What to Look For in a Contractor
The decision to have your home (and life) turned upside down can only mean that you have decided to have remodeling or renovations done. Unless you have unlimited money, and a second home in a warm climate, be prepared for the possibility of a little stress to enter into your life. You can alleviate a large portion of this stress if you do your homework before the first hammer blow.
The first, most important, and hardest task facing you is deciding exactly what you want done. If you have only a vague idea of what you want your ‘new kitchen’ to look like, spend the time to look through magazines, brochures on kitchens, or take snap shots of friends kitchen’s that you just love. Your vague ideas will begin to clear and you will have a much better chance of getting what you want.
Before you contact a contractor or an architect, you have to know what you want done to your house. If you can’t be specific about what you want, it’s unrealistic to expect a contractor, who doesn’t know you or your life style, to be able to build your ‘dream’. If you feel the need to involve an architect, make sure that your contractor is also involved in the design process. Many contractors are creative in the design process and are much better versed on practical application. Having the contractor and architect working together from the onset will alleviate many potential problems from ever occurring. A good functional design is important. The highest quality materials and best craftsmanship available are of no use if the design is not functional.
The big question here is - Where Do I Find A “GOOD” Contractor? We have all heard the slogan about letting your fingers do the walking, but most contractors get their jobs through referrals from satisfied customers, so do not expect large flashy ads in the yellow pages.
Talk to friends who have had renovation or remodeling work done; network with friends to broaden the base of people who have had work done; take a drive around your area and see if there is work being done; ask your plumber, electrician, landscaper who they would recommend.
Choose your contractor carefully. You will live with the results of your decision for a long time. If you are tempted to choose a contractor based on low bid - resist the temptation. All contractors are not equal. Some are much better than others. Having contractors bid on your job may not be the best way to choose the best contractor for you. Negotiated Contracts are a very positive alternative with little to no downside.
Here is a comparison of Bidding vs. Negotiation:
Competitive Bidding Negotiated Contract
1. More risk to owner Less risk to owner
2. More risk for contractor Less risk for contractor
3. Sets up Adversarial relationship among contractor, architect, and owner Sets up Team relationship among contractor, architect, and owner
4. Contractor protects self interest Contractor works for owner
5. Gets low cost bids Emphasizes quality
6. High charges for change orders Reasonable charges for change orders
7. No contractor involvement during planning stage Heavy involvement of contractor during planning stage
8. Requires good estimator Requires good conceptual estimator
9. Emphasizes price Emphasizes service
10. Makes the assumption that the quality of work will Chooses contractor and subcontractors
be the same no matter who works on the project. on the quality of work and track record.
11. Price is the deciding factor Considers experience, quality, reliability, on time completion
If competitive bidding is effective, why not take bids from lawyers, doctors, dentists and hospitals?
A few items to look at before choosing a contractor are:
1. Can you communicate openly with the contractor?
2. Does he/she take the time to really listen to what you want
3. Look at both recent and past jobs
4. Talk to past customers
5. Check litigation history
6. Check current workload. Can the contractor really start and finish when they say they can?
A few things that a contractor expects from you
1. Communicate your objectives and expectations from the very beginning
2. Provide the necessary money - pay promptly
3. Provide access to the project
4. If you have chosen a contractor you trust - allow him/her to lead
5. Be available for meetings
6. Make decisions promptly
7. Do not stand and watch every move your contractor makes. Give him a little room to breathe.
8. Be prepared to accept unpredictable conditions. A contractor does not control mother nature
9. Be responsible for your own actions, which affect the job.