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Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

March 31 2010

Hiring a Remodeling Contractor

Remodeling can involve many different specialties such as plumbing, electrical wiring or rewiring, flooring, carpentry, windows, insulation, roofing, siding, brickwork, tiling or granite installation. 

Scheduling a team of tradespeople, overseeing their work and controlling costs are just a few of the challenges you face when you decide to remodel a home. 

Despite the temptation to save money by doing it all yourself, there are some jobs that are better left to professionals.

To decide if hiring a contractor is the best idea for your remodeling project, here are a few things you should know. 

Picking a General Contractor

The General Contractor works with you to coordinate your project from conception to finish. He or she can help you visualize your remodeling project, estimate costs, choose materials and coordinate each phase of the project to be done as efficiently and as cost-effective as possible.  

The contractor is responsible for hiring subcontractors, or he or she may have employees who can perform the various jobs needed to complete the remodeling project. The subcontractors and employees report to the contractor.

Any mistakes or errors made by the contractor or subordinates are to be fixed at his/her own cost. By the same token, if you decide to make changes, the cost is on you.

How to Find a Good Contractor

You may be tempted to hire the first contractor who says he or she can do the job now,  but the first available contractor may not be the right one for you. This is one job that’s really worth the time and effort to find the right person.

Besides referrals from friends and family, you can find contractors from leading trade organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders (and Remodelers) , or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).  Both organizations have local chapters that can give local referrals.
The right contractor can also be certified if he has been in business at least five years.  
This level of certified expertise and experience can actually save you money because the contractor will have undergone extensive training and education to ensure that the job is completed correctly, safely, ethically and lawfully.  Certified remodeling contractors obtain their certificates and training from either NAHB or NARI.    

You might also contact your home insurance company and ask your account representative which contractors they recommend for claims repairs.  These referrals are likely to be competent companies who are used to a prompt timeline demanded by the insurance company adjusters.  At the same time, you can find out what insurance coverage you may need, if any, to bridge the construction period.

Ask the Right Questions

Yes, it’s important to know when the contractor can start and when will the work be finished, but many clients fail to ask additional questions, such as those suggested by NARI:

• How long have you been in business?
• Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
• Who will be working on the project?  Employees or subcontractors?
• Does your company carry workmen’s compensation and liability insurance? See proof of insurance before hiring.
• What is your approach to a project such as this?
• How many projects like this have you completed in the last year? 
• Can you give references of business referrals and suppliers?
• What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?
• Do you belong to a national trade association?
• Has anyone who will be working on the project been certified in remodeling or their specialty or have any other special training or education?

Additional questions are also a good idea: 

• Are you currently licensed?  What is your license number?
• Will building permits be required?
• What “green” options are there for my project?

Get It In Writing

Usually, the General Contractor will be responsible for all materials, labor, equipment and services, according to General-Contractors.us.  When getting competing bids for your project, make sure that you have given the same specifications and details to each competitor.  Remember, the written estimate is not a contract.

The contract should include: 

• A “go to” person to address concerns and to make decisions during the completion of the project. 
• Start and completion dates, inspection dates, and any other times when you will need to sign off on completed work.
• Material specifications and project drawings.  Any changes should have written change orders, especially if it affects the material requirements, costs, or schedule. 
• A one-year warranty.
• Deposit amounts (one-third down is industry standard) and clear periodic or final payments. 
• Cost of any building permits required.
• A provision for a “punch list” that can be resolved before final payment is made.
• States the name of the contractor, business location, telephone number and license number. 
• States who pays for the materials and what the payment schedule is. 
• Clearly stated guarantees, plus who is responsible for fulfilling the guarantees, and how long they are valid. 

Warning Flags

There are many builder and remodel horror stories out there which makes it even more important to choose a reputable contractor or remodeler.   The unreliable contractor will tend to ask just a little too much of you or raise red flags, such as suggested by RemodelingContractorTips.com:

• Soliciting for work door to door.
• Asking for too much money up front or cash payments only.
• Asking for you to obtain permits rather than the contractor.
• Asking for unscheduled payments before the work is completed. 
• Will underbid the cost of the project or offer “discounts” on leftover material. 
• Has a P.O. Box address or no listed business address or phone number.

More red flags: 

• Will not provide proof that all materials and labor are paid for before final payment. 
• Pressures for final payment before the project is completed.
• Has no insurance.
• Provides phony inspectors.  Verify anyone saying they are there to inspect and from what agency or city bureau.

Help the process along by doing some homework on what materials you prefer and the brands and model numbers of the fixtures you prefer. That way, you’ll be comparing the contractors fairly.