When planning a home remodeling project, homeowners face a long list of worries and concerns. How much will it cost? Will it take too long? Is this really the right move? But there is one question that homeowners could benefit from asking more often: how do I hire the right contractor?
According to the CFA (Consumer Federation of America) and NACAA (National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators), contracting is the top complaint among homeowners doing home improvement. Another survey found that almost half (48%) of all respondents would not hire their contractor for a future project.
Too many homeowners are spending thousands of dollars on home improvement projects, only to be left disappointed in the quality of the work done. Even worse, they might have to spend more money covering up and repairing the deficiencies of the initial contractor.
Rank Contractors Using Our Proven Method
Being homeowners ourselves, we understand the pain of spending hard earned money on substandard work. That’s why we created a highly effective method for weeding out the bad contractors until you find the right one.
This method consists of 5 essential P’s: People, Process, Portfolio, Price and Past Clients. Based on these, you can create a 0–50 ranking system that drastically reduces the risk of ending up with the wrong contractor and throwing your money down the drain. The first step is to narrow down your choices of contractors to a manageable number. 3-5 is ideal. These final contenders can be found by asking friends and family for referrals and selecting those in your local area.
The next step is to assess each contractor based on the above five components and rank them accordingly.
1. People (0-10 score)
It is important to remember that you are hiring people with whom you are going to spend quite a lot of time with. You will frequently talk to them, discussing various options. You will work together trying to make decisions on various issues. The project period is sort of a marriage. If you do not connect with your contractor, the whole thing may end up in shambles with you suffering the most.
Research the contractor and their staff. If you pay fees to a HOA (which vary across states), they will likely already have contractors they use who they will recommend if the work you want to do is approved. Check online to see whether they have been mentioned by a past customer in a negative light. When you interact with prospective contractors, try to examine their social skills. Imagine it is a first date and you are trying to find out whether someone would make for a good partner. After all, you are going to be actual partners in the remodeling project.
Ask plenty of questions and see how they respond. How easy is it to talk to them? Are they friendly when answering questions and providing explanations or do they seem impatient? Do they come across as overly forceful, pushing you to make a certain decision even if you do not want to?
As you talk to contractors, your gut will automatically tell you which one is the easiest to deal with. Rate each of them on a scale from 0 to 10. The goal here is to find someone that is easy to work with.
2. Process (0-10 score)
Get a rough run-through of their work process before you hire any contractor. Not only will this give you an idea of what to expect when the actual project starts, it will also show you how well they work. To rank a contractor properly in this area, you need to ask lots of questions. Here are some essential ones.
- Do you have a system or process for projects like these? (Having a system helps save time & reduces costs)
- Will you help with ideas and design?
- Who is responsible for any permits required?
- Who is the main contact person during the project?
- What is your dispute resolution process?
- What is your work schedule? (In other words, what hours will you be working on the project?)
Asking all these questions and any other you deem necessary will ensure that you go in prepared and knowing what to expect. By comparing answers given by different contractors, you can rank them on how efficient and customer-friendly their processes are.
For example, it is a problem if a contractor lacks a dispute resolution process. It is also a sign of trouble if there is no defined contact person. That could result in a whole lot of communication problems if you decide to hire the contractor.
3. Portfolio (0-10 score)
One of the best ways to evaluate a prospective contractor is through the work they have done in the past. It can help you determine the quality. Most importantly, it can give you peace of mind if they have done projects similar to yours.
Most contractors will be very willing to provide a varied portfolio of their work. This will mostly be in form of pictures and videos. Many will have a portfolio section on their website where you can browse through different projects and get a feel of the kind of challenges the contractor faces and how they solve them. Feel free to request a visit to one of their job sites if you want a more up-close look at their work.
When ranking the contractor’s portfolio, choose a number between 0 to 10, take into account factors like:
- The number of projects in their portfolio.
- The quality of past projects.
- Their actual willingness to share their project portfolio.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Look for contractors who have done a number of similar projects, like the one you have planned. Their experience in that specific area, i.e. hardwood flooring, basement remodeling, etc. could prove invaluable to the success of your home renovation.
4. Past Clients (0-10 score)
Past clients can provide a valuable source of information on a particular contractor. With review websites in plenty now, it is easy to find out what customers say about a contractor. Most clients will be candid in their reviews, detailing what areas the contractor excelled at and where they failed. You can find out how good the contractor is in communication, how well they handle unexpected emergencies and the overall customer experience.
If you cannot find a particular contractor on review sites, try searching Google for their company name with the word “reviews” or “complaints” attached. For example, ‘XYZ Remodeling Reviews’. You just might find customers complaining or praising them on a certain platform.
An alternative to online reviews is contacting past customers directly. An email or a polite call is an ideal way to ask about the quality of services offered by a specific contractor. Be sure to ask about important issues like communication, work quality, and pricing. If the customer is willing, you can even schedule a visit to see the contractor’s work in person.
To arrive at the right score, take into account:
- The number of reviews a contractor has.
- The proportion of customers who are happy with the contractor.
IMPORTANT NOTE: A contractor with 20-30 mostly positive reviews should score higher than a contractor with only 3 reviews even if they are all positive.
5. Price (0-10 score)
This is where many homeowners typically stumble in their contractor-finding mission. It is very common for homeowners to choose a contractor based solely on how cheap they are.
You may save some money by choosing the lowest bid, but the risk of poor workmanship is too high to be worth it. The most important thing when evaluating a contractor based on price estimates is to balance between cost and value. How is the value of their services relative to the price they are charging?
You need to be especially careful about questionable contractors charging rock bottom prices. Ask why their estimates are that low. It could be that there are other hidden costs you are not aware of or that the contractor is planning to leave out of the project altogether.
Generally, don’t let the price issue influence your decision too much. Focus on other P’s first – people, process, portfolio and past clients – before getting to price. If the contractor is someone you can work with, they have a comprehensive and well defined working process/system, they have an extensive project portfolio and past clients say positive things about them, then it is highly likely they won’t be the cheapest.
To determine the price score for a specific contractor, compare the services they will provide with what they are charging. There are several online resources you can use to find specific remodeling estimates for your area. Use these estimates to check whether the contractor is overcharging or undercharging you.
Adding up the Scores
Our ranking system starts from 0 (very poor) to 50 (excellent). To get the final score, add up the individual score you have awarded them in every P above. Compare the sum against the following scoring categories to see how each contractor has done.
- 50-40 Excellent – Ideally, your final choice of contractor should be in this range. The contractor is friendly, efficient, has vast experience, has many positive reviews and charges fairly based on the type of project.
- 39-30 Good – The contractor is friendly but may have fewer reviews and a smaller portfolio, most likely because they are relatively new in the market. But they have proven themselves in the short time they have been around and the prices are not too bad.
- 29-20 Moderate – The contractor may have several unhappy past clients or they may not be experienced in your specific kind of project. You may also feel that they are charging a bit too much. If you decide to go with a contractor in this range, be sure to ask lots of questions in the areas that you are concerned about.
- 19-0 Fail – they perform poorly in most if not all the P’s. Avoid at all cost.