I think this is the most common question that Craig and I get asked... so let me expand a little on what we know about finding contractors.
First let's define some terms:
A General Contractor, is a project manager who is responsible for your whole project from start to finish and overseeing all the subcontractors that will be 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 the responsibility of your general contractor to make sure that your subcontractors are adhering to your design drawings/specifications, that they are sticking to an agreed upon schedule, and that they are working 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 who has an architect and interior designer in-house so that they 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 that your contractor has on staff. If you are looking for a designer with a specific aesthetic, 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 career in-house for a design build contractor.
A good way to get the best of both worlds is to find an architect or interior designer who you are excited about working with and ask if they happen to have a long standing relationship with a good contractor. This will help to ensure that the team knows each other well enough to have good communication and accurate expectations about responsibilities.
Now for the search! Here is a list of our best tips:
Approach contractors with a clear scope of work in hand. At the very least this means to write down a list of what you want done (or see the scoping worksheet in our Reno Roadmap course). 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 what your priorities are, but don't loose 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 our Reno Roadmap course). 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 who they has recently worked for. Call the homeowners and see if they were 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 certain 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 who are focused around remodeling in your area.
Use online resources like houzz, yelp, craigslist, and angieslist. Carefully read reviews posted by others.
Check to see 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 every year to outstanding contractors. A contractor who is active in these associations is usually one that has some longevity in the industry.
As you are driving around your neighborhood start paying attention to signage on trucks, vans, and posted in yards. Personally I am a job sign junkie. I am always paying close attention to who is out there working in my neighborhood, who has a nice looking sign posted, who's job site is neat and tidy, and who's project has an active crew working every day. Maybe even go talk to the homeowner and see how the project is going.
Talk to the sales people while shopping for materials for your project. If you are keen on purchasing a particular brand of flooring, windows, or cabinetry ask the sales people at that show room which contractors they love to work with. A contractor who has great communication with their vendors is likely going to have great communication with clients as well.
Ask an interior designer or architect! Interior designers and architects work with general contractor every single day. A bad 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.
Adjust your expectations. Remodeling a house is a very complex project that will never be managed absolutely 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 is going to proactively help you find solutions when these things happen.