Shopping for the right home building or remodeling contractor is a lot like shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. Whether you’re a guy or a gal, when you score the perfect pair, you’ve usually found shoes that: one — you’re comfortable wearing and that perfectly complement your stylistic sensibilities, two — are affordable to regular people, three — are durable enough to stand the test of time, and four — include some assurance that you can depend on the product you’ve just purchased. A good benchmark of success? When you find a truly great pair of shoes, as with scoring a great contractor, others who are in the market, themselves, will wonder where you found such a treasure (and will usually ask)!
So why is it important to feel as comfortable with your contractor as you do in a good pair of shoes? Because you want to be free to roam about, as needed. In ‘constructionland’, this means you want to be free to communicate with your contractor without feeling intimidated. A great contractor will assure you that no question is too dumb to ask, and will make sure that before any work is completed, you share the same, clear vision of the end goal — from materials used to specific, stylistic choices. In many cases, if a contractor is truly listening to client needs and goals, he’ll be able to help finalize a suitable vision that may have started out only a vague concept.
Feeling comfortable communicating with a contractor will also mean you feel comfortable talking about the oft-dreaded topic of cost. While your budget for a quality pair of shoes may be, say, seventy-five dollars, your budget for the bathroom you’re finally ready to update after diligently scrimping and saving may be seventy-five hundred dollars, or your budget for a small, new, turnkey home may be seventy-five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of dough! That’s why it’s paramount you are able to talk freely about costs with your contractor. Additionally, on the excellent advice of the SBA (Small Business Administration), always get a contractor bid in writing.
In the perfect world, people would: Choose to have work completed, get a few bids, choose a contractor that feels right and that fits the budget; then, when all is said and done, everyone walks away smiling at a job well executed – without incident. In the real world, however, that is not always how things unfold – and by no fault of anybody, in many cases. Often times, work scope can change unexpectedly – for a number of reasons. In these cases, you have to feel comfortable that your contractor is honest, and will adjust fees that appropriately agree with any change orders (meaning a change in contract terms when/if job scope changes during the project-completion process).
Whether the project changes along the way or not, the final result should be the same… quality. Just as with a pair of shoes: Do your research to ensure the brand you’re getting. In other words, if you get four bids and one of the contractors bidding the project is your cousin’s best friend, Bob, who does construction “on the side, at dirt cheap rates!”… be prepared for the possibility that you may be paying that money (initially saved with Bob) back to the pied piper later. According to Consumer Reports (2009), another predictor of the quality and durability of a contractor’s work is to check the references of other, happy homeowners for whom the contractor has previously completed work (preferably several months to a year prior – so you can assure the previous clients not only had a good experience with the contractor himself, but also with his work). If a contractor doesn’t want to provide references — for any reason — move on down the list.
Finally, as long as you don’t walk outside or get schmutz on them, shoes usually come with a built-in return policy that ensures — “Hey, if these shoes prove to be lemons, or are faulty in any way — we’ll honor our sale.” Make sure your contractor is insured. Even reputable, highly-skilled contractors can make mistakes. Licenses provide extra peace of mind but aren’t always necessary. Insurance is.
By combining the above tips with a good-ole-fashioned “gut sense” when shopping for a quality contractor, hopefully you can save enough money in the end to buy that next great pair of shoes in two colors!
Consumer Reports: “Choosing a contractor,” last reviewed: June 2009
Small Business Administration: “Choosing a Contractor.” http://www.sba.gov/content/choosing-contractor.