A Better Way to Choose Your Contractor

Choosing a Contractor Is a Logical Process 
Why Bidding Doesn’t Work For Residential Remodeling

Daunting as it may seem, if you’re planning to remodel you’ll have to choose someone to manage a process that leaves most homeowners overwhelmed and frustrated, but ultimately delighted. Having been in the unholy threesome as a general contractor (former owner of a high-end design/build firm), a homeowner who has lived through several remodels and new home construction as a helpless customer, and a current designer, I strongly urge my clients to do something unconventional: select your contractor before or during design.

In residential remodeling, the conventional process is as follows: A client contacts a designer, names a budget and communicates a wish list. The designer offers scenarios and draws plans outlining the client’s needs. The plans, including construction details, are given to several contractors to bid. But bidding minimizes the distinctions between companies.

Of course, your budget is a major factor – everyone wants the most bang for their buck. Here’s where a problem arises. Distinctions between companies are reflected in behaviors other than money. No two contractors detail everything alike. Regardless of the minutiae imposed by designers, there are many methods to complete a project’s tasks. It’s not reasonable only to compare prices, because it is impossible to know the same job is being performed. In essence, the client isn’t really able to comparison shop as it’s never “apples to apples.”

As if that weren’t enough, when the bids arrive it turns out that the project will cost more than budgeted, and the designer must be paid to redesign the project.

Skip this if technical stuff bores you. Here’s an example of how contractors interpret a detail not spelled out by a designer: When applying interior trim to a window, the “apron” below the bottom of the window stool (a piece of trim) may be cut in several ways. The edges may have a straight vertical cut, or they may have a slightly angled cut, which looks a little less clunky. Or perhaps a 90 degree chip is cut from its ends and a tiny insertion, called a return, creates a fine profile at its ends. Each contractor may choose a different level of detail. Every trade involved encounters numerous choices. Multiply by infinity.

A Better Way
Sure, if you like a design firm, have them create a conceptual design. But before you spend on its completion, choose your contractor.

Here’s the part about saving money. Your contractor will work with the designer to stay within the budget. This is where best-intentioned designers often fall short. The contractor, based on practical experience, has a better idea of costs. Most designers are more than willing to consult with the contractor who will be doing the project because they are assured that what they design will be built.

Additionally, working with the contractor often makes designers look better because they are assured that their vision is affordable. Designing something too expensive only shows clients what they wish they could have – after paying for the design but not the construction. When the designer and contractor work together, the vision can be realized.

How to Choose
Ask around. Many of your acquaintances have recently remodeled. Angie’s List is good, but speaking with a human is best. Yes, it’s time consuming. But the time you spend up front may save thousands, and priceless time and frustration, later.

Needless to say, you must contact several references. And after you’ve connected with contractor candidate(s) – there’s nothing wrong with checking out only one company if it comes highly recommended – make appointments to visit completed projects. Unless they’ve been naughty, they should have a stable of clients eager to show off their handiwork. Match your needs concerning level of detail with the contractor’s record. Perhaps for your project you don’t need those aforementioned window skirts, or the bathroom need not be insulated for sound or include a quiet and strong exhaust fan (note: always do this!). Visiting the sites will help determine whether you’d be overspending by hiring a particularly detail-oriented company as opposed to one more utilitarian.

After interviews and site visits, you’re ready to choose. By this time you are reasonably certain that the company you’ve chosen is run by honest folks based on integrity and quality. They’ll keep the designer within your budget, and you’ll sleep better knowing you’re in good hands.

I’ve recommended this avenue to many clients. Some take the advice; others see it as foolish, believing that they may be taken advantage of once the contractor knows he’s getting the job. In my experience, 100% of clients who’ve followed this advice, as time-consuming and unintuitive as it sounds, have been delighted with the results.

Just sayin’.

Adam

19 comment on “A Better Way to Choose Your Contractor

  • Thank you for all this helpful information about choosing a general contractor. One thing that really stood out to me is that you say to ask around and see if any of your acquaintances know one. It would be nice to work with someone that has helped out people you know.

  • I thought it was really interesting how the article mentions that you should select a contractor before or during design. It says that doing so can be beneficial since your contractor will work with your designer so as to stay within your budget. My wife and I have some projects we’d like done in our home, so it’s good to know that finding a contractor before designer will help us stay within the budget we’ve set.

  • I like that you mentioned to talk to multiple references from a contractor. That way, you can be sure that the contractor does great work and provides incredible service. I am remodeling my home this year, and I need to find the best contractor possible to handle the job. I will definitely keep these things in mind as I search, thanks.

