Choose the Right Contractor for Home Renovations

2009 through 2014 were difficult times in the construction industry. Times have changed.  What hasn't is the need to choose a contractor carefully.
The years between 2010 and 2012 were difficult times, especially in the construction industry. Many high quality contractors were very competitice with their pricing in an effort to keep busy. Some projects were done at very low prices, there are lots of stories bouncing around. 

Times have changed, quality workers are at a premium and contractors who know their stuff are hard to find.  But that doesn't mean you should lower your standards, to the contrary it is more important now than ever to make sure the contractor you choose is the right fit for your job.

Always keep in mind one of the most basic rules of building: There are three points of construction:  price, quality and speed.  You can get two of the three but not all three.  If you need speed, you are not going to get quality and price too.  Rebuilding after a loss, speed is going to be part of the equation.  You and your insurer will require a quality job, the only other variable is cost.

Contractor and host of the HGTV show Holmes on Homes, Mike Holmes gives advice on hiring a contractor:
“It amazes me, after doing my television show all these years, that I'm still seeing homeowners making the same knucklehead mistakes over and over. The big one — the one that starts a chain of events ending in disappointment and frustration — is the notion that they want the renovation done “fast” and they want it done “cheap." And let's face it:, in the renovation game, fast and cheap add up to just one thing — (not good).”

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when considering the contractor decision for a home reconstruction project:

- Expect that in this day and age, skilled contractors are in high demand: good contractors are very, very busy.
- Good contractors are booked in advance. Sometimes six months, but often two to four months.  If you feel you can't wait, remember this:  Bad contractors may be available right away — because they are not in demand, or worse, because they are more than willing to bump their current renovation in progress to get started on yours - and may be just as willing to bump yours to get to the next one.
- No one wants to spend more than he has to on a renovation, but as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for." 
- Higher quotes sometimes reflect the skill level of the contractor or the price that the market demands for certain contractors who have a reputation for outstanding-quality work.
- Extremely low quotes often mean that the contractor doesn't have the experience to properly quote the job, let alone know what it will take to do the job properly.
- Extremely low quotes can also be an indicator of a more troubling issue:  that the bidder knows how to take shortcuts with your home in order to undercut the legitimate competitors.
Some shortcuts you can see easily, some not so easily. 
- One of the basics:  adequate insurance.  Don't trust any contractor who doesn't have adequate general liability insurance.  Ask to get a copy of it early and have your insurance agent check its adequacy.
- Contractor's license status and history.  Check your state licensing authority's website for current status and if there is any derogatory history.  Make sure the license is bonded and the contractor has workmen's compensation insurance.  Check the license number.  A higher number may indicate a newer license and inexperienced contractor.
- Workmen's compensation insurance is one of the most important to check.  Some general contractors do not carry this coverage if they don't have employees.  Not necessarily a bad sign but it is a red flag.  If they don't, their subcontractors must, and the only way to know is to check with them directly.  It takes time and coordination to be sure all subcontractors are covered. It is time well spent.
- Workers on your project will be at and around virtually every part of your property.  You want to be sure they are there to build your project, not to check it out.  This is hard to check out personally, you have to trust that your contractor and his subcontractors hire reputable workers. Another reason to know your contractor and his reputation.

At the bottom of it all, you need to know the contractor you are going to be working with.  You are going to be very closely involved for quite a while.  Ask questions.  If something makes you curious, ask your contractor for the answer.  He will be your answer man for awhile.  Try him out before you sign on the line.  Remember, a contractor with low prices will rarely be the one paying attention to the details that mean the most to you.


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