You need a bigger house to accommodate your growing family of children and fur babies, your overnight visitors, your hobbies and interests. Or you want more space just because you do. Or your tired-looking kitchen or bathroom is in serious want of a makeover.
You don’t want to move. You love your neighborhood, the commute to work is manageable, you don’t want to uproot your kids and send them to new schools, and you don’t want to leave those neighbors who have become friends. So you decide to renovate your existing house. Great! Now what?
If you’re like most homeowners, you don’t know a keyway from a king stud and you think mud is what you find in the dirt field after it rains. You’ll need to hire a contractor, someone with the know-how, the experience, the professionalism and the business ethics to complete the work to your satisfaction, on time, and within budget. And that can be a daunting prospect.
We’ve all seen the renovation disaster television shows, we all know someone who has lived through a construction nightmare, and we’ve heard about shady contractors, scam artists, and all-round hellishly incompetent renovators.
But there ARE honest, competent, reputable, reliable contractors out there who love what they do and make it a point of pride to make sure their customer is happy at the end of the job. Here are some tips for finding that type of contractor.
- The Initial Approach
How did you find this contractor? Was he recommended by someone you know and trust? If you family and friends come up blank, you could ask your local realtor or your home insurance agent. You could wander around your neighborhood looking for lawn signs advertising contractors working in your area. Note whether the sign lists their address and phone number. (And then ask the homeowner how the work is going, whether they’re satisfied, if they’ve encountered any problems that don’t seem to have a solution.) If someone knocks on your door claiming that they’re doing work in the neighborhood and can do the same work for you at a low, low today-only price because they’ve got leftover material, watch out.
Do you have to chase the contractor just to get a quote? Do you have to make multiple follow-up phone calls (mostly to the contractor’s answering service or voicemail) that are never returned in a timely fashion if at all? Don’t bother with this contractor. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you sign on with this contractor, he won’t be any more responsive when you want to discuss any aspect of the work in progress (or not progressing).
A reputable contractor keeps his word in small things as well as the larger ones. If he makes an appointment with you, he’ll keep it. If, for some unforeseeable reason, he can’t make it and has to reschedule, he’ll call and tell you so (usually with apologies) and he will keep the rescheduled appointment. This bodes well for ongoing access and communication during the work and after it’s completed.
How long has the contractor been in business? How long has he had that company? Those two answers should match; a contractor who has changed his company’s name isn’t one you necessarily want to hire. Some less-than-reputable contractors change their company name to cover their tracks. What type of work does he specialize in? Has he done the specific type of work you need? How often? This is an important point because even a good contractor taking on a particular type of work he’s never done before can be a dodgy proposition. You probably don’t want a contractor who usually does drywall to install your new windows and skylights; those are entirely different skill sets. And the fact is, that a good and reputable contractor will tell you up front if the job is something that’s not in his area of expertise and will often recommend someone else.
A reputable contractor is happy to provide you with references. He’s proud of his good work and is more than willing to give you a list of past customers. Don’t rely just on consumer rating web sites – ratings on some of these sites can be plumped and fudged, particularly if the site is unregulated. Call the references. Ask if the contractor performed to their satisfaction, ask if any problems were speedily resolved, ask if the job was finished on schedule and within budget, ask if they would use them again. Check to see what their BBB rating is.
Did the contractor give you a detailed written quote? Did it cover all aspects of the job including not only price, but exactly what is included in the price. Does it include a schedule of work, a timetable of when the different parts of the work (including cleanup) will be complete? Will he provide you copies of his licenses and his insurance certificates?
Reputable contractors do these things as a matter of course, knowing that it is in both the homeowner’s and the contractor’s best interests to clearly identify the work to be done, the price, the schedule and all other details of the work.
First and foremost, carefully read any contract before you sign it. This seems like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how many people will merely skim over a document and sign it without having read all of it. A reputable contractor won’t pressure you into signing; he wants you to understand all the terms and conditions of the agreement. And he won’t ask you to sign a contract with blank spots “that will be filled in later”. In addition to the usual details of the work, the schedule of work, schedule of payments, identification of both homeowner and contractor responsibilities (such as who will get the building permit), you might want to consider specifying how contract extras are to be handled. Contract extras can occur from different circumstances – perhaps part way through the homeowner wants an upgrade from arborite countertops to marble countertops. Perhaps the contractor encounters latent (hidden) defects that have to be addressed such as faulty wiring or plumbing that only became evident when a wall was removed. These things can occur and you might want to include a system of handling them in the contract document.
7. Red Flags
Here are a few things that you never want to hear a contractor say. If your prospective contractor says any of these things run, run, run like the wind.
- “You don’t need a permit”. Unless the work you want done is non-structural and fairly minor, “you don’t need a permit” is probably a big, fat fib. All municipalities in Texas have very specific permit requirements and what you don’t need a permit for is a pretty short list. Building permits are not a mere bureaucratic annoyance and inspectors are not bogeymen; they are your protection. They ensure that the work being done in your home is to code.
- “I can give you a discount for cash”. Don’t do it. It might be tempting, but don’t do it. And reputable contractors would never suggest it. Cash work means no paper trail, and that’s a very bad thing. You want everything in writing.
- “I’ll need the full amount up front”. Just no. Asking for a deposit and for progress payments on a large job is fine. But asking for the full amount or even a huge percentage up front are red flags.
- “We don’t need a contract; we understand each other”. Run, Forrest, run!
With due diligence and careful selection of your contractor you can ensure that your investment of time and money was well spent.
For a reputable, reliable, professional contractor for all your sunroom, kitchen and bathroom design, construction and renovation needs look no further. Call Sunshine Sunrooms today at (972-243-5390). We’ll be there for you before, during, and after the job.