Can Your Potential Contractor Pass These ‘Dealbreaker’ Tests?

Ask yourself these 5 questions before hiring a remodeler

Elysee, original photo on Houzz

When it comes to remodeling, it seems as if everyone knows or has heard of someone who has been burned by a professional — or they’ve been burned themselves. Maybe a contractor left the project before completion and won’t return phone calls. Or perhaps a pro asked for money up front and then did a shoddy job and refuses to fix it. 

Thankfully, these situations are few and far between. Not every building professional is a bad person. Not even close. Most have morals and integrity and truly enjoy helping turn your house into home sweet home. But these are humans we’re talking about. 

If you’re a little worried reading this, I don’t blame you. The idea that a prospective remodeler could turn out to be a liar or a thief or worse is terrifying. This is your hard-earned money at stake. This is your home!

Contractor Tips: 10 Remodel Surprises to Watch Out For

So in an industry where something as valuable and personal as a house is on the line, how can one avoid a bad situation? In all honesty, gut feeling goes a long way. But if you’re looking for more concrete examples, here are five tests potential contractors should pass before you hire them:

Kasper Custom Remodeling, LLC, original photo on Houzz

1. Will they provide references? A big “red flag” is if prospective contractors don’t have references — or refuse to provide them. This could mean a couple of things: Either they haven’t done any remodeling before (uh-oh), or they don’t think their previous clients will have anything positive to say about them. Want to go above and beyond the typical reference routine of just calling a contractor’s prior clients? Ask to see completed jobs in person and current job sites (your house may look like this someday), and maybe ask for a few subcontractor references.

If you speak with another homeowner, ask about contractor responsiveness (do they take forever to respond, or even neglect emails and calls entirely?), job site status (was it relatively clean throughout the process, and was there ever a lengthy gap in work?), and budget (were there any surprise charges, and how did the contractor handle them?). 

With trades and subcontractors, ask about payment (have they ever had any problems getting paid?) or contractor relationships (have they ever felt belittled or bullied by the remodeler or any of the employees?). How someone treats (and pays) subcontractors can say a lot.

The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn, original photo on Houzz

2. How much deposit do they need up front? It’s not uncommon for contractors to ask for a deposit before work starts. Ten percent is the industry norm. However, if your remodeling professional is asking for more than that, say, 50 percent, or pulls a number out of thin air (“I need $30,000 before I can doanything”), slowly back away. Or better yet, just run! A bigger deposit request is almost always synonymous with financial instability.

3. Do they have a scope of work? I’m willing to bet that any remodeler who gives a price up front with no scope or plans to back it up has overlooked or not included something in the bid. cannot stress enough the importance of having a clear specifications document that you understand and agree with. 

An ideal spec labels (and maybe even numbers) each individual room that is being touched in the project. It calls out every detail from the type of baseboard to be installed to the finish of the paint on the walls. 

In a perfect world, it is even formatted like the Construction Specifications Institute’sMasterFormat, a specifications template that separates the project into 16 divisions of labor and includes a massive amount of detail. (Seriously, check out the CSI’s MasterFormat sometime. It’s pretty cool. But I know — I’m a construction nerd.)

Hire a General Contractor

Jamie Bush & Co., original photo on Houzz

4. Is their price exceptionally lower than anyone else you’ve gotten a bid from? The knee-jerk reaction here is to go with the lowest bidder. However, if the contractor in question is $15,000 (or $50,000) less than anyone else, I can’t help but wonder — what’s the catch? Does the contractor expect you to purchase and provide all allowances, such as tile material, appliances, plumbing fixtures and lights? Are the cabinets made out of cardboard instead of wood? That last example is a bit of a reach, but I think it gets my point across: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

5. Do they have insurance? A contractor without liability insurance is a very scary thing. If anything goes wrong with your home or with anyoneworking on your home and your contractor isn’t insured, you almost definitely will be held responsible. And no one likes being sued. 

A $1 million commercial general liability policy is ideal. If your contractor works on higher dollar jobs, the policy may be $2 million or more. It’s also good to find out whether a contractor requires subcontractors to carry liability insurance as well. That’s like a tightrope walker wearing a harness and having a protective net beneath him. It’s likely that nothing will happen, but even if it does, nobody gets hurt.

In short, I ask that you remain aware while searching for a remodeler or builder. Pay attention to gut feelings. Do your research on prospective contractors’ track records. Demand to see insurance policies. And, for the love of all things pure and good, get your eyes checked before signing a contract with someone who is drooling over your checkbook like a wolf over his next meal.

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Joshua Lawrence Studios INC, original photo on Houzz

Categories: Remodeling Tips, Renovation, Renovation & Restoration