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Tips for choosing and working with your contractor through a Remodel!

Provided by John Erwin Remodeling

At some point if you are a homeowner, you will need to hire a contractor to work on your home.  It certainly can be a scary endeavor especially if your only experience is watching HGTV or maybe watching “Get Jesse” on the 5 o’clock news reporting on the worst of the worst contractors out there.  It’s no wonder that many homeowners go into this process very guarded with all their defenses up.  The following are some good tips for you when choosing and more importantly, working with your contractor through the process.   The first step is to talk with two or three contractors, then do your homework and research on the contractors you are considering.  You may find yourself disqualifying one or two well before they even end up giving you a proposal.

  1.  The most important tip I can give you is to hire a licensed bonded contractor.  Don’t take their word for it just because they hand you a business card and tell you they have been in business for years.  Be pro-active and go to the Labor and Industries web site and look it up for yourself (https://fortress.wa.gov/lni/bbip/).  You may just find out that sure they had been in business for years; however they may not have current liability insurance and without it, they legally cannot be working on your home.  That person should be automatically disqualified from your list of candidates.  If they have employees that will be working on your home, I recommend you  also look up and insure they are current with their workman’s compensation premiums on the same L&I website.  If they are not, it is a good indication that there are deeper problems with the company and most of all, if a worker gets injured on your property, they can go after you for compensation.
  2. When sitting down with the contractors direct your questions to the quality and trust factors.   How much experience does the contractor have in the type of project you are considering?  How long have they been in business?  Longevity, especially in these economic times can be a good indicator on what type of company they run.  What percentage of their work comes from repeat or referral?  A good reputable company will have about 50% of their work coming in as repeat and referrals.  Do they have industry accreditations and or certifications?  This will indicate the level of professionalism you can expect.     Ask them how they run their jobs from start to finish.  A good contractor will have a very clear process from the initial walk though, billing, and final punch list even one on warranty issues.   Ask for references not only from past clients but from current projects they are working on.
  3. Ask for a detailed proposal.  The proposal should clearly outline the work that will be done in layman’s terms along with all product specifications, model numbers, and owner’s responsibilities.  The down payment and payment process should also be clearly stated.

Now you have done your homework and you have received two or three detailed proposals on your project and you are ready to choose who you are going to work with.  A lot of homeowner’s focus solely on price and certainly price is factor in the decision process; however price alone is not the best way to choose.  Simply choosing the low bid, although may work out well; it can also lead to headaches and problems.  Most contractors will price out very similar, but if you have one proposal that is more than 20% to 30% less than the other proposals, chances are the contractor missed something, is not including everything you wanted or in other words is not pricing out the same job.  If a contractor made a mistake it’s not like you won the “lottery”.  They will eventually find the mistake and do everything they can to make that up through change orders, taking short cuts or using inferior products.  Keep in mind you will be working with this contractor for an extended amount of time, before during and after the project begins.  Furthermore, the contractor will be working on your most personal asset, your home.  I have always recommended going with your gut feeling and instinct with who you feel most comfortable and confident in working with.

You have now chosen your contractor, are comfortable, confident and ready to start the project.  Often there is a communication gap between homeowners and contractors.  Too often this starts because the homeowners are still suspicious of the contractor and worrying that they are about to be taken advantage of.  If you felt that way, you shouldn’t have hired the contractor to begin with.  Now is the time to be completely honest and upfront with your contractor and communicate daily.  I definitely feel communication is the first key to a successful remodel project.

