This is by no means an exhaustive exposition on the subject. It is intended to be a starting point for those looking to hire a professional to work on their home.
Do your homework!
Before you call your contractor, sit down with your significant other (or those who will be participating in the decision making process and to the best of your current abilities and knowledge decide on a ballpark budget, general preferences and design that you would like to include in the project details. Some of this may change during the process, but make sure the decision making parties are on the same page before your contractor arrives for a consultation. The last thing you, or the contractor awkwardly standing in your living room, wants is an argument between you and your life’s companion regarding the scope of the renovations he/she is going to attempt to quote in the midst of growing ambiguity.
Have any pictures, sketches, ideas, drawings that will help you best communicate what you want to the contractor. The better you communicate, the better the contractor will be able to accurately quote the job.
Factors that influence pricing are as unique as the contractor who supplies the bid. Contractors have to make a living and their price reflects labor and material costs,insurance, retirement, taxes, continued education, quote and estimate times, etc. Let the contractor know if you are going to be seeking multiple bids and don’t call someone to give you a bid unless you are going to give them a realistic shot at performing the work. As someone who used to be a contractor (I went back to work as a foreman for another construction company) I often went to client meetings with homeowners, spend hours putting together a detailed written estimate- only to have the estimate used as a bargaining chip for price negotiations- with no realistic chances of actually getting a shot at completing the proposed work. Tire kicking basically. The profit margins in construction are not the fattest and it is a disservice to the contractor to do this
There is a wealth of information on best building practices from green building to framing to installing windows and doors and everything in between to be found at Fine Homebuilding and The Journal of Light Construction. Familiarize yourself with the processes, so at the least you will have a basic knowledge of what will be taking place.
Consider hiring an architect. An architect will walk you through the design process and also will often act as an advocate for you during the building process.
Remember: Your home is the most expensive investment you possess. You cannot afford to cut corners
Choosing your contractor:
Sites like Yelp and Angie’s list tend to be a crap shoot as visibility and good rating tends to be tied to a payment scale from the contractor. Their motives are often ulterior at best. Best to get referrals from friends or family. If you are friendless and your family is useless, go down to your local lumber yard. Get a contractor referral from them. Your local yard does not mean HomeDepot or Lowes! These are not good places to get a referral from.
Your relationship with your contractor is like any other relationship, it will be founded on the basis of mutual respect and trust. Openness, honesty, and conscientiousness from both parties. In earning your business, the contractor should be earning your trust.
Look for a contractor that you are comfortable with, someone you are confident will be a detail-oriented person placing value on hard work, integrity, and a job well done. Reputation is very important and should be reflected in the way that individual conducts themselves; on and off the job site. You want to be able to have a positive experience that you can look back on, the completed work and the interactions that you have had with the contractor, and be comfortable recommending that individual to others. The best interest of homeowner and the home should take precedence. A good contractor will be seeking to balance quality and price, a good job for a fair price!
Want to get the best job possible? Treat your contractor respectfully. Make your payments on time and in full. Keep your lines of communication open, visit the site often enough-but not to the point you are hovering.
Make sure the contractor you are using is licensed, insured and bonded.
This is critical. If you hire an unlicensed “contractor” and he jacks up your house, you will have little legal recourse. If the individual cuts corners in legal department, he/she is more likely to cut corners in the building department. Check with the state licensing bureau to see if the contractor in question has any claims against their bond or has been penalized for any reason. If the answer is yes, that should be something to bring up with the contractor.
Can you afford to be sued? What happens if a worker cuts off a finger? Falls from a ladder? Will your insurance company pay for his medical bills, his time off work, and any disability awards? Are you willing to take the risk that the nosy neighbor or an uninsured worker who accidently gets hurt on the job will not be suing you and lining the pockets of personal injury lawyers? You cannot afford to do business with a tradesperson without insurance.
Work to be done should be properly permitted. You do not want to run the risks of skipping the permit process.
Home inspectors who go over your home with a fine tooth comb if you ever decide to sell it in the future. If they look through the past records and determine you built without a permit, they’ll report that to the buyer and the value of your home sinks like a rock.
Insurance companies will often deny a claim because the work wasn’t done to code or completed without permit.
Municipalities can and will levy fines or force someone to remove a structure that was built too close to a property line, or wasn’t done under permit.
These are real concerns that have a huge bearing on the value of your home as well as the safety. The work your contractor completes will be subjected to a third party inspection process (while not fool proof, city inspectors are mostly competent). This will guarantee that, at minimum, the work will be done according to code, which is the starting point for quality. A permit is cheap insurance.
Contractor should also have a written contract (hence the job title of contractor). The contract dictates terms of behavior for both parties; it communicates expectations for the homeowner and contractor. This should include the following:
Do NOT arbitrarily go with the lowest bid. Especially if that quote is thousands less than the competitor. There will be a reason. You always get what you pay for. That is why you want a scope of work, so when you are comparing quotes you are comparing apples to apples. Some guys like to lowball the original price to get their foot in the door and then jack up the overall price with change orders that should have been included with the original quote. It could be that the low ball price means that the contractor is desperate and sometimes desperation can lead to corner cutting. This is not in your best interest. Focus on BEST VALUE, not lowest price.
Don’t lowball the contractor. If “getting the best deal possible” is of high value to you, be careful about the way that this is pursued! Don’t be disrespectful and communicate a lack of trust especially when the contractor had conducted him/ herself with honesty and integrity throughout the course of their interactions with you
The quote given you, along with corresponding scope of work, is exactly that: a quote. The quote dictates what is done, what materials are used and how the task is going to be accomplished. The quote price is not really negotiable. If the time estimate is off, or something is overlooked in ordering- it comes out of the pocket of the contractor as the price for the job has been fixed. Likewise, for you, if the price is not satisfactory to you, changes can be made to the scope of work or less costly materials will be substituted to bring the price down. If this is still not satisfactory you are welcome to seek out other quotes from tradespeople.