In a competitive real estate market, finding your move-in-ready dream home can be a challenge. A smart strategy might be to look for an affordable home that’s ripe for renovation. With the money you save on the purchase price — plus patience, planning, and the right contractor — you could transform that fixer-upper into the perfect home for you.
Renovating a home is a major undertaking but working with the right contractor can relieve some of the stress of planning all the moving parts — and can ensure you end up with the home you envisioned.
Consider these factors when selecting a contractor:
First, Know What You Want
What’s the scope of your project? Are you remodeling a kitchen, or will you be renovating multiple levels or expanding your home’s footprint with an addition?
If your project requires architectural plans, it’s a good idea to complete those before starting your project. A contractor can provide a more accurate bid when they have blueprints that show exactly what your project entails.
Even if you’re in the beginning stages of planning, it’s better to have specific ideas about what you want done before you start talking to contractors. Remember that contractors are not typically designers. Their job is to take your designs and make them a reality (one that meets standard building codes and passes inspection!)
Start by talking with family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have recently completed a home renovation and ask: If they had to do it all again, would they work with the same contractor? You can also talk to your real estate agent, home inspector, local lumberyard, or hardware store, all of whom can likely provide you with reputable local contractors.
Also check the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for a list of members in your area.
Interview 3 to 5 Contractors
Start with a phone interview and ask the following:
● How many years of experience do they have?
● Have they completed projects similar to yours, in your area?
● Will they provide a list of previous clients?
● What is their availability? How many other projects are they working on at the same time?
● How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
● Would you be working with the contractor directly, or a project manager?
Select the contractors you’re most interested in working with, and meet in person at the project site for further discussion.
Pay attention to the contractor’s responses and your gut instinct. Is their communication style a good fit for yours? You’ll likely spend a lot of time with this person, so it’s important you feel comfortable — that they’re answering your questions, and that your personalities are a good fit. Aside from the contractor’s technical skill and competence, your ability to form a good working relationship is top priority. If any of their responses send up a red flag, move on — it’s not worth it to work with someone you don’t trust.
Research the Contractor’s Credentials
Contractors and subcontractors must be licensed and insured according to state and local requirements, and they should be able to provide proof upon request. Contact their list of references and ask previous clients how their projects went and if they’re still satisfied with the results. Read online reviews as well, as they’re likely to provide unvarnished opinions from former clients.
In addition, check with the Better Business Bureau, your municipality, or other professional organizations to see if there’s a history of complaints, litigation, or bankruptcy filed against the contractor.
Get Multiple Bids
Choose at least three contractors who have seen the project site and with whom you’ve discussed in detail what the renovation entails. Bids should be in writing and at a minimum should break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins, and other expenses like permits or inspections.
A good rule of thumb is that materials will account for about 40% of the total cost, while a 15-20% profit margin is standard. Ask a contractor to explain figures that are very high or low compared to other bids.
The lowest bid doesn’t always mean it’s the right bid for your project — a too-low bid could mean a contractor is cutting corners or might make up the costs down the road with additional fees.
A good contractor who provides quality work at a fair market price will save you money in the long run and ensure that your renovation project runs smoothly.