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Remodeling University: Choosing A General Contractor

As noted before, the subject of how to choose the best contractor for your project is of critical importance. It is probably the most important decision you’ll have to make with regards to any substantial remodeling adventure. It is also a subject that is impossible to cover adequately in a single blog post. So here is the second installment;

Beyond the brouhaha of a sales pitch and independent of the appeal of low, or too-good-to-be-true quotes, an alert homeowner can find clues and telltale indications relating to the remodeling companies being considered. The challenge of course, is to ignore the pull of the ‘great’ low quote or the charisma of the persuasive salesperson long enough to be able to objectively evaluate these criteria.

1. Contract: educate yourself about what a complete and proper Home Improvement Contract should contain (in California, use the CSLB website). Ask the contractor for all his contract papers and compare to what’s required. You will often finds remarkable short falls in what the contractor’s contract looks like to what it needs to be. Note that these state mandated contract elements are there to protect you, the consumer.
2. Payment Schedule: Never, ever work with anyone that requires substantial sums ‘with commencement’ of anything (unless you are ordering a custom item, like cabinets). A good Payment Schedule is hinged upon Completion of stages of work, not commencement of them.
3. Success leaves clues: if the contractor is indeed professional, experienced and competent and has been doing this for a time – what does he have to show for it? Did he receive any awards? Any positive media recognition? Talk is cheap – the proof is what you need to look for.
4. Scope of Work: how detailed and complete is the Scope of Work? Worry of its not. Did you hear the sentence “don’t worry about it” once too often? Worry about it.
5. Portfolio of work: well, first many construction companies in Los Angeles (and I’m certain, elsewhere) don’t have a portfolio of their work, but may be doing great work. If you did not look through a portfolio ask and go look at projects (recommended at any event). The point here is about those who do show you a nice portfolio. Are these pictures of projects these contractors actually did or are these pictures off the internet, manufacturer’s brochures and so forth? A keen observer should be able to tell.
6. Deposit amount: are you being asked for an unreasonably high amount up front? That’s a big red-flag. In California, the deposit cannot exceed $1000 or 10%, whichever IS LESS!

These are just some quick examples of indications you might be heading into troubled waters. Remember that in remodeling the amounts involved are relatively large and the ‘entry threshold of membership’ is very low (it doesn’t take much to present oneself as a contractor or even to procure a license to be one). Together, these two factors are a recite for trouble.

A proactively cautious homeowner that is diligent and careful about any hiring decision will likely end up fairing better with regards to the project than those owners that are not.

Happy remodeling!

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