  • I like that this article suggested to check out several companies. Another tip I’ve heard is to see if they are licensed on the Better Business Bureau website. My uncle will be building a new home soon, so thanks for sharing these helpful tips.

  • My husband told me today that for my birthday, I could get my kitchen remodeled. The kitchen, I have been working in is a little disorganized for me, so I am very excited to get a better kitchen. Thank you for sharing how most designers are more than willing to consult with the contractor who will be doing the project. I just have no idea how I will design my kitchen, or get it done, so it is good that these tasks can both be done fore me. I will need to look more into finding good designers and good remodeling places.

  • My brother wants to build his own home from scratch, and I suggested he hire a contractor to help him with this. Your article shad some great tips for choosing a contractor like this, and I really liked how you said to choose a builder that stays in the budget but doesn’t cheap out on work an supplies. Thanks for the helpful post; I’ll be sure to share this advice with my brother to help him choose the best contractor for him.

  • Your advice about considering sites like Angie’s list is a really smart idea when choosing a contractor. Finding out what others have to say on sites like this would give you a good idea of what to look for. My husband and I are looking for a contractor to help remodel our kitchen, so we’ll have to check online first.

  • My mom decided to remodel our bathroom because it looks old and worn out. It was explained here that when looking for a contractor, she should ask them to make a conceptual design first. Furthermore, it’s advisable to hire professional remodeling contractors for quality service.

  • Thanks for the tips on how to effectively gather who would be a great candidate for a contractor. It’s not a small decision that should be taken lightly. Sure, it’s annoying to ask around and do lots of research it’s important to ensure you’re getting the best value possible. If I ever need to hire a contractor, I will be very diligent in figuring out the perfect one for budget and goals.

  • You’ve got some great tips for choosing a remodeling contractor. I like how you said that hiring one in addition to a designer is smart because contractors have practical experience. We’ll have to look for one to hire so they can help with our kitchen remodel this year.

  • It really helped when you mentioned that budget is a major factor when it comes to hiring a remodeling contractor since everyone wants to be able to save money while being able to prettify the house at the same time. Working together with the contractor and the designer would have them agreeing on set design and the total overall costs since the entire project would cost money and working with the contractor reassures the designer that their vision is affordable. If I were given the chance to hire a remodeling contractor I would make sure that they get along with the designer so that they can work together to combine both function and form for a desirable output.

  • I thought it was great how you mentioned that you should match your needs concerning the level of detail with a remodel contractor’s record. My wife and I want to remodel our home, particularly our kitchen so that we can raise the value of our home when we decide to sell it. It would be great to work with a contractor who has a similar idea to what we have concerning what we want to do with our home.

  • Thanks for the to ask acquaintances about contractors they used for remodeling so you can make sure to have quality work and save yourself money. This is helpful since my sister wants to remodel her living room, so I’m helping her find a contractor that she can use. We’ll have to ask some of her neighbors since some of them have had work done in the past and may have a contractor they can recommend for the job.

  • Thanks for pointing out that it’s important to ask for several references from potential contractors and actually contact them. My husband and I want to remodel our kitchen soon but have been having trouble deciding on a contractor to hire. I hadn’t thought to ask for references, but I can see how that will provide valuable insight into their quality!

  • I liked that you mentioned you need to have a couple of options ready to choose from if you are looking for a contractor for your project. My husband and I are thinking about building a guest’s house, and we are looking for advice. I will let him know about the benefits of having a couple of options to choose the one that suits our needs.

  • Certainly, the budget is the biggest factor because it’ll serve as the foundation of all construction and designing. The road in front of our house got broken, so I need to have it fixed before my aunt’s family from Rome arrives. I’ll keep in mind your tip about not comparing two contractors because not the same methods are used as well as making sure that we have enough budget before we start this project.

  • It makes sense that references could guide you to a good contractor. One of my neighbors wants to extend his livingroom and needs to hire the right contractor. I will ask my friends or family member if they have worked with one that will recommend.

  • My mom is thinking about modifying a bit of her home so that it will work better and she can have more space to put things. She would really like to get a profesisonal contractor to help her plan and get the materials so that she can finish the project. I liked what you said about how she should talk to a lot of candidates and people that have used them before as well as visit their sites and completed projects.

  • I think that it is going to be helpful for us to consider the tip that you gave to ask around to others who have recently remodeled to ask if they could refer us to a contractor because that could be time saving. My wife and I have been talking about finding a contractor to fix our handrail, or to install a new one, and it will be important for us to know that we could find the best one. To be sure that they will be a good hiring option, I will ask around for referrals.

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