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Questions for Your Remodeling Contractor

When you hire a general contractor to remodel your home, all the sub-contractors and their workers will report to him or her. The general contractor oversees scheduling, hiring, material estimation and acquisition, tear out, installation, waste disposal, permits, and insurance.  

Because of the high level of responsibility, you can expect to pay the general contractor a fee ranging from 15% to 30% of the total cost of the project. To make sure you understand what you’re paying for, here are a few questions you should ask when you interview contractors to bid on your project.   

Full-service contractor or specialty firm?

A full-service remodeling contractor firm will usually have all other experts under the same company, including a plumber, painter, electrician, carpenter, and flooring installer, or they will have subcontractors that they trust that they will hire and pay. 

Who is doing the design?

If the contractor doesn't do the design, ask if they have a specialty designer such as a kitchen or bath designer who can create a master design that integrates the remodeling seamlessly with the adjoining rooms. If not, you need to hire the designer first, whether it’s an interior designer or kitchen and bath specialist. Your remodeling contractor can report to the designer, or it may be preferable to use the remodeling contractor that the designer recommends.  

Certifications?

Certifications can represent more experience and expertise in the remodeling industry.  NARI (National Association of Remodelers) offers the Certified Remodeler, Certified Remodeler Specialist, and Certified Lead Carpenter designations.  Membership to NARI also indicates adherence to industry standards of professionalism and values. 

Liability insurance, permits, and workmen's compensation?

A professional contractor is not willing to cut corners on permits and insurance.  A responsible contractor will happily provide a copy of the certificate of insurance the company will have for your job, as well as one for workmen's compensation.  Injured contractors or workers have been known to sue the homeowner, so anyone doing work on your property should be insured against damage and personal injury, and your contract should relieve you of indemnity.  

How long will it take?  

Remodels almost always come with some surprises, so it pays to be flexible.  However, the experienced contractor will be able to give you a start date and finish date that's accurate. If you make changes to the design or fabrications, expect an increase to the cost and possible delays.  You could also pay hefty restocking fees, new design fees, and experience long waits for special orders.  

Unexpected things can go wrong. Your cabinets may arrive in the wrong stain, and you must be available to decide if you can live with the shade or send them back for the correct color. You must be available to answer questions, make decisions, and allow easy access to your home for workers and deliveries.  

Is the work clearly detailed on the estimate?

Make certain you understand what the scope of the work is within the estimate.  For instance, if you are hiring a painting contractor, be aware that if you are getting a room cost estimate, the painter may assume you just want only the walls painted.  The painter needs to know if you want the trim, chair rail, ceiling, and floor or ceiling moldings painted as well, and if so, they should be spelled out in the estimate. 

The scope of the work will be limited to what is agreed upon in writing.  A detailed estimate tells you exactly what to expect your contractor to provide.  It's up to you to make certain that every aspect of the remodel has been included in the estimate and that you are clear about what each service means. 

If you’re not sure, ask. For example, does the estimate include buying the paint and supplies or do you pay for that separately? 

References? 

If you like the contractor, it is worth checking out to see how others worked with him.  Most clients are happy to tell others if they have had a good experience and understand that remodeling jobs are often obtained by referral.  Repeat customers are even better, and they'll have a variety of room experiences that may be helpful in deciding upon a contractor.