Secrets To Finding A Contractor You Can Trust
I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you have heard some nightmare stories about working with contractors. Maybe it has even happened to you! Sure enough, there are a lot of bad characters in the remodeling and contracting industry. Finding a reputable remodeler is not as scary as you might think.There are a lot of great contractors in the Houston area. You just have to know how to find them!
There are both good male and female contractors out there in Houston; but for the purposes of this article when I say “he” I mean “he or she”. This article will give you some practical tips and pointers on how to find a contractor and how to ask the right questions to find a “Pro” that is a good fit for you.
If you are lucky, you may have a friend who hired a contractor that they loved and recently did a project similar to what you want to do. Usually, you are not this lucky. If you don’t have a good place to start, I can suggest one: Professional Associations. Most people don’t know that there are two very good organizations that can provide you with a list of reliable contractors in the Houston area. One of them is NARI (National Association of Remodeling Industry). And the other one is GHBA (The Greater Houston Builders Association) Remodeler’s Council. You can find a list of good contractors on line by “Google-ing”: these organizations or you can call them directly. To reach the local NARI call Sheri at 713-621-6274. To reach Remodeler’s Council administrator, call Karen at 281-970-8970 ext. 171.
One of the useful and wonderful things about these associations is that they have already vetted good contractors for you! The fly-by-night contractors do not invest the money or the time to regularly attend association meetings or benefit from the continuing education they can get there. Association membership really does separate the reliable contractors from the “riff-raff” out there.
Another good tip is to ask about construction certifications. Most people don’t know there isno contractor licensing in Texas whatsoever. A man can get out of prison one day and call himself a contractor the next day! (And some of them do.) Both NARI and the Remodelers Council provide national certifications in remodeling and construction expertise. A contractor that is a member of an association and alsohas one or more of these certifications is going to be a solid, reliable contractor. These certifications have names like “Certified Graduate Remodeler”, “Graduate Master Builder”, “Certified Aging in Place Specialist” and “Certified Green Professional”. They require training, passing written exams and continuing education. Limiting your list to contractors that have one or more of these certifications will assure that you will have a good remodeling experience and be dealing with an honest company.
The following is a list of specific questions that you can ask over the phone once you have found a contractor or two to interview. Your time is valuable. It makes much more sense to ask a lot of good questionsbefore a contractor comes out to your home, rather than getting 3, 4 or 5 bids from people that end up mostly being unqualified and worse – that you feel uncomfortable with when they arrive at your door. Time spent asking smart questions;on the phone first, is a much better way to go.
Here is a list of questions to ask contractors on the phone before anyone comes out:
- How many years have you been in the remodeling business?
- Do you have a fixed place of business? Are you working out of your home? Is your truck your office?
- Does your company have a website?
- Are you a member of the BBB?
- Are you an accredited member of the BBB? (even better)
- Is your company certified by the EPA to do lead paint testing, and lead-safe practices? (This is a Federal law and is required of all contractors.)
- Do you do the type of project that I need done on a regular, steady basis?
- Is most of your work in this part of town?
- Do you have any similar jobs going on that I could go take a look at?
- Can you provide me with a list of customer references for jobs similar to mine?
- How often do you do repeat projects for the same families over a period of years?
- Do you carry General Liability Insurance? If so, how much?
- How are your projects scheduled?
- How are your projects supervised?
- How often are you on the job?
- Do you have a written warranty? Can I get a copy ahead of time?
- Do you provide a detailed written estimate?
- Can you send me a sample written estimate similar to mine?
- Do you have any ratings online for your services?
- Can you give me references from vendors or suppliers?
- Do you have a company profile about your business?
- What is your education level?
- Have you ever been sued or taken to arbitration by a client?
- Have you ever had a sub-contractor file a lien on any projects?
The smart, easy thing to do is to call the Better Business Bureau at 713-868-9500. You can also check a contractor’s rating (A thru F) on the BBB website. Limit your search to “BBB Accredited” businesses, with an “A” Rating.
USING ON-LINE REVIEWS:
Before inviting a contractor out to your home, check him out at these on-line locations:
Most responsible, professional contractors will be happy to provide you with a list of references at the first meeting. Once you have obtained references call at least two of them.
Here is a list of questions to ask of references when you call:
- What were the workmen like?
- Were they polite and respectful of your home?
- Did they keep your home neat during the work?
- Was there always an English speaking person on the job?
- Was trash hauled off in a timely manner? Where was trash stored?
- Did you feel that there was adequate supervision on your project or did you feel like you did most of the project management?
- Did contractor start and finish on time? Taking into consideration work that was added, delays due to weather, etc.
- Was the contractor’s estimate pretty accurate up-front or did he end up adding a lot of extras along the way that should have been included to begin with?
- Are you related to the contractor? (Some contractors put family members on the list as fake references.)
- When you called the contractor with questions, were you able to get through easily,and get helpful answers to your questions?
After you have answers to these questions, narrow your list and invite yourtop two contenders to your home to do a walk-through. Show them the project. Be prepared to talk about your budget so that a lot of time isn’t spent doing estimates that will never happen.
