Whole-Home Remodel Series: Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Welcome back to our Whole-Home Remodel series, where we’re taking you through the entire process, from budgeting & planning and selecting materials to removing site protection and handing over the remodeled home. In this post, we’re giving you some handy tips for hiring a contractor for your next remodel project.

Our twenty years of experience has shown that the best, most successful remodeling projects are those that have a collaborative, team spirit among the homeowner, architect, and contractor and those where everyone is on board early in the process. By bringing your contractor onto the project during the pre-construction phase, you’ll be able to take advantage of the contractor’s building expertise. As your architect draws up your plans, your contractor will be able to provide accurate & timely cost and schedule projections, as well as offer their expertise and experience on constructability methods, all of which helps ensure a smooth, steady, and timely construction phase. (You can read more about our unique process we call DesignAssist here.) Makes sense, right? Now let’s figure out where to begin your search as you go about hiring a contractor.

 

Referrals

Obtaining first-hand referrals is one of the best ways to narrow down the pool of prospective contractors. We recommend soliciting referrals from those who have professional remodeling experience (e.g., architects, designers, real estate agents, subcontractors, and showrooms) and those who have personal remodeling experience (e.g., family, friends, neighbors, and home improvement sites such as houzz.com), as both contexts can yield different, yet valuable, information. If you’ve already selected your architect and/or designer, he or she can provide a few contractors they think will be good for your particular job (and one with whom they most likely have established a good working relationship).

Once you have a few contractors to vet, the real homework begins. This is your time to ask questions, review their portfolio of work, tour their previous and/or current remodeling projects, and figure out if you click with his/her personality. Let’s face it, you’ll be dealing with your contractor for the duration of your project and if you have a great rapport with your contractor, it’ll make for a more relaxed and fun remodeling process. Check out this blog that our former clients wrote as we remodeled their home. Plain and simple, referrals are a contractor’s best friend.

Read on to get the 411 on what questions you should ask all potential general contractors.

Will They Provide References?

All prospective contractors should provide references, and equally important, you should most definitely contact them. This is your opportunity to ask their previous clients questions: Did any problems arise during construction? (If so, were they resolved to your satisfaction?) Did the contractor communicate with you and your design team on a regular basis? What was the construction site like—were things organized and relatively clean? What was the contractor’s responsiveness? Was the project completed on schedule and within budget? How was the craftsmanship and follow up? And perhaps the most informative question to ask is: would you hire that contractor again?

Can You Tour a Few Projects That Are Similar in Size/Scope?

After reviewing a contractor’s portfolio, it’s a great idea to ask to visit a few projects that are similar to what you have planned.

Is the Contractor’s License Valid & Do They Have Insurance?

In addition to demonstrating that the contractor is in good standing with your state licensing board, you want to ensure you’re protected from any worker’s compensation claims should one arise. It’s also a good idea to verify that the contractor carries liability insurance, too; it’s not required by law, but it’s definitely something that reputable firms carry. (In California, you can check a contractor’s license, insurance, and workers’ compensation status here).

What’s the Project Schedule?

The schedule should outline the tasks and timing of various aspects to provide you with a big-picture view of how things are sequenced as well as highlight all of the critical deadlines. Make sure you understand who will be on site every day, who’s responsible for supervising the subcontractors, and who will be your assigned point person to contact should any questions arise. The project schedule highlights project milestones and lets you know when design decisions (e.g., tile & finish selections) need to be made so your project stays on track. It’s also a good idea to know who’s responsible for opening & closing the job site and what days of the week they plan on working.

At Jeff King & Company, we typically hold an on-site meeting with all of the subcontractors after demolition. We do this to ensure that everyone’s on the same page regarding the project timing, schedule, and responsibilities and to introduce the homeowners to everyone who will be working on their home.

Will They Provide an Estimate?

An estimate is a long, very detailed document that looks at the specifics of your project in detail, including jobsite conditions, specific materials to be used, any hazardous testing requirements, jobsite cleanup, etc., to provide you with a clear picture of what your actual job will cost. Because no two jobs are alike, estimates take time to create, which is why contractors don’t (and can’t) provide an estimate without first reviewing the construction plans. (This differs from a quote, which is a ballpark price of what a similar job would cost. A ballpark quote is the general pricing for the common things such as demolition, framing, electrical, plumbing, drywall, painting, and carpentry. It’s designed to give you a good, but general, idea of what your project will cost.)

How Will Your Project be Managed on a Day-to-Day Basis?

Companies, such as ours, typically have multiple projects running at one time, so it’s infeasible for the contractor to personally oversee each of them. Given that, all of our projects are assigned a dedicated project manager, as well as an on-site supervisor.

How Does the General Contractor Plan to Protect Your Property?

While it’s assumed that when taking a home down to the studs during a whole home remodel, all of your personal belongings are removed, don’t forget that landscaping and external stairs need protection, too. And for smaller projects, getting a clear picture of the contractor’s plans for dust containment is a must.

How Will the Contractor Communicate with You during the Remodel?

We live in a time with a multitude of communication options, so it’s important to make sure you and your contractor are on the same page before you start. Additionally, setting up regular, weekly meetings is an effective way to ensure you have sufficient time to get any questions answered as your project is underway. At Jeff King & Company, we also opt to keep the homeowners updated with a Friday progress email that includes a brief synopsis of the week’s accomplishments along with a few with photos.

What’s the Payment Schedule?

Once you agree to work with a contractor, a small deposit (in California, this is usually $1,000) is typically required at the start of the job. Because California law states that contractors may bill only for work that’s completed, you should expect to receive progress billings during the length of your remodel. For the majority of our projects, we send out progress billings every two weeks, until 90% of the contract value has been billed. (The invoice shows the total contract amount, any change orders, what’s been billed, and the remaining balance.) The remaining 10% of the contract is billed on a substantial completion basis, typically when the owners move back into the home.

In addition to billing for completed work, we may also bill the client for any deposits for custom-made items, such as custom-made cabinets, windows, or doors. 50% of that remaining bill is then required to start manufacturing the custom item, with the remaining 50% due upon delivery/installation.

What Documentation Will the Contractor Provide upon the Completion of the Remodel? What Warranty Does the Contractor Offer?

In addition to the standard paperwork (marked-up plans with plumbing and/or electrical as-builts, copies of inspection reports, Unconditional Waiver and Release upon Final Payment forms from each subcontractor, etc.) there are other documents you will find extremely helpful as you move back into your home. Operating manuals for any new electronics/appliances installed (as well as in-person tutorials!), maintenance schedules and care manuals, a contact list for the subcontractors, and a well-identified electrical panel will all help with a smooth closeout.

A whole-home remodel is a big financial and emotional investment. And figuring out who you want on your remodeling team can be a daunting process. We hope this guide proves helpful when the time comes for you to hire a contractor.

Stay tuned for our next post in this series, where we take you behind the walls. Check back or subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out! And give us a call us if you want to talk further about contractor selection.

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