Friends of mine, many of them being remodeling noobs, have asked me endless questions about choosing the right contractor. Now, this is highly dependent on what type of contractor you are looking for. Are you looking for a design-build where they’ll help you design your layout, select materials and finishes, order materials, all the way to executing the construction? Or are you willing to select and order your own materials so that the contractor will be responsible for strictly the construction portion of your project? The biggest driver of these 2 questions is cost, but today’s post will be focused on interviewing a design-build company.
Choosing the right remodeling company is tough, especially if you’re new at this and don’t know where to start. Because I have worked with multiple contractors, I feel as though I can provide the guidance to consumers in order to PROTECT themselves. But before you start calling a bunch of local contractors, DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST. By this, I mean really delve into the contractors you are interested in working with. Just because they have glamorous pictures of kitchens and bathrooms posted on their website, doesn’t mean they’re pleasant to work with. So search for reviews on MULTIPLE platforms: Google, Yelp, Houzz, Angie’s List, BBB, and Guild Quality.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to about 3-5 companies, then you can start asking the questions to see if they’re the right fit for you:
1. Can I have a copy of your business license and insurance paperwork?
If a remodeler can’t provide you with these documents, move on. This is all paperwork you need in order to protect yourself. You can always confirm the validity of the license and ensure it is up-to-date by checking your county website. Do the same with the insurance by calling their provider.
2. How many employees do you have?
If the company has designers, drafters, estimators, project managers, etc., you better believe you are paying for their overhead. Yes, your project may be better organized but you will be paying a premium for it. If the estimate comes out significantly higher than the rest of companies you are interviewing, there is usually a reason for it. Now, if the remodeler’s quote is coming in WAY LESS than most of your quotes, that’s a red flag. When a company comes in significantly less than other estimates you’re receiving, you start to question the quality of the work, which is very important if you want a lost-lasting, durable remodeled space.
3. Does your company have a showroom?
Having a showroom makes selecting materials a lot easier. But sometimes you’ll feel pressured or limited to stick with the materials within their showroom rather than looking at outside sources. Showrooms, although helpful, will be reflected in the estimate of your project because this again, is overhead. I’ve worked with contractors who don’t have a showroom, which isn’t an issue as long as they provide the guidance you need with selecting materials.
4. Can you provide names and number of 5 references?
If homeowners are happy with their experience with the remodeling company, they’ll be willing to go back to work with them. When speaking with references, you want to ask specific/detailed questions to ensure that they have actually worked with the remodeler.
Some questions to ask past clients:
When problems arose, how prompt were they in keeping you informed? Can you give me an example?
Did they complete the construction at the expected end date? If not, why not?
Did the company provide any plans or material documentation before starting construction?
How responsive were they? When you sent them an email or left them a voicemail how many days did it take for them to respond?
If you could change anything about the process, what would it be?
5. If you offer a fixed contract price, will you provide a list of allowances before I sign the contract?
This is a chance for you to do some research! I’ve seen allowances where a sink faucet is set at $100, which is fine if you’re looking for builder grade materials. You’ll be able to find a sink faucet for $100 or less, sure, but your selection will be very limited. I’ve witnessed homeowner’s frustrations because the allowances provided, didn’t give them enough range to select what they wanted.
6. How does your payment schedule work?
A good remodeling company will divide up the payments so you have some control over your project. For an example, 20% up front to order the materials, then paying as you go throughout construction (completion of plumbing rough-in, completion of drywall, completion of floor tile installation, etc.). DO NOT hand over the full amount or even 50% of the contract price. If this makes you nervous, IT SHOULD.
7. Do you jump around from job to job or do you focus on one job at a time?
If the company’s working on multiple projects at once, it’s fine if they have enough carpenters to manage all of them at the same time. But if a company’s working on one project at a time, the carpenters are dedicated to your project. If the carpenters are dedicated to your project, your project will be executed at a quicker pace.
8. Do you obtain the necessary permits for my project and will it be under your name?
If the remodeler asks you to obtain your own permits, you need to find yourself another company to work with. They may twist their words saying that it’s faster and less stringent, but if the permit’s under your name, you’re the one that’s liable. When your construction begins, you can usually check whether or not the contractor obtained the permits through your county website. Around the Northern Virginia area, inspectors have computers in their cars where they can check if a construction site has obtained the necessary permits. I’ve seen construction projects shut down due to lack of permits, and you better believe they’ll give you hell trying to obtain permits thereafter to continue your construction.
9. Do you provide drawings and FFE documentation?
I can’t tell you how much of a pet peeve it is to hear homeowners say they weren’t provided with any drawings or FFE documentation after their construction had begun. FFE documentation will show you the materials you’ve selected for your project including manufacturer’s name, model name and number of the product, and color. Like…WHAT?! Seriously, it blows my mind. There are so many moving parts to a construction project, it’s difficult to remember all of the details even if you have a good memory. If drawings or selection documentation aren’t provided, sure your construction start date may be sooner, but mistakes (that could have been avoided) are inevitable. Going through a construction within your home is painful. You don’t want to make it any more stressful than it is. As my friend Greg (Miller Remodeling) says, BE PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE.
10. How prompt are you with ordering materials?
There are situations where materials will be backordered, sometimes this will happen. But if the remodeler is not responsible with ordering the materials, keeping the lead time in mind, your construction completion date may be delayed. For an example, most semi-custom or custom cabinet lines will take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to be produced and delivered. If the cabinets are not ordered in time, there’s a chance that the carpenters won’t have anything to do until those cabinets are installed. If there are other items to work on, great, your construction is still progressing. Also, please keep in mind, items such as granite and custom glass shower doors, will have a turnaround time. Stone countertops can’t be installed until the cabinets are set because precise measurements have to be taken. After the measurements are taken, the fabricator will then cut the stone and then return to install it. Same goes for the custom glass shower door, all of the tiles need to be installed in order to take exact measurements. In this case, it’s okay if there’s some waiting around time. The contractor should have taken this lead time into consideration when setting a construction end date.
11. What work will be subcontracted out? How long have you been working with these subcontractors? And who will be supervising their work?
People get weary when the electrician or plumber is subcontracted out because they’re not directly employed with the remodeler, and if they’re not directly employed with the remodeler, are their work ethics in line with the remodeling company you’re working with? It brings peace of mind if the remodeler has a longstanding relationship with a subcontractor, because this is someone they can trust and have continued to work with because of it. Also if the remodeler is supervising the work of the subcontractors, it will help avoid mistakes.
12. Will I be able to see a construction schedule?
Not only will a construction schedule help you to see what generally goes on from week to week, but it ALSO shows you how organized the remodeler is. Trust me, you want an ORGANIZED company especially if you’re living through construction within your home.
13. How will you protect my home during construction?
Dust is inevitable, but how the remodeler tries to maintain it is what you want to look out for. How are they planning to shield the other parts of your home to help with dust control? Will they install a filter in your return so the dust is maintained as much as possible? How will the floors be protected when the carpenters are tracking in and out of your home? Will tools be laid around all over my furniture (this is another pet peeve of mine because it’s just disrespectful)? What is your clean-up process at the end of each day?
14. What type of warranty do you offer upon completion of construction?
If you want to cover your ass down the road, you have to ask this question. Say you have a leak because a pipe was improperly installed, you want the company to come back to FIX it at no additional cost. You shouldn’t have to pay for additional work IF the remodeler was at fault.
I know this was a lengthy post, but if you have ANY additional questions or concerns, please comment down below. Remodeling projects are huge investments so you want to ensure you make the right choice in choosing a compatible company to work with.