Here comes that feeling. Your throat feels tight, your stomach is in a knot, and you are beginning to realize you’ve made a mistake. You did your research when choosing a contractor for your kitchen remodel. You crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. Or at least you thought you did. But now you are standing in the middle of your demolished kitchen and your contractor won’t return your calls. What are you going to do?
How could this have been avoided? Should you have used Angie’s List? Yelp? Home Advisor? Even then, good folks with good ideas of how they would like to improve and beautify their slice of suburbia often find themselves in the same situation. Staring in to the abyss of page 21 on Google, following links to the websites of contractors who all look the same; waiting for something to jump out at them and make it clear that this is the company that the prudent people in this town use. But it just doesn’t happen like that.
It shouldn’t be so complicated. All that most folks are looking for in a contractor is someone who shows up when they say they will, sticks closely to the budget, communicates, and finishes on time or communicates changes to the timeline when they occur. Yet, it still seems an insurmountable task to find a company fitting this description.
“Okay, what do I do?” The answer has a few layers. And even if you follow these steps, it’s no guarantee. But you’ll be off on the right foot at least. And the best thing you can do is stack the cards in your favor. Let’s get into it.
Look for red flags
Are you able to get ahold of them? Do they seem unmotivated to come and meet you at the job site? Contractors are busy. I don’t mean to suggest that you ought to pass over a prospective contractor for your job if they don’t call you back as eagerly as your first boy friend did when english class let out. But if getting on their calendar is like trying to clip your dogs nails on the 4th of July, what makes you think they will finish your job on time and on budget if you hire them?
When you meet them in person to walk your job, how do they make you feel? Do you feel anxious and suspicious of their expertise? Or do they seem confident and caring about what you envision for your project? After your first meeting, write down their company name and a few key words describing how you felt in the meeting. If you are a prudent home owner, you have at least a couple more contractors coming to meet you. In which case, you can compare these little notes when considering your final pick.
In the whole process of correspondence, scheduling that first meeting, walking your property, there are many small opportunities to learn a lot about what kind of experience it will be with a particular contractor if you were to choose them for your job. Look for the red flags.
Ask the right questions
You’re not a home construction expert. Shouldn’t it be the job of the contractor to help you ask the right questions? Well, sure that would be a very good sign in a first meeting. Take note of that if it happens! However, you should arm yourself with the proper questions going into your first meeting and you will be well equipped to put this potential contractor to the test. Do they have an answer? Does their answer sound like something your 8 year old son would come up with to try to explain why the dishwasher is pumping soap suds onto the kitchen floor when you know he obviously put dish soap in it? You will get a good read on whether this is a competent tradesman based on how smoothly this goes. But what questions should you ask? Obviously some of your questions may need to be very specific to your project. But here’s a primer:
- What challenges could arise? “If we remove this wall, or relocate this sink, or add these can lights, are there possible situations that you’ve run into that we should be prepared for?”
- Are you insured? “If my home is damaged during the process, do you have the insurance to guarantee the repairs?”
- What is the timeline for starting and finishing this job? “Roughly when could you reasonably begin, and when would you expect to be finished with this job?”
- Do your employees have workers’ compensation? “If one of your workers is injured on site, do you have them covered by workers comp?”
- Can I have a written contract? “Can we please have a written agreement regarding the aspects of this job such as processing change orders, communication, payment processing, and completion?”
Ask a friend
This is the easiest and most reliable way to get off on the right foot! Who did your friend’s use for their kitchen remodel that turned out so nice? How was their experience working with them? Would they recommend them? You can sift through a lot of shallow prospects with this simple move. Polling a friend on their experience with a company that you might hire is like peeking behind the curtain at what is really going on with them.
If you do not have a vast network of friends with newly remodeled homes in your area, ask the realtor who helped you purchase your home! Did you rent before you became a homeowner? Ask your old property manager. Who do they use when one of their customers’ house floods and the drywall all needs to be cut out and the floor replaced? Put your feelers out and take your time. This is an expensive decision and not one that should be made impulsively. In the bible, Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” To set yourself up to succeed in smoothly getting your dreams from Pinterest to reality, surround yourself with good counsel. You certainly have nothing to lose by doing so.