And therein lies a cautionary truth for homeowners eager to remodel: Don’t choose a contractor based solely on price, say the experts.
“A remodeler’s bid is an essential factor, but it’s certainly not the only or most important one you should evaluate carefully,” said Mimi Altman, executive director for the Greater Chicagoland Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI of Greater Chicagoland/
While cost is important, other criteria should be assessed as well, said Dave Roberts, AIA, CR, UDCP, president of Roberts Construction Group, Inc., based in Evanston.
“The reputation of the remodeler in their community is one of the first things I would ask about. You need to gather information and feedback about the contractor’s integrity, quality of workmanship and standing in their industry,” Roberts said.
That means doing your due diligence as a consumer by researching the remodeler online, investigating their Better Business Bureau rating and inquiring about them with your area Chamber of Commerce and your state’s Attorney General office.
“You should also ask the contractor for homeowner references and call to learn about their experiences,”
Dew cautions, however, not to underestimate the price equation. He said price should be discussed early in the conversation when first contacting a remodeler, as it makes sense to quickly eliminate any candidates who aren’t within your budget.
“Selecting a contractor who can work within your price range and who is also reliable and ethical is crucial,” said Altman. “The proposal is only a piece of paper. This contractor will be in your home for a period of time, and peace of mind is much more important than price alone. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying, ‘You get what you pay for.’”
Remember that if the quoted bid seems astonishingly low and too good to be true, it probably is.
“That’s probably a sign that the contractor left out some important things like high-grade materials, is preparing to cut corners, or is really desperate. Perhaps he’s way behind on his bills and is looking to collect a deposit from somebody fast,” Roberts said.
Altman recommends getting a referral to a reputable contractor from a trusted professional organization like NARIGC, whose members have to abide by strict industry codes and regularly keep up with continuing education in their profession. Once you have the names of a few good leads, research them thoroughly. Prior to hiring a contractor, you should also request:
• Proof of adequate worker’s compensation and general liability insurance coverage for himself and any workers he hires.
• Proper identification which indicates a permanent place of business and business phone number.
• Reassurance of financial stability—ask the remodeler for bank, trade and supplier references, and contact these parties to inquire about the contractor’s financial solvency.
• A written contract proposal, given to you within a few weeks of your initial meeting, that spells out the scope of the project, the expected start/stop dates, exactly what labor and materials are included and not included, the names of subcontractors who will be used, any special permits required, payment arrangements, and notice of a three-day right to cancel the contract (required, per Illinois law).
• A warranty, expressed in the written contract, of the contractor’s workmanship and the materials used for at least one year from the job completion date.
• A realistic price—be suspicious of any figure that appears too low or too high; also, avoid paying a large deposit (a 10% to 20% deposit up front is typical, but may be more if a significant amount of custom-made materials are involved) or paying in cash only.
Based in Des Plaines, The Greater Chicagoland Chapter of NARI (www.narichicago.org 847-298-6212)
Image caption: Mike Dew (center) with Oak Tree Construction Services meets with Mary and David Davis about a remodeling project in their Villa Park home.