Hiring a contractor can be an extremely nerve-racking experience. Most people remodel only once or twice in their lifetime so, unlike with most other businesses, it’s more difficult to get great recommendations from friends or to have existing business relationships. However, finding a great contractor is extremely important as he, she or they will be in your home on a daily basis.

If your friends haven’t done any remodeling (or wouldn’t recommend the contractor they DID hire!) there are a number of professional organizations you can contact to find a contractor. If a contractor is a member of these organizations they’re most likely bonded and insured (though you should still ask). However, not all contractors are members of all of these organizations for a variety of reasons so be prepared to look through a few of the sites.

The Building Industry Association of Washington

The Building Industry Association of Whatcom County

The Building Industry Association of Whatcom County Master Remodelers Council

National Association of Home Builders

In the Bellingham area, we also recommend Sustainable Connections though it is not contractor specific.

And, as I do with any company I intend to make a major purchase through, be sure to check them out at the Better Business Bureau.

Earlier I mentioned that you should make sure your contractor is licensed and bonded. This is extremely important should anything ever go wrong, such as an on-the-job injury or a failing beam. If your contractor is NOT licensed and bonded, those issues are your responsibility. Put another way, if a laborer isn’t paying attention, falls off your roof and breaks a hip, you’re financially responsible for his injuries. In lieu of contractors, many people hire relatives to work on their home. If you choose to do so, please be aware of the type of responsibility you face. A licensed and bonded contractor takes full responsibility for on-the-job injuries and issues.

Once you’ve found your contractor, you should interview them (over the phone is fine). The Federal Trade Commission suggests the following questions:

1. How long have you been in the business?

2. Are you licensed and registered with the state?

3. How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?

4. Will my project require a permit?

5. May I have a list of references?

6. Will you be using subcontractors on this project?

7. What types of insurance do you carry?

The FTC also suggests calling the contractor’s references (former customers). You can find their suggested questions here. That page also has a lot of information about how to avoid scams, so please be sure to read it!

If you’re getting several contractor bids on your job, don’t automatically choose the lowest bid, as tempting as it may be. Talk with the contractors to figure out WHY the bid prices are the way they are, especially if there’s a wide variation. The lowest bid may skimp on some safety measures or use cheap materials. Then again, perhaps the higher bids are using materials that are much stronger than required. Without asking questions and understanding exactly what is in the bid, you will be unpleasantly surprised. Remodeling is a large purchase and you want to make sure that it is done right. Sometimes that means taking the highest bid and other times it means taking the lowest. It depends on your situation but without understanding what you’re getting into, it’s much harder to make the right decision for you.

Another thing to remember about the bid is if something’s not written, it’s not happening. For example, if the contractor is doing a lot of demolition but there’s no mention of clean-up in the bid, there’s a good chance the contractor will not clean up. This is not always the case, so be sure to ask your contractor. If he or she says it will happen, make sure you get it in writing. Because if it’s not in the bid or another written communication, you have no documentation that it’s actually going to happen.

Finally, I have a quick note on changes. If you make changes to the bid, it will change your final cost. It will cost much more to change something mid-construction, forcing the contractor to tear everything apart and re-do it, than it will to begin on other parts of the project while you decide exactly what you want done. However, sometimes you don’t know you hate it until you see it in your house (e.g. “Why did I decide to have the window THERE?”). No matter what the situation, if you have chosen a good contractor, he or she should be able to help you decide what the best option is for you, whether it’s how to keep costs down as much as possible or how to make your remodel look like a magazine cover.

Best of luck and happy remodeling!

© Rose Construction 2009