Choosing the Right Remodel Contractor & Running Your Own Bid (Part 3 of 6)

(. . . continued from Part 2)

I have been hired too many times to finish up other contractors’ work . . .

7.   Did the contractor return your initial contact in a timely fashion (usually within 24 hours) and did he/she show up for your first appointment on time?
This will tell you whether they will follow through with some of your biggest concerns: whether they will do what they say they will do (integrity, and ability to perform), within the time they say they will do it in (scheduling and management abilities), and for what they say they will do it for (i.e. for the bid price – assuming no changes are made by the owner – this shows estimating, job-costing, decision-making and management skills).

8.   Does the contractor do, or handle, an entire project from conceptual design through to completion?
The contractor may do this himself or have a team of reliable professionals that he can call upon when needed.  The contractor that does this in-house may be a better fit for your needs, or an architect may be a better fit to get your project started.  The contractor should at least know of some designers, architects and engineers that are good at what they do.  It is always prudent to get a trustworthy contractor on-board early on in the design phase so that you have a good sense of where the budget and the design are headed.  Most collaborative efforts early on will pay off well in the long run.  (Designers are good at putting ideas on paper, and many are good at understanding what happens on the job site, but they are not the ones that have to come up with real-world prices that you have to pay for the work.  Nor are they the ones running our businesses.  They don’t know what it takes for us to stay alive in this industry.  No designer can give you a realistic idea of what construction should cost, any better than you can determine this yourself by reading books and the internet.  It’s been said that if you can determine this then you should be in this industry yourself.)

9.   Can the contractor handle the project in his/her schedule, and when you would like it done?
The contractor should be able to let you know when the project will fit into his/her schedule.  This could include even the design phase where you are developing the construction documents together.  Remember that if you haven’t committed to the contractor he/she will probably not lock in a time frame for you in their schedule.  There is a lot to be said for commitment here.  You may be one of a few potential clients that the contractor is considering taking on in the same time period.

10. Does the contractor have the resources (knowledge, experience, funds, contacts, credit rating, manpower) to complete your project?
I have been hired too many times to finish up other contractors’ work, or to fix things that weren’t done correctly.  Any referral really needs to be asked good questions about the work and character of the contractor that you are considering.

Changes should be handled as a matter of course . . .

11. Is the contractor licensed and bonded, or is that even required?
Most places have requirements for contractors to be licensed and bonded, for your protection.  The licensing authority is there to assist you by monitoring the industry for consistency and criminal behavior.  (Checking into the ethics of how a contractor works is part of your homework,  The licensing authority does not track this.)  Use them as a resource to check up on contractors.

12. Is the contractor insured, as needed or required?
Liability insurance is there for your protection and for the contractor’s financial protection.  And workers’ compensation insurance is there for the employees’ protection.  Not all contractors need all of the same insurances; it really depends how they run their businesses and what their interactions with others look like.  One company may be financially strong enough to self-insure for workers’ compensation.  Another, may focus so much on doing things right that their liability is almost zero.  But, remember that accidents do happen.  If this occurs, what remedies does the contractor provide to help protect you?  There are other forms of insurances and bonds that may or may not be useful to you and the contractor.

13. Does the contractor communicate well?
Good and constant communication is essential for the enjoyment of your remodel experience.  Find out how well the contractor communicated with past clients.  This is probably one of the biggest items to pay attention to, and maybe one of the least checked out upon initial research by homeowners.

14.  How does the contractor deal with changes that may occur as the job progresses?
On probably every project we have done, there have been changes made by clients.  The contractor should desire knowing that when your project is complete it meets your needs and dreams.  Changes should be handled as a matter of course, not as a problem or a distraction.  It is normative to change our minds once in a while, especially if we have a difficult time visualizing 3-dimensional things from 2-dimensional drawings.  Some of us are incredibly challenged by imagining various textures, colors, patterns, shadows and such all together.  Just admit it and enjoy the process.  That brings up another question: is the contractor challenged in any of these ways?  If so, does it matter in this case?  Again, previous clients can give you good feedback.  The remodeling contractor should be particularly good at coming up with solutions to problems; remodeling is ‘Problem-Solving 101,’ from start to finish.  He/she should have plenty of good ideas on how to fix things – these days we are getting products manufactured all over the world and many of them need fixing or modifying prior to installation.  Make sure the contractor can deal with this issue.  Ask past clients.

(continued in Part 4 . . .)

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