Finding a reliable contractor will be top of mind if you’re considering home improvement or critical repairs. Renovations can be done poorly or suffer lengthy delays without trustworthy professionals.
Even with a good contractor, home renovation can become challenging or expensive, and you need all the support you can get. As one of the top mortgage lenders in the US, Mr. Cooper has weighed in to help us determine the key steps to take when beginning home renovation. How you renovate a home – and what it costs you – can have an impact on the value of your home, so consider these tips before starting your renovation to find a contractor with the skills and professionalism you need.
Match the right contractor to your needs
For a better chance of success, begin by mapping out your repair or improvement needs and your goals for the project. Knowing the outcomes you want and how you want them achieved can help create a definite idea of the contractor that matches your home needs.
For instance, determine if your work requires a general or specialty contractor (also called a subcontractor). General contractors typically come on to major projects like a home extension or extensive redesign. In this role, they oversee the project and hire specialty contractors.
Specialty contractors are those that carry out specialized tasks in your project. They include plumbers, roofers, electricians, drywallers, landscapers, carpenters, etc. Specialty contractors can work individually on small-scale repairs like a roof replacement or home security system installation or alongside other subcontractors on a large project.
While you plan, also prepare to be flexible – your understanding of the project can change as you learn from the expertise of contractor candidates. In addition, you’ll learn what is possible in terms of materials, finishes, and timelines; let this information help guide your plan.
Starting your contractor search
With a plan in mind, you can move on to begin your search. Referrals from family, friends, and neighbors who have done similar projects are excellent resources. You’ll benefit from an honest review from someone you trust and an opportunity to see the contractor’s work with your own eyes.
Online sources like websites and review platforms are also helpful tools to start. Examples of platforms you can check include HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, and Yelp. Read the reviews to see the contractor’s reputation and if they are the right person for your job.
Be wary about online reviews, though. Stellar reviews are no guarantee that a contractor has the skills to deliver the exact outcome you require. Likewise, one or two negative reviews may not accurately assess the business unless there’s a track record of poor reviews over a long time.
Make a long list of prospective contractors that you might wish to take a closer look at. As you curate your list, check to see that each prospect:
- Has majority positive reviews/referrals
- Is located close to your home
- Has experience doing work similar to yours
Choosing from your options
Next, it’s time to winnow down your long list and create a shortlist of promising candidates to interview. To start, inspect the prospects on your list for the basics:
- Insurance: Ideally, the contractor should possess Workman’s Compensation and General Liability insurance. An insured contractor is not only a danger to those working with them; you may become personally liable for some of their actions, such as damage to a neighbor’s property.
- Licenses: Having the proper licenses showcases a contractor’s professionalism and credibility. It’s also a great indication of their expertise and knowledge about building codes and applicable permits.
- Complaints: You can find complaints about prospects on platforms like the Better Business Bureau or at the Attorney General’s office. While a single complaint can be a red flag, take the time to understand the context so you’re not ruling out candidates for spurious grievances.
- Mechanic’s liens: Outstanding debts or liens owed to subcontractors are the hallmarks of a contractor you want to avoid. If they have a history of owing subcontractors or suppliers, the odds are high that your project will suffer similar issues.
- References: Each of your prospects should be able to provide references of past clients, suppliers, and subcontractors they’ve worked with. Checking references provides a solid opportunity to learn about the quality of the contractor’s work and their reliability.
- Quote: Lastly, ask each contractor to provide a best-guess quote covering materials, fees, and expenses. Most contractors are happy to offer a free quote, while others will only do so after a fee. Discuss with the contractor to clarify their preference and if your budget can accommodate this.
You can ask questions on these items before or during the interview. While speaking with the prospects, also watch out for good communicators. A home renovation project is often a long and challenging process, and problems will arise from time to time. Your contractor should be able to keep the lines of communication open and work with you through the issues.
You should already have a good idea of what contractors are likely to meet your home needs. Despite this, it’s good to have a final shortlist of between three to five names to give yourself some wiggle room before deciding.
As you work your way towards a firm decision, there are a couple of things to tie up. First, have the contractor provide a detailed cost estimate to have a clearer idea of what the renovation will cost. While cost will likely form a critical part of your decision, keep an open mind as the contractor’s skill set and track record may be worth it.
Second, confirm that the contractor will be available to start your work during your expected period. The best contractors have steady work, so they might not be able to start right away. That’s why it’s always best to find a contractor and conclude with them between three to six months of when you’d like your project to start.
Finally, hash out the terms of the project and have the contractor draw up a detailed contract. A contract protects both you and the contractor so that the scope of work, payment arrangements, and procedures relating to change orders are clear to all parties.
To learn more about finding a contractor, the impact of renovations on the value of your home, or any other mortgage and home loan topics, check out the Mr. Cooper blog on the company’s website.