Top 10 pro tips on how to hire a contractor

Top 10 pro tips on how to hire a contractor

For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself, it’s finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down a wall or retiling the bathroom is simple compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.

Everyone has heard stories about horrendous contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that cost three times the contractor’s original estimate.

Here are 10 tips to help you breeze through your remodeling project with as little hassle as possible

1) Get recommendations

Start with your friends and family and then check in with your local Remodeling Industry association for a list of members in your area. You can also talk with a building inspector, who'll know which contractors routinely meet code requirements, or pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time. Alternatively use a service like Rapidfy to read through reviews of contractors around you that is provided by other users.

2) Do interviews

Once you've assembled a list, make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions:

  • Do they take on projects of your size?

  • Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?
  • Can they give you a list of previous clients?
  • How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
  • How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
  • The answers to these questions will reveal the company's availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go.

If you are not comfortable with exposing your number to too many contractors, you could always use an app like Rapidfy with private messaging features to talk with the Contractors prior to hiring.

3) Meet face to face

Based on the interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. Tom says that it's crucial that you two communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time. On the other hand, don't let personality fool you. Check in with your state's consumer protection agency and your local consumer association to make sure contractors don't have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

4) Investigate the facts

Now that you've narrowed your list, put your research to use. Call up former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. However you shouldn't rely on results alone. Even more important, visit a current job site and see for yourself how the contractor works. Is the job site neat and safe? Are workers courteous and careful with the homeowner's property?

5) Make plans, get quotes

You have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Now it's time to stop looking back at past work and start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare quotes, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent. A service like Rapidfy makes it easy for you to get multiple quotes with  just one request as your request is broadcast to multiple contractors with one tap.

Get quotes for your project from multiple contractors

6) Set a payment schedule

Payment schedules can also speak to a contractor's financial status and work ethic. If they want half the bid up front, they may have financial problems or be worried that you won't pay the rest after you've seen the work. For large projects, a schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.

7) Don't let price be your guide

Throw out the lowball quotes, This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work—hardly an encouraging sign in a healthy economy. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate. All things being equal, it's better to spend more and get someone you're comfortable with.

8) Put it in writing

Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; proof of liability insurance and worker's compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he doesn't pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers. Insisting on a clear contract isn't about mistrust, it's about insuring a successful renovation.

9) Don't expect to start right away

Expect a contractor to be too busy to start right away. The best folks are the busy ones. Plan ahead and hire at least 4 months from a completion date that you expect.

10) Don’t make the final payment until the job is 100 percent complete.

Contractors are notorious for finishing most of the job and then moving on before they get to the final details. You shouldn't have to pay more than 10% to start and definitely don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.

Finally, remember that as soon as a change is made or a problem uncovered, the price just increased and the project just got longer. The four most expensive words in the English language? "While you're at it...."

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