How to Select a Remodeling Contractor
The remodeler you choose will likely be the biggest factor in determining the success or stress of your remodeling project. Select the right remodeler and you’re much more likely to be satisfied with your project and the remodeling experience. Select the wrong remodeler, however, and your project and remodeling experience could become one of those remodeling horror stories you hear of all too often.
Who is the “right” remodeler for you? Experience shows that you will be most satisfied most often with projects done by a remodeler who:
- Operates a legally compliant business
- Uses honest, fair and ethical business practices
- Has integrity and is trustworthy
- Believes consumers should be treated fairly
- Is competent, qualified and professional
- Has the skill, qualifications, and managerial ability to handle your project
- Matches your “comfort level” for how much risk you’re prepared to assume
We want to help you select the remodeler that is best for you and your project. That’s why we’ve put together the following list of some of the most important things to consider and questions to ask. You’ll find three sections — red flags, yellow flags and green flags. In each area, you can find the answers you need by looking at the remodeler’s website, talking to them on the phone, having an initial consultation and subsequent meetings. You should also review Greg Smith Company Guide: Establishing Your Home Remodeling & Contractor Priorities and Questions to Ask Homeowner References.
Here’s how to use this Remodeler Selection tool:
As you talk to the remodeler, ask plenty of questions and watch for RED FLAGS. If any one of these applies to the remodeler you’re considering, we recommend you disqualify that remodeler. If there are no red flags for the remodeler, move onto the yellow flag list.
The YELLOW FLAGS mean proceed with caution. If one or two or three are raised, it may be fine to proceed with that remodeler. But if there are too many yellow flags, you should probably protect yourself and remove that remodeler from consideration.
The GREEN FLAG list helps you look at the remodelers that made it through Red and Yellow Flag questions to see who is most qualified and the best fit for the project, your budget and you.
Any remodeler who raises red flags is one that we believe you should not consider further. If any remodeler fails to give a satisfactory response to even ONE of these items, we strongly recommend you disqualify them from consideration.
- The remodeler cannot show that they have a currently registered business and are currently licensed as a contractor to do the kind of work you are looking to have done.
- The remodeler is unwilling to provide you the street address of the business. It is okay if they use a PO Box for mail and it is okay if they work from their home as many small and midsize remodelers do, but you want to know they are indeed more than a mailbox should you ever need to find them.
- The remodeler is unable to show you proof of current insurance coverage for general business liability and that the insurance is of an amount satisfactory to you.
- The remodeler is unable to show proof that they provide workers' comp insurance for their employees and other workers on your project that they may be liable to cover. (Workers' comp helps protect you as well as the business owner and worker.)
- The remodeler is unable to show you proof of applicable licensing, business liability insurance, workers' comp, etc. from their subcontractors. Note that not every remodeling specialty is required to be licensed in all jurisdictions.
- The remodeler does not agree to provide you with lien waivers from the remodeler and subcontractors, materials and product suppliers.
- The remodeler does not pull building permits for projects when they are legally required to or asks you to take them out in your name. Not pulling a permit is illegal and means your work will not be inspected to assure that it meets building code. If the permit is in your name and the work does not pass inspection, you are responsible for it passing inspection. If the remodeler takes the permit out in their name, they are responsible for it passing inspection.
- The remodeler uses questionable (unfair, misleading, unethical, illegal, etc.) marketing tactics such as offering a Free TV, "$1,500 or 15% off" of a project when you have no way of knowing what the project would normally cost without the discount. If you got a flyer or coupon and it says to present it before an estimate is given to you, you surely don’t know if you are getting a discount or just getting had.
- The remodeler puts “undue” pressure on you to make a purchase decision immediately without giving you the time you need to think about it. For example, they may say the offer is only good until they walk out of your home, then the price goes up. You may in fact be ready to sign with a remodeler at the first visit and that is fine. But if the remodeler unduly pressures you, that should raise a red flag.
- The remodeler does not provide you clearly and in writing with the fact that on consumer contracts — such as most remodeling projects — there is a “cooling off” period (often 3 days) during which time you have the right to change your mind. Some unscrupulous remodelers may tell you, but ask you sign a waiver of your right.
- The remodeler won’t give you a reasonable number of client references for you to talk with, or the people they give you are difficult to contact or can’t be found.
- The remodeler wants the full payment up front.
- The remodeler will not allow a portion of the project to be paid after completion.
- The remodeler wants the payment made in cash, a check made out to cash, or to someone or a company other than the remodeling firm you are hiring.
- The remodeler gives you a price that is much lower than those you are getting from other remodelers whom you know to be legitimate and reputable. This could mean: the remodeler is “low-balling” and will find a way to increase the price later; the remodeler didn’t estimate the same project (same quality, quantity, materials, craftsmanship, etc.) as the others; or the remodeler doesn’t know how to estimate and might not be able to complete the project when they find they have priced the project too low.
- The remodeler appears to be on shaky financial footings. This could mean they may not be in business long enough to complete your project, pay their suppliers or stand behind their work.
- When you try to confirm business address, references, insurance, business license or other information the remodeler has given you (and you should verify it), things do not check out.
If the remodeler you are considering raises NONE of these red flags, proceed to the “Yellow Flags.”
