Perhaps the single most important remodeling decision you will make is choosing a contractor. A contractor has the ability to make or break a project so it is imperative that you complete your due diligence before signing any contracts. But where to begin? Here are several questions that need answers before you settle on a contractor.
Is it a real company with real references?
One of the first steps to take is to establish that the companies on your short list are actual companies. There are always plenty of scammers waiting in the wings to take your money and do a shoddy job (or nothing at all) and then disappear. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), it’s always best to work with local companies that can present proper identification, licenses and proof of insurance upon request. If they hesitate, move on and do not look back.
The BBB also recommends getting references from each company you are considering and contacting them to confirm the quality of work and satisfaction level of each. A few good references from sincere people with finished remodeling projects speaks volumes. You can also check the BBB website for the companies on your list to check their rating, any complaints and reviews, and to confirm their BBB Accreditation.
Does the company have a tried-and-true process?
Experienced and professional remodeling firms with great reputations are the companies that do their work right the first time. This means they have developed a well-defined process that works for them, and for their clients. If you aren’t sure your preferred companies have a process in place, ask them. Companies that are open and honest about their process may also post it on their website so prospective clients can review prior to contacting the contractor. This level of transparency is just one more way to separate the good guys from the not-so-good guys so that you ultimately end up with a contractor who has your best interests front and center. Remember, if a contractor cannot show you an actual written process, that could be a sign they aren’t as experienced as they would like you to believe.
How detailed is each contractor’s scope of work?
Since you should request bids that include a scope of work from multiple contractors, you will be able to make comparisons between them. One tell-tale sign of trouble ahead is a bid with a scope of work that lacks detail and, well, scope.
A major remodeling project cannot be defined on a single page, no matter what a contractor tells you about “keeping it simple.” Remodeling is not simple and qualified contractors know the devil is in the details. So the more detail a contractor provides in a scope of work, the better. Specifically, a credible and professional scope of work should provide a line item listing of every deliverable, as well as problems that must be solved to achieve the goal or goals.
Also important in a scope of work is who is responsible for what. For example, is the contractor responsible for getting all necessary permits or is the homeowner? Is all material supplied by the contractor or is the homeowner expected to provide some or all of it? Does the scope also define which current fixtures, counters, etc. will be saved and which will not? There are so many things a typical homeowner can’t know in advance that a qualified and experienced contractor can and will take care of. If you don’t see this level of detail in a scope of work, it is not good enough for you.
What kind of warranty does each contractor offer?
An investment in a home remodeling project can cost thousands of dollars so before you sign on the dotted line, ask each contractor for a written copy of their warranty and review it. If you have questions, state them simply and if you do not receive an answer that is clear and concise, that could be a red flag. You should expect a remodeling contractor to warranty their work for more than one year — the remodeling industry’s best is 36 months — with normal use (i.e., the wear and tear of everyday life). You should also consider that hiring a reputable and experienced remodeler means you also get the benefit of their knowledge about different materials, because each component, from floors to paint to faucets, carries its own warranty. A good remodeler will help you make the best choices so you don’t end up with great workmanship but low-quality materials.
What awards has each contractor received?
Awards for quality of work speak volumes about companies because the competition is fierce and the organizations that give the awards stake their own reputations on the award winners. As a result, it’s always a good idea to check each contractor’s website for awards, as well as for professional memberships that signal the company is keeping up with industry news and innovations. Some organizations also certify contractors in different areas of expertise so look for those too. Organizations might include the Home Builders Association of Michigan, Better Business Bureau, National Association of Home Builders, North American Deck and Railing Association, the Building Performance Institute, and local organizations like the Capital Area Landscape and Nurseryman’s Association.
Taking the time to investigate contractors’ records and quality of work will pay off in a job done well, on time and on budget. A reputable contractor will have nothing to hide and will be happy to share their warranty and other supporting information with you before you sign the contract. To learn all of the steps in a kitchen remodel, read our all inclusive article, "Your Dream Kitchen Remodel," or click on the image below to get our complete remodeling toolkit, including worksheets and an ebook.