Assembling Your Dream Team: Tips for Finding a Contractor

Project planning
November 03, 2018

Welcome to Part 3 of our home renovation series! Part 1 covered inspiration and planning, and Part 2 went through budgeting and financing—now it’s time build your renovation dream team.

Finding a reputable contractor should be a priority when you plan your home improvement project. In order to select the right person for the job, there are several things you can do to help make the process easier and more efficient in the long run.

Whether you’re planning a small home improvement project or a complete remodel, selecting a contractor for your home requires a lot of screening (and plenty of patience!). However, learning how to find a contractor with specific qualifications may provide peace of mind during the renovation process.

Use the following recommendations to help you learn how to find a contractor that fits your needs:

What Is Your Vision?

Before you can find a contractor to complete your home renovations, make sure you’ve honed in on your vision.

Take the time to consider exactly what it is you want to get out of your remodel. Perhaps it’s a more functional space for your aging parent, or maybe you want to bring your outdated décor into the 21st century.

Whatever your motivation may be and whatever your desired project is, coming up with a detailed vision is a crucial piece of the puzzle. This initial step may help you find the right contractor for your project, guide your budgeting process, and ease your stress during the renovation process.

Need a little help with your remodel plans? Check out Part 1: Planning Your Home Renovation, to find inspiration and read must-know renovation strategy tips.

Talk with Your Contractor About Your Project List

Selecting a contractor may require you to take a second look at your planned renovations, especially if your budget proves to be a constraint.

If your list of projects pushes your renovation budget past its limits, it may be time to trim it down. Perhaps you can live without that new granite island in the kitchen—or maybe you can opt for a less expensive countertop material. Compromises like this are just one simple way you can align your budget with your renovation to-do list.

To learn more about how to trim down your project list, make sure to read the second part of our home renovation series: Budgeting for Your Home Renovation.

Shop Around

Remind yourself that you don’t have to commit to the first contractor you talk to (people often forget this!). It’s recommended to spend some time researching to think about what kind of contractor you’re looking for and find a few contractors you’d like to get a bid from.

Once you’re ready to start collecting quotes, read our post on how to get bids from contractors. You’ll learn the ins and outs of procuring a high-quality bid; how to write a clear description, how to compare your bids once you’ve received them, and how to vet your contractors before you sign your name on the dotted line.

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Don’t be afraid to negotiate—contractors may be willing to reduce their prices. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey of 300 contractors, only 4 percent of the general contractors surveyed said they wouldn’t be willing to negotiate the price of a job.

If you’ve found your dream contractor but can’t currently afford their services, it never hurts to ask if they’re willing to work with you on your budget! With just a bit of negotiation and conversation, you may be able to get a better price.

This is also a great time to talk with your contractor about home remodel financing options, and examine your choices before jumping into demolition.

Use Referrals

Do you have friends or family members that have recently completed a home renovation? Ask about their contractors and experiences. Referrals are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to find great contractors.

Here’s a list of great referral questions to get you started:

  • Was the project completed on time?
  • Were you satisfied with the renovation?
  • Did you have to deal with any unexpected costs?
  • Did your contractor show up on time?
  • Was your contractor respectful of pre-discussed parameters?
  • Did your contractor clean up after finishing the job?

The answers to these questions may help guide your decision, and give you better insight into what it might be like to work with that contractor.

Take Reviews into Account

You can also search online resources like Google, Yelp, and Facebook. Or, make it easy and find all of these reviews in one place.

Finance of America Home Improvement’s Find a Contractor tool collects reviews from all three of these resources, so you can read contractor feedback in one central location.

Read through available reviews to get a more complete picture about the contractors you’re considering. Have people in your area had good experiences with your potential picks?

Reviews are a great way to narrow down your contractor options, and may help you find the perfect fit for your dream team.

Pro-Tip: Once your renovations are all done, be sure to write your own review to spread the word about their great work. Providing a review for a job well done will help other homeowners find a reliable contractor in your area.

Assess Your Options

Unless you’ve worked in the renovation industry, handling a home remodel on your own may be too much to tackle.

When it’s time to call in the professionals, you may run into the following types of contractors. Some of the key players in the remodeling game include:

General Contractors: You might think of a general contractor as a jack-of-all-trades. These professionals take charge of home renovations from beginning to end. They can help manage the renovation schedule, manage any specialty contractors needed for your project, and help you acquire the appropriate permits for your remodel job.

Solar Contractors: If you’ve decided that you want to adopt solar energy in your home, you may want to work with a solar contractor. These experts are skilled at installing new solar panel systems, and may also specialize in maintenance services.

Roofing Contractors: These experts specialize in roofing projects, which may include repair and replacement. If your roof is leaking, warping, or needs certain storm safeguards, a roofing contractor may be the right option for you. (Note: Some contractors specialize in both roofing and solar, or HVAC and solar, because these projects are complementary).

