This is the most common question I get asked... so let's dive into what I know about finding contractors. I will start by defining some terms:
A General Contractor is a project manager responsible for your whole project from start to finish and oversees all the subcontractors involved in completing it. A General Contractor will take on the following responsibilities:
Surveying the existing conditions or your home to note any potential obstacles
Reviewing architectural and interior design drawings and specifications to understand the scope of your project.
Presenting a bid for the complete cost of constructing and managing your project including the cost of all subcontractors.
Presenting you with a schedule for your project.
Documenting all of the above with a contract before construction begins.
Sourcing and managing subcontractors throughout construction.
Ordering and managing materials throughout construction.
Reporting progress as well as any changes to your schedule and budget as your project progresses.
A Subcontractor is a worker who specializes in a particular trade and is contracted under your general contractor. A subcontractor will report to your General Contractor on scope, schedule, and budget. It is your general contractor's responsibility to ensure that your subcontractors adhere to your design drawings/specifications, that they stick to an agreed-upon schedule, and that they work within a budget. Your subcontractors will include trades like:
Hardwood Install or Refinish
Counter Top Fabrication
Mirrors and Glass
A Design/Build Contractor is a general contractor with an architect and interior designer in-house to act as a one-stop shop. There are Pros and Cons to choosing a design/build contractor. The benefit is that you are hiring a team that should have very effective communication because they are all under one roof. In addition, you should be able to avoid finger-pointing between your design team and your contractor.
The drawback is that you will not get to choose your design team; you will be limited to the designers your contractor has on staff. Suppose you are looking for a designer with a specific aesthetic. In that case, this may be a drawback, and the designers who work for design/build firms (generally, but not always) tend to be more junior in their experience level. Craig and I both started our careers in-house as a design-build contractor.
A good way to get the best of both worlds is to find an architect or interior designer you are excited about working with and ask if they have a long-standing relationship with a good contractor. This will help to ensure that the team members know each other well enough to have good communication and accurate expectations about responsibilities.
Now for the search! Here is a list of my best tips:
Approach contractors with a clear scope of work in hand. At the very least, this means writing down a list of what you want done (or see the scoping worksheet in my Remodel Jump Start Book). In the best-case scenario, this means approaching contractors with a set of architectural or interior design drawings and specifications.
Understand your priorities and pay for what is important to you. If a general contractor is what you are looking for, know that they come in many varieties. Some have a fancy office where they will meet with you in a conference room and offer you a cup of coffee, while others work out of their truck. Both can be great contractors depending on your priorities, but don't lose sight of the fact that you are hiring a manager to manage a very complex project. Craig and I take on a lot of the management of our projects because we know what decisions we need to make and when. For this reason, we are happy to pay less for a contractor who provides less project management. If you have a busy job, a family, and no construction experience, this model might be a terrible fit for you.
Ask lots of questions! In fact, I would recommend taking a minute before you reach out to a contractor to write down all your questions (or see the key questions list in my Remodel Jump Start Book). You will learn a ton when you interview a good contractor. They will ask many good questions about the technical aspects of your project. Write these down and use them to have an even more effective conversation with your next potential contractor.
Ask your contractor for a list of homeowners they have recently worked for. Call the homeowners and see if they are happy with the work performed by the contractor. Ask them what they wish they knew before they started.
Get referrals! Ask your neighbors, friends, and family who they have experience working with. A warning not to use a particular contractor can be as valuable as a referral. Try making a post on your social media accounts or search in local online forums. You can find groups on Facebook focused on remodeling in your area.
Use online resources like houzz, yelp, craigslist, and angi (angieslist). Carefully read reviews posted by others.
Check if The Master Builder's Association, The National Kitchen and Bath Association, or other professional organizations are active in your area. These organizations typically publish a roster of members and often give awards yearly to outstanding contractors. A contractor who is engaged in these associations is usually one that has some longevity in the industry.
As you drive around your neighborhood, pay attention to signage on trucks and vans and posted in yards. Personally, I am a job sign junkie. I am always paying close attention to who is working in my neighborhood, who has a nice-looking signposted, whose job site is neat and tidy, and whose project has an active crew working every day. You may even go talk to the homeowner and see how the project is going.
Talk to the salespeople while shopping for materials for your project. If you are keen on purchasing a particular brand of flooring, windows, or cabinetry, ask the salespeople at that showroom which contractors they love to work with. A contractor with great communication with their vendors will likely have great communication with clients as well.
Ask an interior designer or architect! Interior designers and architects work with general contractors every single day. A lousy contractor makes their life as miserable as it will make yours, and a good contractor makes their work shine! Most designers will have a well-educated opinion on who you should consider.
BONUS TIP: Adjust your expectations. Remodeling a house is very complex. The process never goes entirely perfectly. Plan into your schedule that there will be some delays, and plan into your budget that there will be some overages. Look for a contractor that will proactively help you find solutions when these things happen.
P.S. If you found this information helpful, you will love my upcoming book. You can pre-order it here!
Whenever you're ready, I would love to help you remodel or build your dream home! Here are 4 ways we can work together:
My free Live Material Board Workshop is a great place to start! In just one hour, you will have the design for your dream home materializing on paper!
My new book, Remodel Jump Start is packed with 100 pages of valuable information and worksheets to help you create a plan for your design, budget, and team!
Save yourself hours of research with my Remodel Resource Guide! I have compiled all my favorite suppliers for things like flooring, countertops, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, cabinets, and hardware...
When you're serious about starting your remodel or new home, come spend six weeks with me, and I will walk you through the interior design of your project using my signature interior design program!