a considerable amount of waiting and no “my pleasures” at the end. Make sure your contractor submits plans to the township as soon as possible. Permits can severely delay your timeline, especially if there’s an issue.

Do you do the work yourself? Or do you subcontract work? What jobs do you sub-contract?

There are General Contractors (GC’s) and there are Contractors. Think of a General Contractor like a Project Manager. They are going to sub-contract a lot, if not all the work being done. That means they’re going to hire a plumber to do the plumbing, a carpenter to do the carpentry, an electrician to do the electrical, and so on. That typically means your job is going to cost a little more since the GC needs pay these guys for their work, and he’s going to get paid on top of their cost. You can usually save about 10% by being the GC yourself, but that’s a lot of work! It’s the GC’s job to organize all the trades, be there while it’s happening, and check to make sure the work is done properly.

Would you be willing to put a project end date in your contract?

It’s in your best interest to put an end date in your contract. This will keep the contractor motivated to finish the job on time and prevent added expenses at the end of your project. It will keep the project moving and the workmen involved focused.

On the other hand, you should be willing to accept responsibility for change orders. If the cabinets arrive and they’re not to your expectations or liking, and you choose to order new ones, that’s not the contractor’s fault. If in the middle of a project you change the design or floor plan, that’s not the contractor’s fault either. Make sure you’re happy with your final decisions and stick to them.

Have you worked on a Toll Brother’s home before?

Toll Brothers was the builder in our neighborhood in the 80s. Ask about the builder of your home. If they have experience with similar houses, they might be able to give you good insights into how things are structured behind the walls.

Make sure you ask to see pictures of their previous jobs/projects!

View of the kitchen reno from the dining room

What to Look for In A Contractor:

We selected the contractor who was the most responsive and organized during the interview process.

One contractor submitted a bid to me through a two-sentence email with absolutely no detailed attached. He didn’t provide an itemized list of how much things would cost, or what our allowances were for finishes. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to work with him if that’s his best foot forward to get my business.

The contractor we selected wrote a cost associated with every piece of the project, down to the cost of lumber for new walls. He provided an estimated cost for finishes based on the styles I told him I liked. This means that we could select a floor with a max cost of $7/sq ft. and still be at budget. Anything under that would be money back in our pocket.

How the contractor communicates with you is important as well. I absolutely hate talking on the phone. Which worked well for our contractor, because he was cool with group-texting us updates and questions he had. If they’re hard to contact before you’re their client, they’re going to be even harder to reach after. Think of this like a relationship. How they treat you while they’re trying to date you is going to be an awful lot like they treat you while you’re committed.

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