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 one self 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!

Remodeling University: Choosing a General Contractor

Choosing the right general contractor for your project is the single most important decision you will make with regards to your remodeling work. The scope of this subject far exceeds that of a single blog post, so I expect to revisit this issue several times in future posts.

For starters, why is this such an important decision?
– Unlike an ‘off the shelf’ item’ your project is yet to be ‘manufactured’. Yet, the ‘factory’ qualities are unknown.
– Once a general contractor is hired, you are no longer dealing with a regular business transaction. You are now a ‘hostages’ along for the ride.
– The contractor’s knowhow, expertise, notions regarding quality and ethics, financial strength and so forth – all critical to the success of your work – are all unknowns for the most part.
– The contractor’s demeanor under pressure and when problems arise (and they will) will greatly affect your experience of the project and ultimate outcome
– Cost overruns and time overruns, so pathetically common in remodeling, could adversely affect your family and you and are mostly contractor related
– The ‘value proposition’ or ‘what you are getting for your money’ is entirely hinged on the contractor you hire
– Of course, there are the nightmarish scenarios associated with unsavory, aggressive and/or underhanded contractors (that our industry is full of, regrettably), which often result in job-abandonment, walk-aways (with padded pockets and little work completed), liens being filed by unpaid vendors or subs and the like.

So it is clear why this is a critical decision. Why than, do so many homeowners fail to make the right, or at least the best choice?

Well, the blame here is shared, I believe, by both the contractors and the owners:
– Regrettably, some of the more shady and aggressive contractors out there are also some of the most accomplished companies as far as sales are concerned.
– Much like con artists that could be charming, charismatic and endearing, so are some of the salespeople working for such companies. It is almost too easy to be misled
– Mediocre contractors (and worse) compete on price alone. They would often be among the lower bidders
– Greed is a powerful motivator. Affordability is almost as strong. When homeowners want a more involved project than they can afford, they sometimes lose some common sense and better judgment when faced with a ‘great’ (read: too good to be true) bid.
– WIth so many contractors out there and with the ‘urban myth’ of the ‘get 3 estimates’ guiding homeowners’ hiring practices, odds are the homeowners choice for a contractor would be the wrong one.

For starters, I strongly recommend downloading and reading our free report: “The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make Before Remodeling that YOU must avoid”. You will find this report on our Home page ( at the top right corner.

Beyond that, read through our articles and elsewhere about best practices for hiring a contractor. You will find more about this right here, in future posts, so please feel free to come back.

Happy remodeling!

Remodeling University: Is this a good time to remodel?

You are exited about the prospects of a remodeled home. The kitchen remodeling you have been putting off for the past two years can not be delayed, the dated bathroom you have been dreading walking into is on its last legs, the addition to the family is imminent and the additional bedroom is not built yet. Inevitably you will soon find yourself asking the questions: “is this a good time to remodel?”

Many experts now say the answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

Why remodel now?
-The economy is in a recovery
-Remodeling costs are at record lows and already trending up
-Intrest rates (if financing) are at historically record lows.
-Home values hit bottom 6-9 months ago and are on a rebound
-Some projects qualify for soon to expire tax credit and other incentives
-You can still afford to choose the best contractors in your area

As importantly though, when a remodeling project is properly designed and executed, the rewards enjoyed by your family for years to come are priceless.
We can never recapture a day gone by, nor an experience lost. Put your family into that new kitchen, or bathroom or addition. Enjoy the enhanced quality of life and standard of living sooner rather than later. There may never have been a better time to ‘pull the trigger’ on a remodeling project.

Happy remodeling!