Editor’s note: Quorum is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this article and derives no benefit from these businesses for placement in this article.
Americans didn’t shy away from fixing up their homes in 2020. In fact, Harvard University estimates we spent almost $420 billion on home improvements last year. Because of the pandemic and social distancing, homeowners did much of this work themselves, whether tackling smaller projects like a backyard oasis or larger ones like a kitchen remodel.
If you’re thinking of jumping on the remodeling bandwagon this year, you can stick with the DIY route. But if your home improvement project is more than you can or want to handle on your own, you’ll need a good contractor.
Finding a Contractor
Start by soliciting recommendations from family, friends and neighbors. Get details, such as who hired them (i.e., your friend or a friend of a friend) and for what kind of project, how long it took and were there any issues. Also ask for photos of the finished work.
Your word-of-mouth search might not turn up anyone, so you may have more luck with an online marketplace that connects homeowners with contractors, such as Porch, 1-800-Remodel or Angi. Sites like these are typically free for homeowners and include some sort of contractor review or vetting.
Vetting a Contractor
Regardless of where you find them, it’s wise to check a contractor’s Better Business Bureau rating, as well as other social media sites like Yelp or Google Reviews, followed by asking the contractor these key questions:
How long have you been in business?
Although time in business doesn’t guarantee skill or reputation, it does suggest a certain amount of success and experience that can be reassuring. But don’t automatically discount someone because their business is young. In that case, ask if their experience extends beyond their current company. For example, did they previously work for someone else or in another city?
Do you have experience with similar projects?
A handyman who mostly works on smaller projects is probably not the one to tackle your kitchen remodel because they may not have the necessary skills. And vice versa, someone who mainly focuses on major remodels is not likely suited for less complex, inexpensive projects. Quiz potential contractors about the type of projects they specialize in and whether they’ve completed projects similar to yours.
Will you share photos?
Photos often speak louder than words, so don’t just take a contractor’s verbal assurances. Get some proof by asking for photos of prior projects from multiple angles, including some close-ups so you can eye the detail work. If a contractor is unwilling to share photos, it could be a red flag.
Can you provide references?
Beautiful pictures of completed projects only tell half of the story. The other half is how long the project took, how close the final tally was to the quote and how smoothly it all went. That’s why you should ask contractors to share references whom you can call to ask about details that may not be evident from photos.
What will the quote include?
According to Realtor.com, “The exact cost of renovating your living space will depend on its square feet, the region you live in, and just how much of a face-lift your home needs.” Once you have a project budget in mind, you don’t want any surprises causing your project to go over budget. So, ask for a detailed quote that identifies anything that’s excluded. For example, new kitchen cabinets don’t necessarily arrive with hardware, but knobs and hinges would need to be included in the overall cost of a kitchen remodel.
What is your payment schedule?
Find out how much the contractor requires as a deposit and when the balance is due. Some contractors want an additional payment halfway through the project and others invoice the remaining balance when the project is complete.
What is the project schedule?
Before hiring a contractor, you’ll want a general estimate of when the project will start, how long it will take and when it will be finished. Then ask if there is anything that could alter that schedule, such as weather delays, material shipping or shortages or subcontractor or staffing issues.
Are any permits or inspections required for my project?
Failing to get a required permit or inspection could cost you down the road. Avoid that future headache by asking contractors what’s needed for your project.
Are you bonded, insured and licensed?
What’s required by state and municipality varies. For example, in New York, contractor requirements are detailed by the Department of State.
Angi explains the difference between these contractor certificates:
- Bond: Protects you if the contractor doesn’t finish the job or pay for its expenses.
- Insurance: Protects you from liability and workers compensation claims associated with the job.
- License: May be required for a contractor to get a bond or insurance.
How do we settle disputes?
Last but not least, ask how you and the contractor will resolve any conflicts about the project. Only sign a contract if you’re comfortable with that plan and the answers to all your other questions.