Watch the contractor and see if he performs in a professional manner:
- Did he bring a camera to take pictures?
- Did he bring a clipboard to take notes and a tape measure?
- Did he take measurements? (Or did he walk around and hem-haw his way through the meeting?)
- If your project is an indoor project, like a kitchen or bathroom remodel, did he take off his shoes at the door to show respect for your home?
- If you have an opportunity at the end of the meeting, walk out to his truck and look in the window. Is it reasonably neatly kept? Or does it look like a bomb went off? This could be what your home looks like after the remodeling starts.
- Do you feel that he was a good listener?
- Did he provide creative ideas that indicated that he had knowledge and experience about your type of project?
- THE MOST IMPORTANT THING OF ALL:Follow your gut instinct. Are there any red flags about this person? Do you feel like you could work through problems on the job with this person when they arise?……. because they will.
Remodeling is always going to have its challenges and stressful moments. Be sure that you pick someone you can work through the rough times with. Ask how long it will take to get a written estimate back to you, and note the date on the calendar. Contractors that are busy may be a little late, but if it is weeks late or they never respond at all, obviously that is a big red flag reason not to work with them.
OK…now you have interviewed contractors and had visits at your home with a couple of them. Let’s fast forward to when you receive the estimates. You can tell a lot about a contractor by the organization of his estimate.
HOW TO REVIEW THE ESTIMATES:
- Did the contract look well organized?
- Is there a detailed description of the work? (or just general categories like “plumbing”, “framing”, etc.)
- Are there allowances (assumed, reasonable amounts) for things that have not been selected yet, such as tile, granite, appliances, shower door glass, etc.?
- Does the contract make it clear what is NOT included? Most contractors will have the homeowner select and purchase decorative items such as towel bars, toilet paper holders, cabinet knobs, etc.Most contractors do not pay for surveys, soil testing, sprinkler system repairs, and landscaping or POD storages. Be sure it is clear who is providing what.
- Does the estimate have a proposed start date and written duration?
- Does the estimate have a fair payment plan that ties payments for the work to visible milestones of progress on the job? Don’t be duped into paying one-third or one-half down on a project so that a contractor can “go purchase materials”. A reputable contractor should be financially stable enough to buy materials at the start of a job. One exception to this is custom fabricated items, such as custom cabinets, special windows, etc. These things are usually paid for up-front by the contractor, so expect to pay something up front for these. Learn more about paying your contractor.
- Is there a written procedure for closing out the job? This means; is there a formal, final walk-through, to create a final touch-up list. This list should be made and completed before the final payment is requested by the contractor.
DURING THE REMODELING PROCESS:
Once work begins, there are some smart things that you can do to assure a smoother remodeling process.
- Ask for and attend a weekly meeting with your contractor.
- Discuss and take notes about the job status and the schedule for the week.
- Make sure there is a clear understanding of how “change orders” will work. Change orders are the written paper trail documenting items of work that a homeowner may add during the process of remodeling. Almost every remodeling project has one or more change orders. All change orders should be made in writing and signed off by you, the homeowner. Sometimes, the initial request is made by phone (for example, your contractor calls you at work to tell you that some rotten framing was found inside your shower wall, you then approve the cost verbally and the work begins).Immediately after that, a written change order should be created by your contractor and sent to you to sign in a week or less following that conversation, so there are no surprises at the end of the job. Most reliable contractors that I know collect payment for change orders at the time that they are signed, because the added work is usually being done right then and it creates extra work to stop and re-schedule things around it.
- Let your contractor know early on if there is a problem on the job. Inform him what the issue is and ask him for an explanation, rather than approaching him in an accusatory tone. Many times there is a rational reason why a certain action has been taken. It turns out not to be a mistake, but rather something had to be done that way, or it is a better idea.
- Designate one spouse or member of household to be the key decision maker, so the contractor can get clear decisions. I can tell you from experience that I have done projects where the husband and wife did not see eye-to-eye on much of anything and it became very difficult to get decisions made, such as which paint color to put up on the walls.
- Keep the lines of communication open. This has gotten much easier with email and texting, but if your contractor is a poor communicator, (i.e. ifhe doesn’t return your phone calls or emails), then the technology is not going to change that character trait. Like in a good marriage, if you get mad, meet face to face and talk it out. Do not just give him the silent treatment, or allow him to do the same.
CONCLUSION: Keep your eye on the prize:
Remodeling is truly a roller-coaster ride for everyone concerned. Every project is different and new challenges and new thrills are sure to come along the way. Hiring a contractor that you trust and can get along with will make a huge difference in your stress level and in the financial cost of the project. As you ride the roller-coaster of remodeling, remember to focus on the beautiful results that will be!
Realistically, not all contractors are going to meet all the requirements in the article. Your job is going to be to ask as many good questions at the start, so that you can find the best contractor that is a “good fit for you”. YES, this takes a little more of work on your part, but it will pay off in spades!
If you stick to hiring certified contractors who are members of NARI or the GHBA Remodelers Council your chances are much higher that you will have a wonderful experience, and even hire the same contractor again and again for future projects! I hope this has been helpful and has provided some practical tips to finding a great contractor to do your remodeling project!