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Ready to Renovate? Avoid Headaches and Hazards with These Home Improvement Planning Tips

Posted by Patricia Rattray on August 3, 2023

So, you need some work done on your home. How do you find a contractor that will do a good job, while completing the work on time and on budget? Furthermore, will the contractor use the most recent best practices, consider sustainability measures, and will he or she make sure to protect your home from dirt damage along the way? There’s so much to consider, so let’s break the most typical concerns down.

Step One: Educate yourself

Start with general research & get a rough idea of the scope and cost. Use online sources and established publications to become familiar with the project you have in mind. Touring showrooms and exploring the latest designs and material options will help you create a scope of work and get an idea of what the cost should be. Sites like Homewyze and HomeAdvisor can also provide general cost estimates.

Step Two: Create a short list of contractors

The next step is to request estimates but be sure to do your due diligence before you make your requests. This will save you tons of time.

  • Ask the right people for recommendations: You’ll want to get the names and contact information of 3-4 contractors. One good way to do this is to talk to your Realtor. Realtors often have a list of contractors and can recommend the people that would be a good fit for your specific budget and home. Neighbors and local friends are also great resources if they have had similar work done in the same city or region. Another good resource is your local hardware store or your local home flooring or home improvement wholesale supplier.
  • Research your referrals by searching online for portfolios and reviews: When searching online don’t get distracted by the most beautiful websites and stock photos of perfectly designed homes. Some of the best contractors have basic websites without bells and whistles that demonstrate a variety of projects, real-life unedited photos, and client testimonials.
  • When making the first call, be strategic: Make sure to ask questions to get to know our contractor during that first call. Ask for a license, registration, and insurance upfront. Inquire how long they have been in business, how they got started, what types of projects they do, if they are familiar with the project, and what they are working on right now. It is best to ask these questions before you invite them to your home to prepare an estimate. On the initial call, they should also be able to give you a ballpark estimate of what the project could cost based on the most economical to the most luxurious interpretation of the project. Finally, don’t forget to request references and make sure he or she follows up via text or email. References should be checked before the contractor visits your home.

Step 3: Know what an estimate should include

Everyone should know the difference between a good estimate and a bad estimate. While estimates will vary in format, they should all contain the following:

  • Clear Job Description: This should be a detailed description of the work to be done. This will include the removal of existing materials, costs for the materials necessary to complete the job, estimates of labor costs, how items will be purchased, and more. You’ll want to make sure the description is clear and answers all your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the contractor for more information.
  • Demo and Cleanup Details: Most projects, from a new roof to new siding to a new kitchen will involve the removal of existing materials. How will the contractor handle this? Are they considering sustainable/green options? Are they providing a dumpster? Are they removing existing materials or just working over or around them? What are they charging you for removal?
  • Cost Estimates: These should also be easy to understand and organized by Project, Room, or Type of Labor: Estimates should note if you are providing materials that you’ve picked out. Did you already buy the appliances for your new kitchen or the fixtures for your bathroom or did your contractor handle this and include this in their estimate? They should also include what they charge for labor and an estimate of the length of the project.

For more detailed information about final contracts and protecting yourself from risk, read my blog Working with Contractors

Step 4: Choose the best option for you

Once you have your estimates, you should have already vetted your contractor for reputation, reviews, licenses, insurance, and any past litigation.  Now you are ready to compare solid candidates and evaluate their communication style thus far, their availability, and price.

  • Communication: Communication is the most critical component of working with contractors. Are they welcoming and responsive to your questions? Can they explain how they work? Will they be able to provide timely updates and change orders in writing? Oral and written communication should be easy to understand. Prompt and complete answers should be provided if something is not clear. Your contractor should also answer questions without getting defensive and seek to educate you on how the work is done, your material choices, and options to create more benefits, save money, or minimize the expense of future maintenance.
  • Availability to start and finish the job: What is their current workload? When can they start, how many days and hours per week will be committed?  If they take on your job, will they have the time to devote to your project?
  • Price: This is, of course, a factor however, you might consider more than just the bottom line. Discuss payment schedules and payment options with the contractors. Some contractors are more flexible than others, and you’ll want to verify that you’re both on the same page. What kind of down payment are you comfortable with? Does it match what they’re looking for? If you get more than one estimate, you can discuss pricing with each provider and ask if there is any opportunity to lower their prices without compromising the work. Of course, the lowest estimate might be missing preferred or critical items, so never go with the lowest estimate without determining the complete scope of work.
  • Follow your gut: if you do your research and follow the steps above, your gut will tell you which option is your best fit. Pay attention to the nature of the relationship you are building from the first moment of contact until the final estimate review and discussion. If something feels off, take a break, figure out why and make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Remember: you have the power here. You want to hire the contractor that is best for the job but also the one that is best for you. Ideally, this contractor will become a part of your trusted network and he or she can refer you to other quality home service providers in the future. Take your time with your selection because one quality relationship often leads to the next and the next.

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