One of your biggest investments is your home. Hiring the right company to work on that investment is a crucial step in protecting it. We go to great lengths to research, hire, and assign financial advisors with growing retirement and investment accounts that will hopefully grow to fund retirement, lifestyle choices, education, weddings, etc. Well, why not put the same care and diligence into researching and hiring a firm to work on your home?
We have been in business for many years and have heard some horror stories when it comes to clients hiring contractors. We have heard everything from contractors sitting on living room furniture watching television, to contractors stealing money, jewelry, and even cars (yes cars!), to contractors taking money and vanishing. In a climate where more and more people are looking for work and new home builders are slowing down, the remodeling and renovation market is becoming saturated with people looking to make ends meet. This flooding of the market has caused a dip in quality due to a cutthroat bidding process where contractors are trying to underbid each other to secure work. But buyer beware, the cheapest price usually ends up being the most expensive while the middle to high prices generally tend to stay accurate and end up being the greatest return on your investment. Homeowners are often hooked by the low price, sign a vague estimate, and then hit with numerous upcharges. We end up dealing with this cycle on an almost daily basis. We have made the decision to use high quality materials, provide clear and detailed estimates, work with high integrity, provide superior craftsmanship, and develop a strong customer/contractor relationship built on trust and communication. We have heard on numerous occasions that our bid was one of the highest that a person received, but that contractor they ended up hiring ended up being more expensive than our quote even though they were initially the lowest. In fact, we have actually been hired to come in and fix work that was done by the contractor hired instead of us initially. One of the things we try very hard to do is provide an extensive estimate that covers every aspect of the project. Change orders are a natural part of the renovation and remodeling process. Materials and projects change as work is completed on a project. Additionally, homeowners may choose to add or eliminate items throughout a project.
One thing that can’t be taken into consideration during the bidding process are any “unforseens” that may arise throughout a project. For instance, if we remove sheetrock from a ceiling and find a cracked joist, the right thing to do is fix the joist, but there was no way that the crack could be seen during the estimate process. This would be corrected and added to the scope of the work through the change order process. By providing a detailed “work order” style estimate, we are able to provide a clear list of materials being used and the work being completed. This helps to eliminate speculation and misunderstandings as to what tasks should have been completed and what materials were going to be used. This ultimately helps us to provide a quote that does not fluctuate due to things that should have been thought of during the initial walk through/estimate. So while the quote might seem overwhelming at first, it’s important to look at the overall project to see if every aspect of the remodel is accounted for. If you are dealing with a contractor who offers a quick/low price or a general estimate like “remodel bathroom and tile shower,” you will most likely find that the overall price will increase as the project moves forward. The lowest bid is not always the best. By requesting a written description of the materials necessary for the job, it will allow you to compare apples to apples to see if the higher price really is a higher price. A low bid may indicate that a contractor uses sub-par materials, is desperate for work, or has underbid the amount of work necessary for a project.
One of the things that we have found is that potential clients tend to compare bids based off of price first when in reality, the scope of work and materials used should be compared first. By comparing that first, it will give you a proper gauge as to if the prices are, or should be comparable. In construction and remodeling, there are countless ways for contractors to cut corners and decrease their price. This is unfortunately becoming more and more of a reality with the increase of contractors in the remodeling industry. We recently bid an exterior painting project where our bid was slightly higher than the bid the homeowner ultimately went with. The homeowner did hire us to complete some carpentry and during the prep and priming portion of the project, the homeowner sent me some photos of additional areas that needed some carpentry. In the pictures, I noticed one major painting difference. In my quote, I had stated that we would prime the entire home with oil based primer. Oil base primer tends to penetrate and bond well onto wood surfaces. The contractor they chose, spot primed the areas that they scraped down. The house did not get a full primer coat. Although our price was higher, we were also offering a more comprehensive paint job which required more time and labor and would have the potential to last a longer amount of time.
Recently, I was shown some pictures of a renovation in progress where a heating and air conditioning duct needed to be moved because it was located in a wall that was being removed. The room being renovated was located on the first floor of a two story house, where living space was located directly above the room being worked on. It was a complete kitchen renovation project and the contractor did not pull any permits. Permits are REQUIRED for a renovation like that and often, contractors do not pull permits because they want to cut corners and save money which ultimately makes their bid cheaper than other contractors. In this case, the contractor was cutting a huge corner, and in my opinion, put the structure of the house at risk. The duct needed to be moved to a different area in the ceiling and the contractor cut out a u-shaped notch from the structural ceiling joists above so that the rectangular duct could be sunk into the ceiling. Out of a 2x10 ceiling joist, a cut of about 12 inches in length by about 7 inches high was cut into 5 total joists. The cut was made toward the middle of the room at the weakest part of the joist. This ultimately decreases the structural integrity from a 2x10 down to a 2x3. I cannot stress enough how big of an issue this is and the worst part is that the homeowner was unaware and was in a position where they needed to trust what the contractor was doing. The contractor took complete advantage of this and abused the relationship he had with his client, thus leaving his client in a house where the second floor structure was compromised. I’m sure that on the surface, the remodel looked “fine” when the contractor was finished, but as time progresses, I am confident that the above floor will sink causing major work to be completed in the future. In this case, the cheap price the homeowner received will ultimately come back to cause a greater expense in the future.
