How to Select a Contractor

Selecting a contractor for your remodeling project or new build can be daunting. There are so many negative rumors that float around about contractors: they take advantage; jack the prices up; cut corners to save (themselves) money; hire cheap/illegal labor. While I’m sure there are contractors that do some – or all – of these things, most do not. Most contractors are proud of the work they do and stand by their craftsmanship. I bet a lot of us started out as carpenters, painters, tile & floor installers and built our business up enough, based on word-of-mouth recommendations and relationships, to become general contractors. That’s a lot of hard work – why would we want to sully it? My hope is that everyone can see contractors in a more positive light. 

All that being said, I’d like to focus on things you can do to find the contractor that’s right for you and your project. Honestly, it’s about how well you get along with the person – or people – that will be in your space. You need to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable things – money being the biggest, as always. If you can begin to form a relationship based on honesty and trust, that’s the biggest and best hurdle to jump. Finding that person or company that you are comfortable with is typically best found through friends, family, and colleagues. We’ve found that our most successful projects come from past clients. Those that have worked with us in the past can provide the most reliable source of information to our future clients. 

When talking with a contractor for the first time, find out if they’ve worked on a project like yours previously. With any older or unique home, hiring a new construction company is probably not the best idea. Ask to see photos of past similar projects – we’ve had prospective clients that ask to tour a project we’ve completed, which can be tough (not a lot of our clients want unknown people wandering through their house…) – but we can always provide photos and emails/phone numbers for reference. 

The best time to find your contractor is while you’re developing your project. Find someone you feel good about working with and get them involved as you plan. A good GC can help you with drawings, material selections, and your budget. Giving a list (organized or unorganized) to three contractors to bid on can turn out to be a disaster. Reviewing everything you’d like to do with a dedicated contractor can get your project developed, priced, and started much quicker. 

Speaking of budgets and pricing – think about how much of an investment in your home or business you want to make. And please, discuss that with your GC in the beginning! Knowing how much you are planning on budgeting can speed the entire process up. Why waste time having someone bid on the project only to find out that what you thought the cost would be is doubled – or tripled! A good, honest contractor is not going to build as little as possible for the budget you desire – they will be able to help you design and select materials that will fit into that budget.  

Selecting a contractor for your remodeling project or new build can be daunting. Here are a few tips and items to consider:

  1. Referrals from friends, family, and colleagues can be the best way to go: Let your friends do the dirty work for you! Once they’ve tried someone out, you can get all the insider information from them.
  2. If you’re new to town, ask your realtor for referrals: Real estate agents have lots of experience with contractors and see the “before” and the “after” and will have good knowledge of local prices.
  3. Instead of contacting three or four builders for estimates, contact two or three and interview them: Sitting down and talking about your project with a prospective builder will give you time to get to know them, and ask them important questions (have they done a project like yours in the past? -you don’t necessarily want someone who has only built new homes to remodel your 1922 bungalow and vice-versa!). The relationship you have with the person working with you can be a lot more important than the price. That may sound strange, but you need to be able to have honest, sometimes hard, conversations with your GC – and it’s always easier with someone that you are comfortable with.
  4. Select a contractor as soon as you decide to remodel or build: Working with a GC during the planning phase will help you control design, schedule, and cost. A good contractor can tell you if your ideas are outside of your budget at the beginning – much better than going through the entire design and then estimating process only to find out your way over budget.  They also have trusted subcontractors that are willing to find the best way to accomplish a tricky remodel or installation.