HVAC Contractors: These professionals specialize in heating and cooling systems. They may help with installation and maintenance of air conditioning systems, whole house fans, heating systems, and more. If you need to prepare your home with proper heating for the winter season, or you’re searching for retrofit cooling upgrades to keep your home comfy during hot summer months, you may want to enlist the help of one of these contractors.

Landscapers: If your home renovations are focused on the great outdoors, you might consider enlisting the services of a landscaping contractor. These professionals specialize in outdoor living spaces, and may be able to help you perform a variety of hardscaping and softscaping projects. Learn more about potential landscaping projects here.

Consider Their Specialty

Contractors have areas of specialization and often work on certain types of homes. As you search for contractors, be sure to look for those that focus on the type of work you need.

If you have an older home, you might consider choosing a contractor who concentrates on houses from the same era.

If you want to add new landscaping features to your yard, you may want to look for contractors who are experienced in the creation of outdoor living spaces.

Picking a contractor based on their specialty will help you get exactly what you need out of your renovations.

Review Credentials

Remember to ask for proof of credentials. General contractors and subcontractors should have a license, although the type of license required can differ depending on location. Taking the time to verify their credentials may increase the likelihood that their workmanship is up to your standards.

Ask your contractor to show you their insurance policies before giving them the green light. Many contractors carry copies of their policies in a binder so that you can check all the boxes before signing off on the project.

Ask Questions

Once you have a list of individuals you’re interested in, do some screening with phone and in-person interviews. Great communication between you and your contractor is crucial for a smooth renovation process, so make sure the contractor is prompt with responses, respectful, and genuinely interested in your ideas for home improvements.

Asking the right questions can give you piece of mind. Here are some questions you might consider:

  1. How long have you been in the business?
  2. How many projects like mine have you done in the past year?
  3. Can you provide a list of references I can contact?
  4. How many projects do you have going on right now?
  5. What are some things I should keep in mind for my project?
  6. If an issue with the project arises, how will additional changes be handled?
  7. What’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Their behavior during the negotiation process may be indicative of the way they’ll communicate during renovations. Having these conversations before you select them may provide more insight into their work and communication style, which can help you decide if they’re the right fit for your needs.

Establish Your Expectations

You can decide on certain parameters before deciding on a contractor regarding the way they can use and move around your home. If you don’t want your contractor showing up before 8 am, would prefer the team use a portable toilet instead of your bathroom, or you need the project to be completed by a specific date, be vocal about it up front.

Get detailed contract

Get a Detailed Contract

It’s important to have a detailed, comprehensive contract signed before any work begins. The contract should go over the materials being used, timeline approximations, total costs and payment method, and drawings or other details for the planned project. A contract is designed to help you set expectations for your contractor, and give you a more transparent view into the process. While reviewing contracts can feel time consuming, take the time you need to thoroughly read it so that you fully understand what you’re signing.

It’s also important to understand the difference between fixed price and cost-plus renovation contracts.

A fixed price contract means you will be told the total cost of your renovations upfront. You and your contractor will examine everything that needs to be completed during the renovation period, and then your contractor will establish a predetermined price based on their estimation of material and labor cost. Regardless of your contractor’s end cost, your agreed upon price shouldn’t change, except in the case of change orders, which should be outlined in the contract.

A cost-plus contract works a bit differently. Your contractor won’t actually establish a specific price prior to getting started. You’ll be responsible for covering the total cost, which may change based on the progress and needs of the project, and may include additional fees for materials.

Not all contracts will look the same, but do your due diligence as you draft up a contract with your contractor to check that all the proper points are covered.

Don’t Pay in Advance for Your Project

Be cautious of contractors who ask for full payment before starting work on your project. Finance of America Home Improvement can help homeowners connect with highly-rated local professionals. Every contractor registered with Finance of America Home Improvement has agreed to only be paid once the project is completed to your satisfaction, which means you get the final say.

Stay on Top of the Project

After you’ve selected a contractor and signed on the dotted line, it’s time for your home renovation to begin! Check in with your contractor regularly, inspect the team’s work as it happens, and maintain an open line of communication so that your project moves forward as planned.

It’s important to expect change orders; these can be caused by anything in the remodeling process that alters the schedule, scope, or cost of the work. It’s recommended to get these changes in writing.

Now that you know how to find a great contractor, you’re another step closer to transforming your living space into the home of your dreams. You’ve learned about planning, budgeting, and assembling your renovation team—it’s time to get started. Hop over to the fourth and final part of our home renovation series. In Part 4: During and After Your Home Renovation, dive into the details of the renovation process and outline what you should expect during and after your home is remodeled.