Choosing the Right Remodel Contractor & Running Your Own Bid (Part 2 of 6)

(. . . continued from Part 1)

So, whenever you’re ready to find a remodeling contractor  . . .

The second item is: you’ll want to determine who might be a good fit to do your remodel project, before you go into the bidding stage.  (And, this is best before even the design phase for the reasons that I point out.)

Here are a number of questions that you should ask in order to qualify a remodeling contractor (not all are necessary to know but the more you know the better it will be for your decision-making):

1.   Does the contractor come highly recommended by his/her references?
These references are very helpful to contact.  Most people on a references list are more than willing to talk with you about their experiences, and most of those are willing to have you look at their completed projects.
Other questions to ask of these folks:  Did the contractor put in a low bid knowing that the customer would have to make changes to get a complete project?  (In other words, not pricing things that should have been included in the bid for a complete project – too many have horror stories about this kind of thing going on.  You need to know that the contractor is someone of integrity.  You also need to know that your efforts to produce a bid package are complete.)
Is the contractor available if an emergency arises, and in a timely fashion?
Are there any work habits or personal habits of the contractor that you found difficult to deal with?
Did the contractor and his forces respect your property, and honor you and your family?  Some contractors may bring an unwanted dog, loud music, unacceptable language, and other things to the site, not to mention unsafe conditions that can put you and others at risk of injury.  Others may feel free to park their trucks on top of your prize daisies, or even on that $15 hose you just bought that is across the driveway.

2.   Is the contractor willing to help you compare the bids of the other contractors?
Bid comparisons are very difficult to do since no two contractors prepare their bids or proposals the same way.  Also, no two companies incur the same costs to keep them in business and staying healthy.  There are many factors that come into play here: office and warehouse space used for the business; office and field staff maintained; insurances carried; number of licenses and local business certificates maintained; forms of advertising used; associations affiliated with; tools and equipment owned; number of jobs handled at one time; income required to live; amount of risk involved in the business; number of regulations that restrict the business; number of special certifications required or maintained; quality of products, materials and work; costs of labor; buying power of the company; relationships with others in the industry; legal form of the business; number of accidents and judgments on their record; and etcetera.

Are there any work habits or personal habits that you found difficult to deal with?

3.   Has the contractor been working in the community where you live for a while, and knows local codes and ordinances that must be complied with?
Contractors that have been around for a long time are usually doing something right, given how many don’t last more than about five years.  Not all licensed contractors have been actively running their own businesses continuously.  In California for example, a contractor can put their license on ‘Inactive’ status for years, and still be very competent at what they are doing while working for another contractor.  If a contractor is new to a community, does he/she have references from a previous place where they worked?  What does an online search bring up?  Check out places like the Better Business Bureau.  If the contractor was working as an employee recently, does that employer have good things to say about them?

4.   Does he/she have a long track record of completed projects, with an equally long list of thrilled clients?
This should speak for itself.  Even new contractors usually have enough contacts and experience to be able to give you references for their character and their work.

5.   Does the contractor have a good rapport with the various enforcing agencies?
If there is animosity between the contractor and the local inspectors, the project could run into delays and extra costs.  The building agencies are there for your protection, and to help the contractor by putting an extra set of eyes on the work.  They also help ensure that your drawings and other forms of communication in the construction documents are up to a minimum standard, and that the codes and ordinances are complied with.  This ultimately is for your health and safety.  And, don’t forget that if you, or a contractor, try to do the work without a permit you’re in for nothing but problems . . . the costs of the permit fees usually doubles, the inspectors get to be very difficult to work with, the project could be stopped for weeks while the building department takes their time to move your project through the channels, you could have the job tagged (no one can do any work on anything at the property), the contractor could be in for years of trouble, etcetera.  Don’t think your neighbors or others won’t report your activities, when the community is likely hurting for funds to keep its doors open?  I’ve seen a couple of enforcement inspectors at jobs of mine now – reported by city workers that happen to be driving by, and I did have permits where needed.  Some projects don’t require permits, but most do.  And, the accuracy of many communities’ aerial photos is at about 3″x3″ resolution; very high.

6.   Does the contractor have a good network of  suppliers, subcontractors and design professionals to get the job done?
The contractor should be set up to do your work.  He/she should have proper accounts and relationships set up so that your project is more easily accomplished, and with the assistance of other experts in the industry.  Suppliers are often an excellent resource that we rely upon for things such as plumbing fixtures and trim, lighting design and products, structural items, flooring, drywall products, and so on.  There are usually hundreds of components that need to be considered when doing most remodeling work.

(continued in Part 3 . . .)

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