Choosing the Right Contractor

Ever since you saw pictures of your friend’s Italian vacation, you’ve wanted a kitchen that reflects Tuscany, with the works…a wall widened with an arch opening and bigger layout for an island, new appliances, new bronze fixtures, new paint, new rustic stone flooring and a tile vista as a backsplash feature. Now you just need someone to help you make this dream come true.

Enter the professional contractor. You’ll work together to ensure your vision is indeed a dream and not a nightmare. How do you go about bringing aboard the right person for you?

There are a number of things to do when choosing a contractor, so pull up a sawhorse and take a look.

  • Talk to friends/neighbors/co-workers for recommendations. Check with the National Association of Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. Choose your top three candidates.
  • Call each contractor and ask about:
    • Their resumes. Have they worked a project your size before?
    • Financial references. Are they all square with suppliers/financial institutions?
    • Schedules. How many other projects are they working on? Will that affect starting/finishing yours?
    • Past clients. Talk to the people who have worked with this contractor. Ask to see the finished jobs, if possible.
    • Relationships. How long have they worked with their present subcontractors?
    • Insurance. Is the contractor covered for such things as worker’s compensation, property damage and personal liability? Are they licensed?
  • Meet face to face. You should be at ease with your contractor. Communication should come easily as this person will be spending a lot of time with you while the job is in progress.
  • Investigate. Call those past clients and inquire about the contractor. Did they do the job to each client’s satisfaction? Visit the job site of a current client to see how the job is going.
  • Get bids. Have each contractor break down costs—materials, labor, profit margins, etc. As a guide, material usually accounts for about 40% of the total cost. A fair profit margin is 15%-20%.
  • Ask about a payment schedule. Many payment schedules start with 10% at the contract signing and three payments of 25% spaced evenly over the length of the job. A final check for 15% is paid upon completion. Beware if a contractor asks for much more up front; he may have financial problems or be unsure whether or not you’ll pay after seeing his finished work. Remember, money is your only leverage for getting things done to your satisfaction.
  • It’s not a bad idea to throw out any low-ball bid. Many times this person may be cutting corners. Wouldn’t you rather spend a little more and work with someone with whom you’re comfortable?
  • Get everything in writing. A contract is important to make sure everyone remains on the same page. Here are some things to include:
    • The contractor’s name, address, phone number, etc.
    • A start date and completion date
    • A detailed listing of materials needed
    • Who will be responsible for demolition, cleanup, trash collection?
    • A requirement for a lien release (which protects you if the contractor doesn’t pay his bills)
    • Details of what the contractor will and won’t do
    • Detailed financial terms: total price, payment schedule, cancellation penalty (if any)
    • Review the contract thoroughly and be certain you understand every element before signing it.
  • Keep a job file containing the contract, plans, any change of plans, invoices, specifications and correspondence with the contractor.

You’ll want to talk about the big remodel with your family. Be sure any children know the “off limits” section of the house while work is being done. Keep pets clear as well.

You know you chose the right contractor when you’d still invite him to dinner after the job is done!