In addition to creating comprehensive “work order” style quotes, we have chosen to not double book our projects. One of the biggest pieces of feedback we get from our clients is that they have had unpleasant experiences with other contractors showing up at random times throughout a project, leaving for days at a time, showing up again for a couple of hours here and there, and taking far too long to complete projects. We have taken this to heart because nothing can be more invasive than having your home torn apart for a major, or even minor, renovation. We understand that it is completely inconvenient and stressful. What we have been doing since this company was started is booking one project at a time. When we begin a project, we stay on that project until it is completed. We show up consistently at 7:30-8am every morning and work diligently throughout the day until 3:30-4:00. By not leaving to go to another remodel during the middle of an already started remodel, we are able to run our projects efficiently and organize our subcontractors to come in and work with us so that the project can proceed without issue. It greatly shortens the duration of projects and our clients always end up being amazed at how quickly and proficiently the work is completed.
Over the past few years, we have developed a strong reputation on the consumer site Angie’s List. We have earned numerous awards through the site based off our reviews from satisfied customers. Angie’s List has provided a comprehensive list of tips for hiring a home improvement contractor. Here is the list, but please click the link to read in depth the description of each point:
- Connect with your contractor: They should be easy to relate to and strong at communicating with you throughout the bidding and renovation process.
- Understand that price reflects quality: Contractors who rush cut corners and use sub-par materials. Also, putting the time into a cohesive estimate can help eliminate extras in the long run.
- Know your contractor’s credentials: Are they licensed and insured? Will they pull permits?
- Get it in writing: Get a detailed estimate in writing that shows the work to be completed along with specific materials.
- Be upfront about your budget: It helps the contractor appropriately price your renovation. It helps us determine how elaborate a renovation can be and allows us to guide the customer in a direction that enables them to remodel within that budget.
- Educate yourself: Ask questions about the process and make sure you are on the same page with your contractor.
- Be prepared: Have your material selections made prior to the beginning of the project. In fact, have them made so that the materials can be factored into your quote. By waiting to select materials, it will delay the renovation process.
- Wait to demolish: Wait for the contractor to begin the project. Construction delays happen and the last thing you want to do is smash all of your cabinetry and then find out the contractor had to delay your project start by two weeks!
- Be courteous of your neighbors: This goes for your contractor as well. Make sure that your contractor is not making a huge mess of your property and letting their materials or debris get onto your neighbor’s property. Also, make sure that reasonable work hours are being followed.
- Keep your eye on the prize: Renovations can be disruptive, but are worth it in the long run!
- Ensure that the project is complete before signing off and paying the final payment: Make sure that the work is completed to your satisfaction and that every aspect of the contract has been fulfilled.
Here is another link that can help you find the right contractor for your job: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0242-hiring-contractor
It is also important to hire a company that has the capability of taking the project from start to finish. Let’s be honest, we all have too much going on in our lives. We work, raise families, have multiple obligations, and barely have time to decompress at the end of the day. Why as a homeowner, would you want to manage an entire group of people that you hire to work on your home? What is unique about us is that we are sort of a hybrid company. We are contractors yes, but we are also a General Contractor. We do the majority of the work on our remodels by ourselves, but we have aligned our company with a group of tradesmen that can efficiently handle certain tasks on our projects with a high level of quality. We have one plumber, one electrician, and one sheetrock company that we integrate into our projects. Unlike many General Contractors, we don’t look for the cheapest price when it comes to having subcontracted trades get involved on our projects. We would rather pay for peace of mind that the electrical or the plumbing is going to be done the right way, with permits, and be done cleanly. The relationships we have developed have given us an advantage in that we are able to schedule these people to come into a project when we need them. If we come across and “unforeseen,” our guys will do whatever they can to help us resolve the issue as quickly as possible. It helps us keep the project moving forward and shows our clients that we truly are invested in our projects. We often hear stories where homeowners are tasked with hiring outside contractors for each individual trade. That creates stress on the homeowner and often contributes to longer duration projects.
You should never feel pressured by a contractor. Take your remodel or project at your own pace. Look for a contractor who is willing to work with you throughout the process and offer suggestions relative to your project. It is highly important that you feel 100% comfortable with the contractor you choose because you need to be able to trust in your contractor and rely on them to do the best work possible. The relationship between contractor and homeowner is incredibly important not only through the planning and bidding phase, but also throughout the project. If a strained relationship is developed, the project may be filled with tension and you may find that the level of care and attention being put into your project isn’t what it should be. A good contractor wants repeat business and a contractor who values that is not going to rush you or cut corners.