Renovating can be a daunting process, so we asked Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a platform that helps people find expert advice and get matched with vetted general contractors, for her best remodeling tips and tricks.  

The first question you need to ask yourself is: Do I need a licensed general contractor/handyman or can I do this myself? A good place to start is by weighing the level of labor your project will require. 

Simple jobs like painting, drywall patching, or hanging/building shelving can typically be handled by a handyman, or if you have the patience, become a fun DIY project. If your plan involves moving walls, plumbing, or electrical structures, however, you will likely need a general contractor, who will provide the subcontractors to successfully—and safely—complete the work. You may also want one if the renovation is complicated or the materials are expensive, since GCs are typically licensed and have insurance in case something goes wrong.

If you’re still unsure, checking in with your city’s department of buildings will give you a sense of what types of projects will require a permit (and therefore would benefit from the expertise of a GC). 

Now that you have determined that you need to bring on a pro, here’s how to find a general contractor you can trust. 

Meet Potential Contractors Face-to-Face

We suggest meeting with at least three contractors to give you a good sense of the different personalities, service levels, and costs out there. When the contractors come to your home for a site visit (crucial for figuring out an estimate), be prepared with a list of questions to ask. Can they provide quality references and photos of past work? Are they licensed and insured? (Pro tip: Working with an unlicensed contractor isn’t worth the risk, even if they are cheaper. If they mess up, you will have to spend way more to fix their damage.) Do not be afraid to speak up about what you want. That being said, be open to a contractor’s ideas and suggestions. A licensed contractor has a wealth of knowledge about construction and years of experience to bring to the table.

Interview Yourself

These are some questions you should keep in mind as you search:

  • Have they done similar work to what I’m looking to get done?
  • Do all parties share the same communication style?
  • Will they provide the level of customer support I need or expect?
  • Would I feel comfortable having this person in my home/ripping my home apart? 

Do Your Homework

Warning: This is where the search and discovery process can get overwhelming and time-consuming. Once you have a front-runner, you will want to research the contractor’s state- or city-issued license and confirm with them that they have appropriate insurance coverage. Get access to their portfolio of past projects and search online for any bad reviews or Better Business Bureau complaints. Don’t forget to speak to past references to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Or Get Help Finding a Contractor

Matchmaking services like Sweeten do all this work for you, so you can focus on the fun part: the design. When you submit your project request form, they recommend a short list of already-vetted general contractors who can complete your scope of work and stay within your budget. Like a dating app, but for your reno.

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