The most challenging part of a home renovation is not the work but finding a good contractor. These projects are usually expensive, and avoiding costly mistakes is of paramount importance.
If you’re planning a major project, your best bet is to hire a general contractor who can hire subcontractors for electricity, plumbing, and other specialized work. Some homeowners do the general work and hire people only for specific tasks. This can save you money, but the downside is that you’ll waste a lot of time, as you’ll have to search for multiple contractors.
You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can specify what jobs you want to be done and what materials you want to use. “Kitchen renovation” can mean replacing countertops and cabinets or changing the gas and electric power lines, moving the plumbing, and removing the flooring.
A big addition to a home will require an architect’s specifications and sketches. You need a general idea of the layout and materials, even for a routine kitchen or bathroom remodeling job, before you ask for offers.
The best approach involves a combination of personal references and online reviews. Check Yelp, Angi, and HomeAdvisor.com as well. References are the most important aspect of choosing a contractor. Talk to family members, friends, coworkers, or neighbors who have done similar projects in the past.
The staff at local hardware stores can recommend someone. If you get references, ask the previous client detailed questions about what working with the contractor was like. Talk to subcontractors as additional references, if possible.
You can ask former clients about whether they were satisfied with the contractor’s work, if he showed up on time, if their project went over budget, and if he cleaned the job site when the project was finished. Supplement your inquiries with an informal background check to get more information about your prospective contractor. You can do this for a small fee. There are also some free people search sites you can use.
Visit past jobs
If you have a really big project, you should visit a former job site personally, ask additional questions, and consult more references. If someone did a good job tiling a kitchen, they might not be the right person to construct an addition to your home. Choose a contractor who routinely does your type of project.
When you do interviews, talk to at least three potential contractors. Get an offer in writing from each. When you compare them, check if they all include the same tasks and materials.
There are probably better choices than a one-person show if you want to remodel your whole house. Likewise, a small project doesn’t rule out a bigger company, which will have more staff and do small jobs quickly.
When you decide on a contractor, make a detailed contract that lists the materials to be used, how exactly you want the project finished, and what will happen if unforeseen issues arise. The contract should include a timetable for payments.
Any project changes should come with a change order in writing that includes the new prices, materials, and work. You might ask for additional work or change your mind about materials. Most renovation projects include surprises. Once a wall is opened, you might find repairs need to be made. The contractor can’t see through the wall.
Whenever you intend to deviate from the contract, you and the contractor should sign a change order reflecting the extra work and price.
Plan at least 10 percent extra to cover unforeseen repairs when you set your budget.
Usually, you make a small down payment at the beginning. As you reach specific milestones, you make additional payments. After the final inspection, you pay the last 10 percent. Only make large upfront payments if it’s for materials.
Agree on the contractor’s working hours, what bathroom the contractor and other workers will use, what type of notice you’ll get, and what the workers will clean up at the end of every workday. Inquire about anything else that concerns you, like smoking or playing loud music on the job site.
You will probably include some key elements of the job (flooring, countertops, etc.) in the contract, with the finishes to be chosen in the work process. The contractor will only be able to meet his deadlines if you meet yours in selecting finishing materials.
You might need to talk to the contractor as often as every day for a big job. Mention any potential issue you see at once. If he has moved on, something he did wrong will be harder to fix.