Ask Brian: How to Go About Hiring a Remodeling Contractor



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Rick of Boise, ID: Hi Brian, for Christmas I told my wife she could have her dream kitchen. Although she absolutely loved the present, I probably should have put a little more thought into it. I’ve done a lot of smaller DIY projects and even a few challenging ones. However, what she wants in her dream kitchen means tearing things down to the studs to move electrical wiring and even plumbing. As an example, she wants to move the sink and stove-top onto an island in the middle room to create more counter space. My original thought had been to replace the old sink with a nicer new one with a fancy modern faucet. Now, I’m in over my head and definitely need to hire a professional contractor. How do you suggest I go about this?

Answer: Hi Rick. First of all, congratulations for recognizing the right choice is going with a professional. A major remodel can be much trickier than a lot of people realize. Even some builders prefer not doing remodeling projects because of the unique challenges. For one thing, your family will be living in the home while workers rip apart the kitchen and hammer it back together. Another common challenge is making her new dreams fit with the old home design. The fact is that a major remodel can be a bigger job than a new build.

Rick, you’re going to want to interview several contractors to find one that you trust and believe will get the job done the way your wife and you want it done. As you probably already know, there are several ways to find contractors to interview. Historically, asking family, friends, and even acquaintances has been a good way to go. Not only are you likely to get an honest opinion from them but you should be able to see the quality of the end result in your friend’s home. Don’t always allow one negative comment to turn you off to a particular contractor. First, consider how that issue fits into your needs. For instance, if the complaint is about a significant cost overrun, find out if changes were asked for after the original estimate? Or if the workers always showed up to start at 7:30 a.m., is that an issue in your household? If everything else went well except an issue that isn’t particularly important to you, don’t automatically scratch the contractor from your interview list. Of course, you can get names from any of the many review sites on the internet but you probably won’t get answers to your specific questions nor be able to see the end results.

Talking to others about their remodeling projects will help you prepare a list of questions for your interviews. Along with those questions, there are basic questions that you want to be sure to ask and discuss with each contractor. Most people jump right in with how much will it cost? And when can you start? However, here are basic questions you want to know the answers to before a contractor guts your kitchen.

  • Ask for a copy of their business license, their bond information, and how long they have been in business?
  • Ask if they have done the type of work you want and for photos of the finished work? Ask when the last time was that they did this type of project?
  • Ask about guarantees? Especially ask if there will be subcontractors on the job and if the general contractor guarantees their work?
  • Ask about workers compensation and liability insurance? You might not think you care but your homeowner insurance probably will.
  • Do they have any related certifications or special training in this kind of work?
  • Ask about permits? Will permits be needed and who is responsible for obtaining these? Be extremely leery if the contractor wants you to pull permits or be responsible for inspections – this should be a deal breaker.
  • If the estimates are substantially more than you were planning to spend, ask for recommendations from the contractors on how to do it for less?
  • Ask for permanent contact information where you can get in touch with someone during regular business hours – preferably an established office.
  • Ask for a formal proposal and contract. These can look very different from different contractors. Be sure the contract covers everything in the proposal if they are separate documents. Be sure you read and understand the fine print before signing and letting the work begin.
  • There are many other questions that you may or may not find important such as when will they arrive and leave each day and will they clean up at the end of each workday? Put some thought into what will be important to you and your family.

Rick, remodeling can be a fun experience when you approach it correctly. Or it can become a nightmare if a bunch of unexpected problems popup. You get to create her dream kitchen and you’ll learn more about design and building along the way. However, the people doing the work become almost part of your family for this period of time. You need to make sure you’re comfortable with the company you choose. These questions should provide you a starting point to make that decision. Companies uncomfortable answering these questions, or answers that make you uncomfortable tell you a lot, too.

Please comment with their thoughts and experiences about major remodeling projects. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.

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