Save time and effort by ruling out deal breakers with your
contractor before an in-person session
Your time is valuable, so
before setting up an in-person meeting with a remodeling / constructor pro, be
sure they could be a good fit for your project. Here are nine key questions to
1. Am I in an area where you work?
Some contractors work
across a wide metro area, while others restrict their work. Some may travel
farther for a large project but limit small projects to their immediate
neighborhood.When contractors limit their geographic range, it generally means
faster response times for homeowners, which can be a plus, particularly for
2. Is my project the kind you do regularly?
Start by giving a general
description of what you’re planning. For example, “I’d like to remodel/renovate
my bathroom, do a kitchen extension, etc.” If a contractor primarily remodels
kitchens and baths, then a large addition may not be the kind of project they
will be experienced enough to take on.Some contractors work only on interiors
and do not build additions, while others work only on single-family homes and
are not insured to work on condominiums or townhouses.Many contractors restrict
the kind of work they do, by focusing on either residential or commercial
projects, or by limiting themselves to a particular size or type of project.
Make sure your project is something they are interested in working on and are
set up to handle well.
3. Can you work with my timeline?
There are two key pieces
to know about timing: how soon the contractor can start your project, and how
quickly the plans, permitting and material selections can be completed. If this
is your first call to a pro, it may be months before the plans and permits will
be ready since you haven’t interviewed a design professional yet.If you have
plans in hand for anything bigger than a bathroom, it will probably be a month
or two — or longer — before you have selected a contractor, received pricing,
signed a contract and construction can begin. This is a good time to talk with
the contractor about the length of the planning process and the firm’s current
4. What services do you offer?
Contractors might focus
only on building, or they might offer a range of planning and design services
as well. A single company can offer everything from feasibility studies to
preconstruction estimates to complete design, engineering and material
selections. If you are looking for a particular mix of services, now is the
time to figure out if the company can help you or if you need to keep looking
to find a better fit.
5. Who usually handles the design on your projects?
This conversation will
tell you if you need to hire an architect if the contractor is willing to work
with the architect you’ve already hired and how the design process works if
they handle it in-house. Don’t assume anything as every company does things a
6. Do you work on a bid basis or a time and materials basis?
The words “bid” and
“estimate” are often used interchangeably by homeowners but mean very specific
things to contractors. A bid is a fixed price for a specific scope of work, and
it usually requires extensive staff time to complete. An estimate can be a
loose ballpark or range, a line item of general tasks or a specific breakdown
with all costs transparent. Some contractors will work only one way or another,
so this is a key issue to clear up early, particularly if you want to use a
specific contract method.
7. How does your estimating process work?
Every contractor handles
estimating differently. Some charge for detailed estimates but provide a range
of costs without charge. Some will estimate only with a set of plans or after
being hired for the project. Others provide varying levels of information based
on how much information they are provided.After hearing about the contractor’s
process, you should have a good idea of what to expect, what you might pay and
whether a meeting in person will result in pricing you can consider.
8. I think my project is in a range of $X to $Y. Is this
Discussing budgets can be
uncomfortable, but it’s important, particularly if you have a specific amount
you don’t want to exceed. Years ago we got a call from someone wanting to gut
and remodel two bathrooms with stone, tile and nice finishes. The budget was
$5,000, which unfortunately wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of tile. If I
had set up a meeting without talking about budget first, we would have both
been disappointed when we met and finally talked about it. If you are calling
multiple contractors, you will have several opinions about whether your budget
is sufficient, and that will help you understand the likely cost and think
about adjustments to the scope of work.
9. Do you allow homeowners to supply some of the materials or do
some of the work themselves?
Some contractors prefer
this, while others are adamant about buying all the materials they will
install. Having homeowners perform work, particularly when the completion of
that work affects the schedule, can be problematic, so many contractors will
just say no. Knowing which way the contractor prefers to work will help you
understand if the firm will be a good fit given what you have in mind. If you
are financing the project with a construction loan, keep in mind that the
lender may require that only the contractor perform the work.
Taking the next steps
Depending on your
project, this may be a meeting in person, a referral to an architect or a
designer, or sending over sketches, plans or photos by email for a first look.
If you do set up a meeting, make sure to talk beforehand about the expected
agenda, the likely length of the meeting and whether some deliverable — an
estimate, for instance — will follow the meeting.