Finding a builder to work with can be a daunting process! Here are tips and best practices on how to find a good contractor for remodeling, adding on, or building a home.
We are starting a major renovation this year, and it’s quite a daunting process! The thought of moving out, watching my house get demo-ed, managing budgets, making decisions when the unexpected happens, and hoping the end result is as dreamy as we’d hoped are all things that keep me up at night. And I am married to my contractor!
I can’t imagine going through this process without someone I know and trust. And that is the biggest point to nail down (see what I did there!) in today’s post!
A home remodeling project can be intimidating and expensive in itself, and choosing the right contractor can literally make or break your project. Yet choosing a contractor for remodeling, renovations, additions or building a home from scratch can be as challenging as the home improvement project itself.
The Right Company Saves You Money + Stress
A reliable home contractor also knows how to minimize unnecessary errors and create a contingency plan for unexpected expenses. When you have someone you know, like, and trust, the process is much smoother, stress is minimized (because there will be stressed!), and you’ll hopefully end up with a finished home you love.
As the wife of a builder, I hear lots of inside information about the industry. So today I am sharing a roundup of practical tips on how to find a good contractor for remodeling projects in your hometown. (If you’re in Charlottesville, you know who to email 😉 )
How To Find A Good Contractor For Remodeling
I asked Thomas what factors he feels are most important when people start to brainstorm a home renovation and look for a potential contractor. His response: reputation, references, and relationship. Within those themes, there are best questions to ask and places to look for referrals.
Gauge Contractor Reputation
Has the contractor been around for 30 years or did they just start up? Do they have a website that outlines their process? Do you know anyone who has used them? Being new or lacking a website does not mean that the company is not good, but you’ll just need to do more leg work to get to know them and check references. You can also check on licensing and insurance through your Better Business Bureau. Confirm that the company has a class A contractor license.
Ask Around For Referrals
The absolute best way to find a good contractor is to ask your friends for a referral. If a friend can speak highly of a company, there is often no better review that you will find. In fact, I would avoid online reviews most of the time. Online reviews are one-sided and can leave out context. But if you speak directly with a past client you can get a sense of their specific type of project and ask questions about their relationship with the contractor. If you do want to use online reviews, find a reliable website geared towards remodeling.
Schedule An Interview To Get A Feel For Personality
When hiring a contractor, ask for them to come to your home to get an idea of your project. This serves two goals: first, for the contractor to get a better idea of the scope of work, and second, it’s an interview for both of you to see if your personalities match. Your gut instinct will probably tell you after the first meeting whether or not the contractor is a good fit. Ask them who will be your primary contact during the project – them or someone else.
Plan Waaaaay Far Out
Most builders are planning projects 6 months to a year out – or more. So if you know you have a home renovation or kitchen remodel you want to move forward on, start planning far out in the future. You may not be able to work with who you want if they don’t have availability, so the further out you plan, the more choice you’ll have in contractors. Planning far out will ease your stress too. The more time you have to plan, the less stressed you will be waiting for your team to get back to you (speaking from experience!).
Clearly Define Your Project and Wishlist
While there will certainly be add-ons and changes as you collaborate on your project with your chosen builder, the clearer you can get about what you want up front, the easier the process will be. Sit down with your spouse and write down everything on your wish list. It’s helpful to make columns for “must haves,” “nice to haves,” and “dreams” so that you will be able to match these to your budget down the road.
Choose a General Contractor Like You Would Choose a Doctor
You wouldn’t go to 10 doctors and ask for free diagnoses before choosing a treatment plan, would you? The same applies with contractors. Their costs are likely going to be comparable so there isn’t a need to shop around. Instead, interview them to see if the relationship is a good fit and your personalities jive and choose someone you trust. If you want a second opinion, by all means get one. But you’ll probably need to pay them both for their time.
Don’t Ask For Free Bids (without expecting to pay for them)
A lot of people think you need to start with a budget and email 10 different companies requesting formal bids for the work. While this may have been common years ago, the industry has changed! Most builders will give you a ballpark number up front, but if you want a detailed estimate that goes line by line of what your project will cost, you’ll first need to sign a contract also known as a pre-construction agreement. This ensures the builder is paid for their time. These estimates can take 40-100 hours to create depending on the scope of work, including getting sub-estimates from all sub-contractors and vendors. Thus, this step usually comes after you have agreed to work together.
Your Estimate Will Likely Be Transparent and Itemized
When you do get an estimate, it will most likely be a very transparent line-by-line budget of your project showing you the exact cost to the builder. This is called cost plus. Most contractors add a markup – usually 15-20% – as their management fee. Smaller products may have a fixed cost, but bigger projects are often cost plus so you can see exactly how your project cost breaks down. (Or sometimes they are fixed cost with allowances.)
People assume their builder is “out to get them” and make a buck, but when you can see every line item of your project, from port-a-johns to labor to the fixtures you chose, you can see you’re paying for what you get. This is the reason you don’t need to get 10 bids from 10 different companies – they will likely all be about the same. (And if one is particularly lower than the rest, I’d call that a red flag, not a deal!)
Good Contractors Build Contingency Into the Budget
When we’re creating the budget for our own home renovation, I keep asking Thomas how much wiggle room is built in. His response is always “about 10%.” A good contractor knows that things might go wrong or plans will change, and a smart one plans for this. When you’re discussing your budget with your contractor (who hopefully by this point you trust), you don’t need to hold your cards close against your chest. Be honest about your max and don’t feel the need to keep an extra 20% hidden because you think they’ll go over to rip you off.
Ask for a clear payment schedule and when the final payment will be due so there are no surprises.
Good contractors will also help you value engineer your budget to scale back if you have more on your wish list than you can afford. There are creative ways to do this that don’t sacrifice the end product, and a skilled contractor knows how to find these gaps to stay on track.
Sign a Contract
Once you have signed a construction agreement, let your contractor do his or her job! I have a tendency to overthink, and this is where the trust really comes in. Be polite and ask questions when you have them. Sometimes the order of operations doesn’t always make sense. (I have learned that painters do their job in spurts and not always at the very end). But if you have found a good contractor, they know the overall picture!
And hopefully when your remodel or addition comes to a close, you’ll be happy you did research up front to find the best fit for you!
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