Photographed by French Blue Photography
Finding a good contractor for a home renovation project is one of the most important decisions homeowners have to make during the overall process. At times, it could also rank high as one of of the most frustrating decisions. How do you trust someone to do what they say they'll do, when they say they'll do it, are they who they say they are, are their estimates real and true, if not, how much over budget will we be when all is said and done...I've asked myself all of these questions before, trust me. Coming off our own renovation of the areas damaged from the ice storms in February, I wanted to share my top tips for doing your due diligence when searching for a contractor for your next big home project. Read on for my top pieces of advice to use in your contractor search.
Photographed by French Blue Photography
UTILIZE YOUR NETWORK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
Word of mouth is my most reliable source of information to this day. Reach out to your trusted friends and neighbors to get recommendations of companies they've used and enjoyed working with. If close friends have done renovation work recently, what better way to see a contractor's work than at your monthly dinner date or be bold and ask to see the end result? People are honest with the work after the fact, so approaching someone after a few months of living with the renovation work is also a good idea.
In my neighborhood there is a very active online facebook group that started for just this type of thing...contractor referrals and other 'hood info (it's quite entertaining with past notable threads as "thong-gate" and "lemon-gate" but I digress). You too could post an inquiry online in a neighborhood Facebook group or sites like Next Door that are locally based. Take note of names that are repeatedly suggested. Pay attention as you drive around your neighborhood or close by areas, and note the names of trucks around job sites to research later. I'm constantly pulling over to take pictures of work trucks, much to the chagrin of my teenagers.
INTERVIEW AT LEAST 3 DIFFERENT CONTRACTORS
Once you have your top recommendations, make appointments with at least three contractors. How quickly that appointment can be made, whether they show up on time, the way the contractor communicates during that interview, and the subsequent bid that they send over will tell you a lot about they way they work, what they find important, and how they would be to work with. Obviously the final product's quality is important, but don't discount how your personalities mesh and what you value being similar to each other.
For example, I have a contractor I've worked with personally, and he hand wrote his estimate and texted it to me. When he collected money every week, he would text a receipt that said, 'You gave me $4,000 on XX date.' I am careful to tell clients this is how he rolls, but that he'll be there on site every day, checking out the worksite for you, keeping you informed and on top of the project - he's just not great with paperwork.
Contrast that with another contractor I've worked with, who gives the most detailed bids I've seen in 30 years and really spells out everything for you. Someone who appreciates that much detail would be a great fit if paperwork makes you anxious. If you don't care to know every little detail, the first contractor might be a better fit.
ASK FOR A LIST OF REFERENCES + WORK EXAMPLES
During the interview ask to see pictures of their work. This isn't a time to be shy - definitely ask for all the references they're willing to share and call every single last one of them. If you get a good sense of the contractor's personality, I would ask if they would be open to letting you see current job site work in person. The worst they can say is no, but it's worth it if you're about to undergo a multi-month or year project with this person.
GO WITH YOUR GUT
Your intuition knows a lot more than we all give it credit for. If you have a great conversation, you like their work, and you get a good feeling from every reference, and you like how he or she communicates, go with your gut and make the jump.
I'm here to tell you there WILL come a time in the project timeline where you'll ask yourself, "Why did I start this project?" The project will be half finished, you'll be weeks or months into not being able to make any food in your kitchen or shower and use your toilet in your bathroom, or sleep in your normal bedroom, and it will get to you. You might start regretting you even began the undertaking of your home reno project. This is completely normal in my experience, and all I can say is that around this time, you're usually so close to the finish line - just hang on! This is the last mile of the marathon time - you can make it, you're so close. It will be worth it in the end.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out - I'd love to hear what is important for you in a contractor and the design process.
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