How to pick the right contractor.
How much will your home improvement project cost? How will you know you’re being treated fairly? Without 20 years experience in all aspects of the work you're looking to have done, aren’t you at a disadvantage when faced with a contractor who has?
Of course you are. Like many aspects of life we place ourselves in the hands of people whose expertise we lack. From doctors to mechanics, plumbers to psychotherapists, knowing how to know can be a tricky thing. Thankfully there are a few simple approaches to help pick the right contracting company for you.
What you want. On Time. At a fair price.
1. Do your research: It might be nice to chat to neighbours about what they paid for their kitchen 8 years ago, but remember materials and prices change. Without a decent list of the work that was required and the choices of finish they made, you won’t be comparing like with like. Homestars publishes figures for work actually completed - but this can only give you a range. The devil is in the detail. If there’s something comparable in your geographic region, you begin to understand the limits to the scope of your project and the possible budget range.
2. Have a budget: Once you’ve established what appears to be the upper and lower estimates for your project, decide where you comfortably sit. What is your budget? Take that figure and adjust your expectations accordingly.
3. First impressions, and second... and third impressions count: Did the contractor you contacted get back to you in a timely manner? Were they courteous and professional on the phone when you talked with them? Did they arrive on time for the appointment, or call ahead if they thought they would be delayed? These initial contact experiences give you an idea of their professionalism and respect for your time that should be replicated throughout the company.
4. The sales call: This is the moment when a good contractor is deciding whether you are a good fit for them not selling the idea they are a good fit for you. They will be asking lots of questions, making notes, and letting you answer them. They will be looking to establish what your budget is, what timeline you have in mind and how well information can flow between the contractor and you, the decision maker. All those things that ensure a smooth, well organised home improvement project with a timely and happy outcome. Do your due diligence too. Look for good reviews, well handled negative reviews, and ask for referrals.
5. The Estimate: Depending on the amount of work required, an accurate estimate takes time. It should summarise the steps of work required, and clearly quantify unknowns or things yet to be established. A good contractor will follow up on the delivery of their estimate in order to further drill down and refine what the work will be. They should be happy to help explain anything that has you scratching your head. However, you may also consider paying for a formal estimate, particularly for larger jobs. You can then use this to get comparative quotes from other contractors. You will know you are comparing apples with apples, and know when you are not. This is especially recommeneded for larger projects, and often discountable if you end up choosing the contractor who worked up the estimate.
If you follow these steps you're well on the way to feeling confident about your choice. The next step is making sure you have a fair contract. A subject for another blog post.