Don’t let contractor horror stories scare you into DIY submission. Some projects go well beyond typical homeowner skill. We talked to Marla Ray of Urban Referrals, a DC-based company that connects people with contractors, about what to look for in a contractor and how to go about securing one.
1. What’s the most important thing to look for in a contractor no matter what it is you need done?
No matter how large or small a remodeling job may be, you always want to make sure they hire a company that is licensed, insured (including worker’s compensation) and EPA RRP certified if they live in a home built before 1978. There are a few trades that do not require licensing, however insurance is always required and protects both parties.
2. How many contractors should you get in touch with for a quote?
I always suggest consumers meet with two companies to assess their project and to discuss ideas and pricing. Please note, it’s key to ensure the contractors are bidding on the exact same scope of work.
If they don’t feel comfortable with the companies they meet with (they arrived late, took too long to provide a proposal, is booked too far out, personalities did not mesh) or the quote differs dramatically, a third meeting may be necessary. I see too many people getting four, five and six estimates, and it creates havoc and wastes everyone’s time and in the end, that person was just looking for the lowest price.
This leads me to a popular myth: “If I tell the contractor how much I can spend, they will make their bid match my budget.” Not true! Reputable companies have software and metrics they use to create estimates. These tools enable them to create a proposal in which they can do the job and make money for their business. Length of the job, number of employees needed and material costs are factored into pricing. Nine out of ten times, consumer budgets are not enough for the entire scope of work, so it is key to start off your contractor meetings with open communication and honesty about what kind of funding you have to work with. The contractor can then make recommendations regarding what work can be done and what materials can be purchased.
3. When is it worth it to pay a little more?
The old saying “You get what you pay for” is 100 percent true. I see too many customers go with the lowest bid then come back to us after the job was not finished or done incorrectly. They end up having to spend more money to get it re-done or finished properly.
4. Not every contractor is worth their salt, but it might not be overtly obvious on first meet. Tell us about some red flags that could be tip offs.
I always have contractors provide us with their licensing, insurance, EPA RRP certification (if required), business cards and customer references. If a company does not have all of these components, you may want to disregard meeting with them.
5. If someone has concerns with someone they hired, what is the best first step to take?
Communication is key. If you are upset or confused by something going on with your home renovation, talk to your contractor right away. Do not wait until the job is done. Most reputable companies will be more than happy to address your concerns.