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Unlike Red Flags, a single Yellow Flag probably shouldn’t disqualify a remodeler. But they do alert you to the chance that you may have a less-than-satisfactory experience. The more Yellow Flags, the more cautious you should be, and if there are several, you should indeed consider looking elsewhere for a remodeler.
- The remodeler arrives late, misses the appointment, shows up unkempt and appears to be unprofessional and unprepared.
- The remodeler does not have a website or has a website that doesn’t look professional or provide useful information.
- Your phone messages are not returned within a reasonable period of time.
- You feel the remodeler isn’t asking good questions about your project, taking notes, isn’t a good listener or simply isn’t “getting” what you are saying.
- The remodeler has other poor communication skills or you feel it will be difficult to communicate with each other.
- The remodeler has unresolved complaints filed with an organization like the Better Business Bureau or similar consumer protection organization from previous clients and these complaints are not in the process of being resolved.
- The remodeler appears to be “primarily” a carpenter but not also a seasoned business owner with the managerial and operational skills necessary to run a remodeling business, including managing projects and people, budgeting, estimating, etc.
- When you have questions or concerns, the remodeler’s responses are vague, unclear or unsatisfactory.
- When faced with a tough question, the remodeler seems to make up an answer on the spot instead of saying, “I don’t know the answer right this minute, but I will get right back to you.”
- The remodeler seems more interested in selling you something rather than in understanding what you are looking for, what problems you are trying to solve in your home, and your needs.
- There is no way to see previous work either on the website or in materials the remodeler brings to the meeting.
- What you see does not indicate the remodeler can do the level and type of work you are looking for.
- The remodeler’s business is new and does not have a track record and/or the owners do not have a track record of running or managing a remodeling company.
- Your gut tells you that there is not the right chemistry between you and the remodeler or that this is not the remodeler you want to trust with your home.
If the remodeler you are considering raises no or just a few Yellow Flags, proceed to the “Green Flags.”
If there are no Red Flags and few Yellow Flags, it’s reasonable to assume that the remodeler is one you can further consider to do your project. But is the remodeler properly qualified and the best choice for you, your project, and your budget? Here is a list of considerations to help you decide.
- Is the remodeler experienced with the kind of work you are looking for? (kitchen, addition, bathroom, whole house, custom home, energy efficient, green project, etc.)
- How many projects like yours has the remodeler done?
- Does the remodeler provide design/build services or does the firm estimate and build from your architect’s plans or will they work either way?
- Does the remodeling company (including management and staff) seem professional?
- Does the company (including management and staff) seem truly focused on customer satisfaction?
- Based on your discussion with references, how does the remodeler rate in terms of past client satisfaction?
- Does the remodeler use a third-party company like Guild Quality (an industry homeowner satisfaction survey firm) to measure client satisfaction, and if so how do they rate?
- How long has the company been in business?
- What percentage of the remodeler’s work is repeat or referral based?
- In terms of the owners and key people in the firm, do they belong to trade associations such as NARI and the Maryland Home Builders Association?
- What type of training, experience, and special expertise do the company and staff have relative to the project you are planning?
- Does the remodeler (or employees) have industry certifications such as CKBR and EPA Certified Renovator?
- How does the remodeler assure you that what they design can be built within your budget?
- What type of pricing does the remodeler offer? (Fixed Fee, Cost Plus, Time and Materials, other?)
- Does the remodeler guarantee your price? In what way?
- Does the remodeler offer a good warranty? What is it? How does it compare to others in the area?
- How many projects does the remodeler do a year and how many will the firm be doing while your project is underway?
- What is the remodeler looking for in a client?
- Can the remodeler describe the process they use to ensure a smooth, successful project and do you like it?
- In what ways will the remodeler help you through the entire process? What type of decisions will you have to make? Which ones can the remodeler help you with? Which decisions can’t the remodeler help you with?
- How often will the remodeler meet with you? Who from the firm will be meeting with you?
- Who will manage your project day to day? Who will be in charge of overall project management? What is that person’s experience, skill level, training, and certification?
- Will the owner of the remodeling company be personally involved with your project?
- What percentage of the project manager’s time will be devoted to your project?
- Will work continue 5 days a week until it is done? Or, will there be idle times (e.g., worker vacations, time spent on other projects)?
- What specific steps does the remodeler take to keep your home, possessions, and the jobsite clean and safe daily, weekly, and at the end of the project?
- How does the remodeler handle site security?
- Will there be someone on site all the time who speaks my language (or someone who can be called at anytime to interpret)?
- When can the remodeler start design?
- When can construction begin?
- How long will the project take?
- In terms of craftsmanship, what level of quality does the remodeler usually provide?
- In terms of general building materials, what level of quality does the remodeler use?
- In doing estimates, what level of quality does the remodeler factor in for the materials, products, finishes that will ultimately by chosen?
- Will the remodeler require you to make all product and material selections prior to giving a final price? If not, how does the remodeler estimate ‘allowances’ for things like tile, lights, appliances, etc.?
- What standards of quality, service, craftsmanship, and project management does the remodeler promise at the price that is being quoted for the project?
- What does the remodeler detail out in the estimate/proposal? (e.g., if allowances are used, at what level of quality?)
- Can the remodeler provide you 5 homeowner references?
For additional tools for selecting a remodeler, see Questions to Ask Homeowner References and Greg Smith Company Guide: Establishing Your Home Remodeling & Contractor Priorities.