How to Find and Vet Home Contractors
This year, why not go beyond spring cleaning and give your home a major upgrade with a spring kitchen renovation? This season is the perfect time to focus on building out a brand-new design for your kitchen. A contractor can help bring your dreams to life, and all you need to find one is this handy contractor vetting checklist.
As you think about planning, design and budgeting, one of the first steps is to set realistic goals for what you’d like to achieve with a kitchen renovation (which can easily go over on time and budget, if you’re not careful). Make a list of what your priority items are (new cabinets? Upgraded appliances? A totally new floor plan?), then do your research on design, collecting inspiration photos as well as asking friends and family for guidance on their experiences with different brands, designers and dealers.
The next step is making an Excel spreadsheet that outlines how much you want to spend — even if it’s just a guess, that’s OK, and you can always update as you find out actual costs later to ensure you stay on track with budget.
After you’ve done these three big items, it’s time to hire your team. You may know exactly which interior designer you’d like to work with, but the other major player you need is a contractor. This is a person with whom you’ll be working side by side with on your kitchen renovation, so you want to take ample time researching and carefully consider your options before selecting a contractor.
First, ask friends and family for referrals — who have they worked with in the past and would recommend? You may also turn to Google, but word-of-mouth recommendations are one of the best ways to find a contractor you will be able to trust and enjoy working with.
Once you’ve come up with some names, here’s a list of questions to ask each contractor to help you determine who to hire. Consider it your contractor vetting checklist.
1. Are you licensed and insured in my city?
This should be the top line item on your contractor vetting checklist. Before talking about anything else, you want to make sure a potential contractor is legally authorized to work in your area of residence and also has insurance. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask this up front, but you may also do your homework ahead of time through checking contractor licenses online at Contractors State License Board or within state licensure boards you can research on Angi.
2. Could I have contact information for two recent clients who could give you a referral?
As much as a contractor can talk up their own quality of work, it’s best to hear it straight from others who’ve hired them. It’s perfectly reasonably to ask for names, email addresses and phone numbers of a couple recent clients they’ve worked with, whom you can contact on your own to discuss how satisfied they were with the outcome.
3. How long have you worked in this industry?
You want to ask this question to assure they have a deep breadth of on-the-job experiences to draw from in helping you to execute your kitchen renovation plans. While it’s not always possible to hire someone with decades of experience, at least a few years under their belt is a positive sign, and the more, the better, in larger areas.
4. If you’re newer to the industry, what did you do before?
If they are newer to their role as a contractor, that might be OK if they at least have prior experience in peripheral fields, such as architecture or building trades. Ask your potential contractor to outline their background for you so you can get a good sense of their overall experience and determine whether he or she would be a good fit for you.
5. What’s your area of expertise?
Determine whether a contractor specializes in commercial, residential, new constriction or renovations to ensure their expertise lies within what you’re trying to accomplish. Most do have at least one specialty. If you’re focused on a specific area of your home, such as the kitchen, you can ask about their specific experience within that type of renovation. You want to make sure their skills line up with what you’ll be hiring them to do.
6. Have you ever collaborated with an interior designer?
Never underestimate the power of a solid team. Good contractors understand the value of an interior designer and will welcome working with one. Ask them to share details about a past project that involved collaboration. Similarly, they also will be open to a homeowner who appreciates and understands design details, so don’t be shy to discuss how involved (or not involved) you’d like to be.
We always suggest printing out inspiration photos to show to a potential contractor. You can use those photos as a tool to gauge their sensitivity to design details: It’s a good sign if they are responsive to your vision (and even add suggestions or comments on design possibilities, or restrictions) based on their construction knowledge. Remember, a good contractor likely has a strong eye for design and detail, which will come in handy during the building process.
7. Can you create a project budget?
No one wants to go into a kitchen renovation without an idea of how much they’ll end up spending on the final result. Make sure you contractor is familiar with creating an itemized list of expected costs broken down per room or per trade, such as plumbing costs, electrical costs, framing, drywall, tile, etc.
8. Can you explain your process for a change order?
With any kitchen renovation, there are bound to be at least a few changes at some point during the process. When alterations to the scope of work occur, whether due to increasing or decreasing costs, your contractor should be able to explain their exact procedure, including how they’ll be handled and how they will be communicated to you.
Ahead of any meeting with a potential contractor, also keep in mind a few preparation tips that are good general practice for you ahead of talking with contractors or other trades people:
- Create a thorough wish list or scope of items needing to be addressed, by area, throughout your home. If you’re focused on a single room, like a kitchen renovation, list out what you’d like to achieve in that space through the renovation.
- Prepare a good inspirational package with images. You can gather these on sites like Pinterest and Houzz, or think about images you can pull or create from unexpected inspiration sources. Print these out and organize them in a folder or binder to bring to your meeting.
- Also in the binder, include any plans of existing conditions, such as plot survey plans from your closing or floor plans from your home or online listing.
Put Your Contractor Vetting Checklist to Work
That’s it! By following this plan, properly vetting your contractors and coming well prepared with your inspiration package, you’re well on your way to a spring kitchen renovation. Need help with the design piece? Centered by Design can help! Download our 48-page Insider’s Guide to Kitchen Design or get in touch with us today.
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