A renovation can be a daunting process. Between construction delays, unforeseen costs, and the sheer analysis paralysis that comes with picking a white paint color, there are a ton of things to learn, but there are also a million tricks in the book to make the whole process more seamless. We asked Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free platform that helps people find expert advice and get matched with vetted general contractors, for her best tips and expertise to take the intimidation out of renovation. Here, she outlines five steps to take when hiring a general contractor.
If you’ve finally had enough of your kitchen’s orange-tinted cabinets, linoleum floors, and tight countertop space, a renovation might be in order. The question is: Who are you going to hire to get the job done? If the level of work goes beyond swapping a light fixture or replacing a faucet (or if it involves demolition, plumbing, or structural work), you’ll need to find a general contractor—ideally one who matches your work ethic and communication style.
The more you plan ahead and educate yourself about the steps of a renovation and how to best work with a general contractor, the better prepared you’ll be for the remodeling road ahead. Here are the five steps to finding and hiring the right pro for your project.
Know Which Qualities to Look For
First, you’ll want someone familiar with your area (for permit laws and requirements) and the type of structure you live in (single-family home or apartment, especially if you have a board to answer to). The complexity of your project matters. Creating a spa-style bathroom with intricate tile work and a steam shower—which involves installing different lines for steam and drainage—looks a lot different than a rip-and-replace powder room where fixtures are being swapped out. Make sure the contractor has experience in projects similar to what you’re looking to accomplish.
Call the contractor’s references, asking what people liked and didn’t like about working with their team. What challenges did they face during the project and how were they handled? Keep in mind that the contractor might not match up with your budget, timeline, or scope.
Last but not least, make sure anyone you’re considering is a licensed general contractor. You can check with the Better Business Bureau or your own city’s official building department website to look up their certification.
Have a Grasp on Their Responsibilities
A contractor is the center of your remodeling universe! They manage your project from start to finish: obtaining proper licenses and insurance, coordinating (and overseeing) subcontractors and deliveries, defining the work and payment schedule, communicating with architects and engineers, and providing skilled labor. The list goes on. Consider this person your go-to for everything related to construction and your partner in fulfilling your vision. Knowing the scope of their responsibilities will help you collaborate with them more effectively throughout the process.
Set up Site Visits and Interview Potential Contractors
You’ve already put together your nice-to-have and must-have lists, created inspiration boards, and researched budgets. Face-to-face meetings are not only an opportunity for contractors to get a sense of your project and the actual site conditions but also for you to get to know them. Get a feel for their communication style and how your questions are being answered. Of course, your budget, scope of work, and timing will need to line up, too, but comfort level is a huge factor in the success of the project.
Get Three to Five Estimates for Comparison
After you meet with potential pros for your renovation, you’ll receive estimates for how much the work will cost. I always recommend getting a minimum of three bids to see where the price range falls. Bid leveling helps you break down the services a contractor offers at each price point. A contractor with a higher estimate may provide a more personalized service on design and materials.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not go with the lowest bid just because it’s the lowest. It may be low because the contractor doesn’t understand the project. On the other hand, if you have good chemistry (and the outcome after comparing costs looks right), there shouldn’t be anything stopping you.
Make Sure the Contract Is Detailed
Once you’ve met with all the candidates and reviewed their bids, it’s time to get a contract. It should contain the start date, an outline of the work, a payment schedule, and a timeline. When you sign, you’ll also pay a percentage of the project fees up front, anywhere from 25 to 50 percent, depending on the length and overall budget. Make sure the details are all in writing so you can reference and refer to the contract throughout the renovation.
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