How do I find a good remodeling contractor?

Once you’ve decided to remodel your home, it’s time to pick the right contractor. A good remodeling contractor can make the difference between a painful and drawn out process with shoddy results and a seamless and hassle-free process with a stellar finish.

With many contractors in your area to choose from, how do you narrow down the choices and pick the best one for the job? Don’t make a choice until you read this advice from experts in the industry.

Nick Disney

Nick Disney

Owner, Sell My San Antonio House

Make sure that you get recommendations from people that you trust and that have actually used the remodeling contractor before you start any project. This will give you the opportunity to ask people who have first-hand knowledge what it was like to work with this contractor. Did they finish on time? Did they finish on budget? Did they leave a clean workplace? Or anything else that you know is going to be important to you throughout your remodel.

Once you have narrowed it down, you absolutely need to ask for references for past work before you begin and then you need to call these references. If they don’t have any references, or they only have one, I would see this as a big red flag.

The second part is to make sure you call these references. It will only take you a few minutes to make these calls and it can save you a huge headache in the end. Most people will not take the time to make these calls and this can lead to contractors just putting anyone on their reference list.

If the reference does not seem to recognize the contractor or has less-than-stellar things to say about them then you should really reconsider hiring them to work on your home. It’s not just the initial cost of the renovation that you need to keep in mind; you should also consider what it will be like working with the contractor during the process and if they can complete the project in a way that will leave you happy with the results.

Connect with real estate professionals. I begin my search for contractors by reaching out to real estate agents and property inspectors. Inspectors and agents generally know trustworthy local remodeling contractors. Although you might not be hiring the inspector or agent today, they are usually happy to assist. This earns them “good will” to get business from you in the future (or a referral of a friend or family). In addition, the contractor recommended by the professional will likely send business back to the inspector or agent.

Earl White

Earl White

Earl White is co-founder of House Heroes. Since 2013, Earl has been flipping houses across Florida.

Bryan Stoddard

Bryan Stoddard

Bryan Stoddard is currently running a website called Homewares Insider that explores all things related to homes, interior design, furniture, and gardening. He’s also a passionate home designer that loves to tinker with DIY, design and organizing schemes.

Finding a contractor you trust to do a good job can be a difficult decision. The best way to make sure you’re leaving your home in sure hands is by doing some research beforehand. That means asking friends about their recommendations, reading online reviews and even asking strangers questions.

The first is obvious, your friends can usually offer their own experience, and if you trust their judgment, your search will be cut short if they offer a good choice.

The second point, reading online reviews, is useful for agencies that have an established online presence and lots of reviews. Reading both praise and critical remarks will give you the most honest picture. These reviews and the ways the company resolved potential issues and communicated with clients will give you the best impression.

And lastly, hunting down and asking the reviewers extra questions can be a good way to silence your uncertainties and gain a complete picture.

As the owner of a property management company, that manages over 200 properties for others, I have worked with my share of contractors.

Creating an atmosphere of accountability is paramount. Getting contractors from review sites that base their future business on positive reviews is one tip. You can hold a review, good or bad, against the quality of their work.

Referrals can also help. If they drop the ball with you, they risk losing the referrers also. If that referrer is a real estate agent or another contractor subbing work, they risk losing considerable business. In the case of a referral from a property management company, they risk losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of work a year.

This [accountability] goes a long way to getting faster service for less money and better quality, and [your contractor] will tend to make adjustments right.

Joe White

Jody Costello

Jody Costello is a Home Renovation Planning / Contractor Fraud Expert who founded her website ContractorsFromHell.com as a result of a remodeling nightmare she experienced. Her mission is to raise awareness about the risks and realities in renovating and hiring contractors. She created her online course, the Home Remodeling Bootcamp for Women, to help homeowners better manage their projects and avoid remodeling disasters.

One of the best ways to find a contractor is to drive around your community and take note of the renovations going on. Renovating is at an all-time high and once you begin finding some projects going on, you’ll want to follow up by contacting the owners asking about their experience with the contractor and visiting the contractors’ website and Facebook page.

They will likely have some reviews on their site and projects they’ve done, which give you an idea of the types of projects they take on. But don’t stop there; conduct a background check by checking sites like the BBB, Complaintsboard.com, Ripoff report, etc., Plus, just google the contractor’s name and company name to see what may come up. And check to see if they are licensed.

Overall, if you live in an area where it’s not possible to visit ongoing projects, the same advice applies. Use the internet to find local contractors, visit their site and Facebook page and conduct a thorough background check to see if there are any complaints. Make sure they are licensed in your state if it is required.

You can find a contractor, first, by word of mouth. Ask friends, relatives and neighbors who they used and what their experience was. Next, always check out a company before doing business. BBB.org offers more than 5.3 million free business reports. Reports include a letter grade which is based on factors (https://www.bbb.org/canton/get-consumer-help/rating-faq/) that create an algorithm.

Reports can tell you how long a company has been in business, how many complaints they’ve had, the complaint detail and company’s response, any government action against the company, how long the company has been in business, the company’s contact information and owner/officer names, and you can also see posted customer reviews. BBB vets and verifies its reviews. Reviews can be positive, negative or neutral.

BBB also suggests that consumers check local CCAP cases (for those states that offer it) for previous court cases against the contractor and/or company.

