Hiring a renovation contractor is a major investment. As with any investment, you must determine cost (not to be confused with price; more on that difference here), and value. This info can be acquired by asking your contractor the right questions. Here are 7 questions for evaluating a renovation contractor.
1. Are reviews and references available?
Avoid making mistakes others have already made. Instead, listen to their feedback. This feedback is available in the form of reviews and references. Reviews can often be found by doing a simple online search. Houzz, Guild Quality and Angie’s List are places to look. Before getting too serious with a contractor (especially when a large project is at stake), request references. A reference typically has favorable feedback, but will also speak specifically to what matters most to you (ie. your interest in quality, communication, timeliness, safety, etc).
Bottom line: Word of mouth feedback can take the form of reviews and references, and is still a great method for assessing a contractor.
2. Do you provide a detailed scope, appropriate renderings/drawings, guaranteed cost and clear payment schedule?
Red flags should fly up if any of these are missing. Detailed scopes and renderings provide a clear idea of what to expect. As opposed to being unpleasantly surprised by getting less than you expected. Don’t just “hope” you and your contractor share the same expectations. Get clear documentation and renderings before construction moves forward.
Bottom line: Clear, documented expectations ensure you and your contractor are on the “same page”.
3. How long is your craftsmanship warrantied?
Move quickly away from the contractor who offers no warranty. A contractor unwilling to warranty his work likely has little confidence in the quality of his craftsmanship. Or, he sees little value in customer service. Neither scenario is good.
Bottom line: The best contractors stand behind their work for years to come and beyond.
4. Will you provide a copy of your insurance and contractor’s license?
Many “would be” contractors attempt to skip this requirement, and consequences can be devastating. Some of the potential problems include investigations, fraud, and liability disputes. Instead, protect your investment (ie. value) by hiring someone who is operating legally. Plus, you can be assured any person trying to circumvent the law is likely to take advantage of you as well.
Bottom line: Don’t entrust your home to a contractor breaking the law.
5. What is your process for handling change orders?
Changing your mind or encountering unforeseen problems during a renovation can be costly, but it happens. Knowing the change order process upfront can really protect your budget. (No renovation is worth bankruptcy.) A contractor who says, “Let’s worry about change orders when they happen,” is really saying, “I don’t have a process.”
Bottom line: A clear change order process prevents the homeowner from feeling trapped when unforeseen expenses escalate.
6. How frequently will a dedicated project manager communicate with me throughout the project?
“I can’t get my contractor to call me back,” is a far-too-frequent complaint among homeowners working with contractors. This is a great topic to discuss as you speak with references. Before starting a project make sure you 1) meet the project manager assigned to you and 2) receive an overview of the communication process. Otherwise, your renovation might cost you significant confusion, frustration and lost time.
Bottom line: Know the plan for communication before construction begins.
7. How do you resolve disagreements?
Granted this is a bold question to ask and may cause a slight bit of awkwardness. However, that’s a small price compared to a project gridlocked by a disagreement. A serious disagreement can still happen despite every effort on the front end. The good news is disagreements don’t need to be terrible experiences. A clear method for resolving disagreements will ultimately strengthen the credibility of a contractor.
Bottom line: Disagreements can be costly if not handled in a professional, ethical and timely manner.