  1. 1.       Expect a mess and then work to minimize it.  Contractors are often left shaking their head when a homeowner asks “why is there so much dust”.  If they are working inside your home, even with the best of precautions, floor protection and dust barriers, dust will still manage to get though, it doesn’t know to stop at the doorway.  Talk with the contractor before they start and ask what he will do to minimize the mess along with what you can do to help.  For example:  If a wall is being taken down, removing everything from the room prior to them arriving, and covering up items in nearby rooms especially electronics and computers.  It certainly will help control the dust and mess and the contractor will appreciate the fact that you are helping out by doing your part. 
  2. 2.       Know what you want.  Most contractors go into the job with a schedule based on the projects scope of work and products selected.  Everything has lead time, so although it may seem like changing your mind or not meeting the contractors schedule for deciding on the type of flooring or countertops you want in your new kitchen, it can wreak havoc on a contractors schedule.  It may cause a delay in your project by days or weeks.  You cannot install the wood trim until the flooring is installed and if you don’t know what you’re doing on the countertop, you cannot schedule the plumber to install the sink or dishwasher.  Sure there is always a solution, but in the end, it just cost additional time and possibly money.  Do your part and make your selections early and on time.  
  3. 3.       Be prepared for delays.  If you have spent time watching HGTV you may have an unrealistic idea on how easy it may be or how long a project may take.  A major project cannot be done in one hour and in those shows, Keep in mind that behind the scenes there are many craftsmen and assistants working off camera.  If you are doing a bathroom remodel there may be days when it seems like not much work has been done.  Well sometimes that is true.  The contractor may hang the sheetrock in one day and put on the first coat of drywall mud.  The following 3 days they may only spend about two hours a day on your project due to drying time in between coats with nothing else to do until it is complete.  Working outside there may be weather related delays.  The siding may be all done on the new addition but it is simply too cold or raining to paint.  It’s always best to be patient and wait for the appropriate weather.  The end result will always be better and probably last longer.   
  4. Your job may cost more than you expect.  Make sure you talk to your contractor about your budget, we all have one right? If you communicate well with the contractor what your overall max budget is, they will work with you to help you meet that budget.   Expect your project to cost more and plan on about a 10% contingency fund.  If you were financing the project your bank will more than likely require you to have that anyway.  The contractor doesn’t have X-ray vision, so if they uncover rot damage it will need to be repaired and it will cost you more.  You may also expand your scope of work or may choose products that are more expensive than your allowances.  Sometimes the scope of work changes, sometimes the budget changes, and a good contractor will work very hard for you to blend the two the best they can.
  5. Communicate, communicate, and communicate.  Many homeowners feel like they need to be home and hover, watching what the contractor is doing every hour of the day just in case the contractor or workers are not clear on what is to be done or have questions.  More than not, this actually has the opposite effect.  Remember you hired a professional and you need to give them their space.  No one likes someone looking over their shoulder all day long while they are working; it is very uncomfortable and actually can be a safety hazard.  I have found the best way to communicate is what I call “low-Tech” email.  This is simply a spiral note book that is left out in a common area in the home that both the homeowner and contactor write in every day throughout the project.  All the pages are left in the book and in the end of the project you will have a “journal” of the project.  You will also have backup and do not have to rely on memory two or three months after the fact trying to remember what was said or communicated.  Schedule a once a week one hour meeting with your contractor to review progress using the communication log as your agenda.  Do your best to schedule your meetings with your contractor during regular business hours, they will also appreciate that because they too have after work obligations with kids, dinner and well, the same thing everyone else has.
  6. Be a good customer.  One of the best ways to get quality work from your contractor is to make all the construction crew members enjoy working for you.  That means being friendly and accommodating with the workers in your home.  Call them by their first name and give them compliments as they are deserved, they will eat it up.  Most importantly, pay the contractor on time according to the terms of the contract.  Contractors have a lot of obligations with suppliers, sub-contractors, and employees and if you hold up the pay just because you “didn’t have time” to go the bank; it will only cause stress and can have a detrimental effect on attitude.  Often times our clients will go the extra mile as they get to know the crew and make cookies or give the workers a cup of hot coffee on a cold day.  That is good as gold as far as I am concerned, they will bend over backwards for you and more than likely do everything they can to do a fantastic job.


For more information, please give us a call at 360.705.2938 or visit us online at www.JohnErwinRemodeling.com