by Jane Noble
Sep. 14, 2016
You have decided to remodel your kitchen and you want most of the work to be handled and coordinated by a contractor. Choosing the right contractor will take away a lot of potential pain and actually add some pleasure to the process. Your aim is to have a love affair, not a bad marriage that ends in divorce!
To start with, download our Essential Steps to A Happy Remodeling Experience
For a large job like a kitchen remodel, it is paramount that you are able to communicate clearly with your contractor. “Contractor speak” should not seem like an alien language. Narrow your choice to three contractors. Three is a manageable number and makes it easier to compare. Conduct interviews with each of them and have your questions well prepared. And don’t make the first one – how much is this going to cost? This question, vital though it is, should only come once you have set the parameters and specifications.
When you ask a sensible question, what kind of response do you get?
Patronizing: “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. Just leave it to me!”
Over complicated: A long technical explanation that makes the job sound far more difficult than it is and seems as if the aim is to bamboozle you, not inform.
Monosyllabic: Just the odd grunt! Does it feel like you are pulling teeth rather than asking whether you can have a 24 bottle wine cabinet incorporated into the design?
Rushed: Do you get the feeling the contractor wants to rush you through your questions, and quickly gloss over many of them, or is he patient and attentive?
You need to be on the same page and feel comfortable to discuss any problems that arise during your remodel - because they will arise.
Following on from communication, see if the contractor is happy to give you a weekly progress report. This will keep you sane and shows a communication commitment on the contractor’s part. It will also prevent big, nasty surprises at the end.
Check out the credentials of the contractors you are considering. Do they have all the required licenses and bonding from the state and local municipalities? Are they willing to show you their business license and their workers’ compensation and insurance coverage? Does your project require a permit and will they handle that?
Do the contractors belong to all the important remodeling groups such as NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry), NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) or NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders)? Membership shows a desire to keep up with ever changing trends, issues and legislation within their business
There is a comfort factor in choosing a company that has a track record of success and has been around for some time.
Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful referrals a contractor can have. Ask your friends and neighbors whom they would recommend based on their own experience. Ask not only whether they were happy with the end result, but also how any problems were handled. These recommendations are more reliable than anonymous reviews.
Find out what recent jobs the contractors have undertaken in your area and whether they can give you a list of references. Bear in mind that even if a client is spectacularly happy with a renovation, he or she may not want her privacy and precious time disturbed by acting as a reference. This makes it difficult for the contractor. A former client may be more willing to communicate with you by email and send you pictures rather than give out a phone number or actually invite you to see the project.
If you have a good friend who is a contractor, and you want to remain friends, then you may want to choose elsewhere. Just consider how it will affect your relationship if you are not happy with the work? What about if you have to complain? Will you feel comfortable being tough in discussions about money? Will you feel awkward refusing to act as a reference afterwards? I have had too many sour experiences using friends in all walks of life. On the one hand, you want to support them, but be prepared to deal with a worst-case scenario.
Once you have supplied the contractor with detailed specifications, is he happy to give you a written estimate that gives a clear description of the work to be undertaken and the cost of materials and labor? If a contractor does not want to give you anything in writing, this should be a red flag.
Does the contractor offer a reasonable payment schedule? The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) states that the deposit should be no more than 10% or $1,000.00, whichever is less. This is usually paid upon signing of the contract. It is normal to pay a further 25% of the contract value before your contractor orders items such as kitchen cabinets. The next payment of around 35% is usually paid before major work begins and the final 30% upon completion. Your payment schedule should be mutually agreed upon before the contract is signed. If the contractor asks for much more money up front, this may reflect a less than stable financial position.