Choosing a remodeling contractor is akin to deciding on a surgeon. It may not be your body, but having a specialist cutting open and rearranging your home is not unlike having major surgery. Whether you plan to stay in your home for many years, or you’re remodeling for a quick sale, you want to make sure your specialist is qualified to do the job.
You also want someone easy to work with. While going through the interview process, ask yourself if you could have this person in your home every single day for as long as the job takes. If your personalities clash from the get-go, it’s a sign – not to sign.
For a home remodeling project, you should only be considering home remodeling contractors or home renovation contractors. “There’s a big difference between someone who does new construction and someone who does remodeling,” says Jay Gauldin, president of TBS Construction in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia. “A remodeling contractor is used to dealing with occupied facilities.” For instance, they’ll remember to block doorways to protect the rest of the house from dust, protect your flooring from the constant flow of traffic, and respect your privacy and your space.
Do I need a contractor to remodel my house?
If your home renovation project is a small one, you may wonder if you need a contractor at all or if a handyman can do the job. A licensed general contractor has the training and skills to assume the responsibility of any job, large or small. Their oversight and project management will ensure your job is done to code, safely, and within budget and deadline. A remodeling contractor is a general contractor who specializes in remodeling rather than new construction. A handyman is a person skilled to do small jobs that don’t involve special licensing. Homeowners generally choose handymen for projects like hanging doors and windows, installing cabinetry, or laying flooring. If you choose to work with a handyman, verify that his license covers the type of work you’re asking him to do. For him to do work outside of his licensure is against the law and leaves you liable for any injuries, should they occur. For anything that involves electricity, plumbing, or project management, you’re better off hiring a contractor.
How do I find the best remodeling contractors near me?
The first place to start your search for a home renovation contractor is with your own circle of friends. If your girlfriend recently had her kitchen remodeled, ask her who did the job. “Most of our leads come from referrals,” says Gauldin.
If your friends don’t have anyone to recommend, try searching on sites like HomeAdvisor or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Once you start finding names, take a look at their websites. Read testimonials and reviews on Google or social media pages. Look at their portfolios for jobs similar to yours. And check the state licensing page online to make sure they’re licensed and haven’t had any claims against them.
Once you narrow your search to a few possible candidates, it’s time to personally interview each one. Here are the key questions to ask.
14 Questions to Ask a Home Remodeling Contractor
1. Are you licensed and certified?
Every governing body has different regulations regarding the licensing of contractors. If you’re wondering how to check a contractor’s license, it’s best to start with your state’s licensing page online. Gauldin says you can look up specific contractors on your state’s page to see what licenses or certifications they hold. Also, find out what your county government requires. You want to make sure your contractor and their sub-contractors hold the certifications related to the job they’ll be doing. If they don’t, you run the risk that they don’t have the proper training for the job.
Ask what special certifications the contractor holds such as CGR (Certified Graduate Remodeler) through the National Association of Home Builders or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) through the U.S. Green Building Council, and if they belong to any industry organizations. “Membership in organizations and advanced certification shows they’re invested in their profession,” says Gauldin.
2. Do you carry workers’ compensation and liability insurance?
If the contractor doesn’t carry the proper insurance, you’re liable if anyone is injured on site. Ask to see a copy of their insurance certificates. According to Gauldin, in some areas, small companies aren’t required to carry workers’ compensation. But if one of their employees is injured on the job, you’d be liable. This is something to cover with a handyman too, as they tend to work alone or with just one other employee.
3. Will you take care of the building permits?
This is a trick question. “Whenever a contractor tells the homeowner they need to get the permit in their name, red flags and alarms should go off,” says Gauldin. Because ultimately, the person responsible to make sure the job is done properly is the person whose name is on the permit.
4. How many jobs like this have you done?
If your job involves something like moving plumbing lines or knocking down a load-bearing wall, you want someone who knows what to expect. Even a seemingly straightforward bathroom remodeling job could pose a challenge for the contractor who’s never remodeled a bathroom before.
5. Will there be a dedicated team on this project and will it include sub-contractors?
This question lets you know if the same people will come to your house every day or if you’ll have a steady flow of new faces. If you want to feel secure with strangers in your home, hire a contractor who provides a dedicated team to your job and find out who the project manager is over that team. That team could include his own employees or subcontractors he knows and trusts.
6. How do you prefer to communicate and how frequently?
For a large remodeling job, weekly meetings with the project manager are ideal. But between those times, find out the best method of communicating with your contractor and their team members.
7. What are your payment terms?
Gauldin says that Virginia requires contractors to provide a line-item contract, spelling out each aspect of the job. Find out what’s required in your area and make sure you have all the terms in writing.
8. What happens if something runs over budget?
Hopefully, you’re padding your estimate with 10-25% for unexpected events. If your contractor finds mold behind the bathroom tile, which pushes you over budget, you want to know the procedure from that point forward.
9. How are change orders handled?
One of the reasons that jobs run over budget is the homeowner changes their mind about something. If you decide the chrome fixtures you picked out are all wrong and want to change them out for brass, you need to know the process for getting that done.
10. Do you extend a warranty on the job?
Most contractors offer some form of warranty on their work. You want to know what it’ll cover and for how long. Also, some of the materials or installations come with their own warranties. Make sure you request copies of them.
11. How do we resolve any conflicts?
Despite the best efforts of all involved in this remodeling project, conflicts may arise. If they do, you want to know the best way to resolve them. An experienced home renovation contractor already has a process in place for these circumstances.
12. How long should the job take? Can it be done in time for the holidays?
If you have a deadline in mind for this job, you want to make sure this contractor can meet it. Keep in mind, says Gauldin, that just the estimating process can take a few weeks.
13. What steps will you take to protect my house and belongings?
First, you want to make sure the contractor carries adequate liability insurance for your job. But it’s nice to know they’re proactive in preventing damage in the first place. Ask where they’ll park their vehicles. You aren’t going to want a collection of work trucks on your lawn during the rainy season. Ask about sheeting to keep dust contained and coverings for your flooring. And what about your belongings? The last thing you want is a broken family heirloom because it fell off the shelf on the other side of the wall due to hammering. Many contractors recommend putting personal belongings in storage during the construction phase. Ask how they suggest you clear the way for the work to be done.
14. What does a typical workday look like?
If you work evenings and sleep until 10 a.m., you probably won’t want the buzz of saws waking you at 7.
The interview is also a good time to get a few things nailed down, like:
- What to do with pets
- Where to park
- When and if they need you present
- If a bathroom is available for the work crew
- Where to store tools
Are you ready to perform major surgery on your home? It doesn’t have to be a hair-pulling, migraine-inducing nightmare. Follow the points in our Ultimate Home Remodeling Checklist to make the experience a happy one.
Carol J. Alexander writes about home remodeling and lifestyle topics from her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her work has appeared in This Old House, Family Handyman, and Farmer’s Almanac.