Also, check with local trade associations.

*Choose a BBB Accredited Business in any type of field for that extra peace of mind. Accredited Businesses have agreed to honor the BBB’s 8 Standards of Trust including advertising honestly, being transparent, honoring promises and being responsive. BBB Accredited Businesses have been checked and researched by BBB staff and later approved by a Board of Directors.

*Request a quote. Obtain quotes, estimates, information or proposals free from BBB Accredited Businesses. To get started, select the Type of Business you are requesting a quote, estimate or proposal from in the Accredited Business Directory. Select the Businesses that you wish to receive your request from. Complete the form and provide contact information by clicking on the “Request A Quote” link, or fill out the form and describe the job you have in mind

Once you choose a contractor that you wish to go with, follow these tips:

  • Check references. Ask for prior customers and check with them regarding their experience
  • Get a written contract. Make sure it includes all details discussed verbally and has start and completion dates. Also make sure it has the business name, contractor’s name, business address and phone number.
  • Never pay up front or in full until work is complete and to your satisfaction (paying 1/3 down, 1/3 at mid-point, and 1/3 balance is a good rule to follow…)
  • Never pay in cash. Pay with a credit card whenever possible.
  • Don’t make quick decisions. This is major work. Take some time to shop around; compare prices and check out the company. Advertising/large ads do not necessarily equal quality assurance.
  • Do your homework. How long has the company been in business? Ask for license and insurance information. Make sure it’s current. Ask who will be doing the work, the company or sub-contractors?
  • Ask about the warranty offered: What does it cover? How long is it for? Who will honor it?
  • Always keep copies of the contract and warranty for your records.
  • Make sure you read and understand the contract before signing. (Once you sign, it becomes a legal document.)

Lisa Schiller

Director Investigations and Media Relations BBB Serving Wisconsin

Bryan Crawford

There are a few great ways to find a remodeling contractor. The first one is to ask friends, family, and social media for recommendations. You will get honest answers from most of these people, and it will help you narrow down the search. Next, you should search for them using Google. See what their average star rating is, and read the reviews that people post. After doing that, ask them for photos of their past work and make sure that they are able to handle your project properly.

Research, research, research. Thanks to the internet, there are few businesses that can escape online reviews. Of course, you have to take these with a grain of salt: so often, people will be harsher online than they would be in another format. But the old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is true here. If most of the reviews about a contractor are recent and negative, beware. If there is a mix of reviews, it’s worth investigating further. If there are no reviews, this is also an unusual situation, so take caution. You can also check resources like the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed. Finally, your best resource is the recommendations of friends and family. The advantage here is that you will get the real goods on how the project went, how much it ended up costing and whether or not they were satisfied with the end result.

Create a short list of options and delve deeper. Once you’ve created a short list of 5 or 6 contractors, you can do a little more in-depth research. What kind of projects have they done? Are they similar in style to what you are looking for? Are there any before and afters to review? You’ll also want to check into any claimed accreditations/certifications and their licensing and make sure that they are properly insured.

Interview your short list. A remodel is not a quick and dirty job. You’ll be working with these people for a while, so take the time to have a chat with them on the phone. Will the main person you are speaking with be on site at least part of the time? How do they communicate changes? Can you review a copy of the contract? Ask questions about permits, the size of the job you’re looking to undertake and timelines with their availability. Ask to see a portfolio of work done in the last year or so. If there aren’t many projects, request clarification there, too. Can you get references and speak to the homeowners from some of their previous jobs? Of course, they will send you the most positive ones, but even these influenced references will give you a sense of whether they will be a good fit for you. Ideally, you will receive a few references for jobs that are similar to what you are looking to accomplish. If the homeowner is willing to let you come over and inspect the work in person, all the better!

Get quotes. If you still like them after the interview and reference check, have them over to do a full quote. You should get at least three to be sure that you have a range to choose from and to see what variations and suggestions each provides. Just remember that the lowest quote is not always your best option: they might be underestimating a little to get the job or because of lack of experience, but you could get hit with extra costs later on to get the job finished. Experience counts when it comes to remodeling, and a team that has it can more accurately quote than someone who is new to the business.

Get it in writing. Once you’ve chosen the contractor you want to work with, make sure you get a contract in writing. That contract should include a payment schedule, material and labor costs, timelines for the work to be completed, including milestones, and a process for making changes to the original project along the way. There are always hiccups in a major remodeling job, whether that’s a change you want to make or an issue in your home that is discovered along the way that couldn’t have been foreseen. Either way, you need a process by which these will be handled. The contract needs to be signed by both yourself and the contractor.

Breathe deeply. If you’ve done your due diligence, the project should have minimum hassle, but any remodeling effort will come up against some issues, changes or hiccups. You will have to take some of that in stride, but remember that if your contractor is consistently not adhering to the terms of the contract, you are within your rights to terminate that relationship and hire someone else to finish.

Marty Basher

Marty Basher is the home organization expert for modularclosets.com. Modular Closets are high-quality and easy-to-design closet systems you can order online, assemble and install yourself, in no time at all. Using closet modules (closet units you can mix & match to design your own closet that fits your space and meets your needs), homeowners everywhere are empowered to achieve the true custom closet look- for nearly 40% less than standard custom closets.

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