Working with a Contractor: What You Should Know

Hiring the right contractor and building a good relationship will be paramount in the success of your renovation project. A bad contractor and a bad plan has left many homeowners holding the bill when their projects go badly. There are a few steps you can follow to help your renovation proceed smoothly and give you confidence that you’ve hired the right contractor.

Have Your Plan Ready

Before you even Google contractors in your area, have your renovation plans ready. If you ask someone to paint you a picture of a tree, you might get a picture of a tree, but if you want them to paint you a picture of a six-foot maple tree in spring, you need to communicate exactly what you’re looking for. This is true for your design ideas. You need a clear vision of what you expect your finished product to look like. If you can’t tell your contractors what you expect of them, they can’t, in good faith, promise to deliver it. It is not their job to fill in the blanks. You’ll also need to provide detailed plans and specific wants for contractors to be able to accurately quote for the work.

Ask for Referrals

Ask family and friends for referrals. This is the best way to get real information about what it’s like to work with a particular contractor. Interview a few and do your due diligence. If you’ve met a contractor you like, go further by checking that their licensing and insurance is up to date and will cover the work they will be performing for you. Call their references. When you can, go see some of their work for yourself, pictures might look great but an in-person look will give you a much better idea of the product they can deliver. It’s also common that they will use subcontractors for some of the work like an electrician or tile layer. Ask who they use and do similar research on these subcontractors.

Set Clear Expectations

Put your expectations on paper. Have a paper trail for everything; it’s better for both you and your contractor. Detail all aspects of your project, your start date and your expected completion date. Have it in writing when you are expected to make payments. It’s wise to make a payment schedule based on completed work rather than a calendar date. This will keep you from making payments on a stalled project. Also detail how you will handle issues or changes that come up, as they inevitably will. As these changes come up, make sure they are well documented and signed by both parties. You’ll also want to make sure your contractor is making you aware of any requirements for inspections and surveys and are providing documentation when these steps are complete. It’s also important that you understand how your contractor calculates their costs, what they expect to spend on materials, subcontracting and overhead, and how they mark it up for their profits. It’s your money and you have a right to know how it will be spent. Finally, ask your contractor how they will prepare for the project and how they will clean up afterwards. If your home is left looking like a construction site, you’ll be spending additional money to have it cleaned up.

Be Present and Professional

It’s likely you will be spending a fair amount of time with your contractor but it’s important to keep the relationship professional. This will make it easier to address issues head on when they arise. 

Some contractors might prefer to get your deposit and not see you again until the job is done, but you need to be present and active in your renovation for many reasons. 

For starters, you’ve interviewed and hired only the contractor, but he will have his own employees working in your home as well. Be sure to meet these workers when they are on site and see the job they are doing in your home. 

Go with your contractor when they are buying your materials or buy them yourself. This way you’ll know that you’re getting what you want and what you paid for. If flooring is discounted, you should see those savings. Additionally, it’s advisable to do your own measuring as well. If you need 20 square feet of tile but your contractor buys 30, you'll likely end up with a lot of material you’ve paid for and don’t need. Alternatively, if your contractor quotes for the cost to hang drywall for 12-foot-high ceilings and they are actually 12 feet 6 inches, you’re going to see additional costs when the mistake is discovered. 

Check on the progress of the work regularly and inspect progression before making your next payment installments. This will help you address issues as they come up rather than dealing with many problems when the project is supposed to be complete. Take photos of the work as you go to keep for your records.

It takes a lot of saving, careful planning and budgeting to renovate your home, and hiring the right contractor will be essential in making sure this hard work doesn’t go to waste. The relationship you build with your contractor is very important as they will have the ability to turn your home renovation dreams into reality or into a nightmare.