There are many forms, formulas and websites where you can go to check out the remodeling and building contractors in your area. If you’re in Washington State, you would first go to the State Labor & Industries Department to make sure the contractors are licensed (https://fortress.wa.gov/lni/bbip/Search.aspx) and that if there have been any consumer claims against their bond, such claims have been amicably resolved. There are other web sites where you can see if anybody’s posted reviews for their company on “rating” websites, their testimonials on their own website or even their “status” with the online yellow pages! Beware though, a company can write their own reviews and one not-so-good review from an cantankerous customer does not make a contractor necessarilly “bad”.
With the overload of information available to us, it’s important to remember the necessary questions to get to the heart of each potential contractor’s appropriateness for you. Whomever you choose to do your project not only has to be skilled, capable, and financially sound, but you also have to be comfortable with them working on your house, or in your house as the case may be, day in and day out.
Here are a sample of important questions to ask every contractor that you speak to:
— How long have you been in business? — A contractor in business for a good length of time is a testament to his abilities to weather the vulgarieties of the marketplace (such as a recession) and to do good work.
— Are you a member of a national or local trade association? — Membership in trade organizations means that the contractor is usually interested in improving himself through continuing education, doing public service work, networking and making contacts with others including sub contractors, material suppliers, designers, innovators, and being a part of the legislative process that affects his industry. All this is good!
— May I have a list of project references? — References are the number one key to finding a good contractor. First, there should be a good number of references. Secondly, you should call three or four of the references and ask about the contractor: was this a similar project? (it should be); was the contractor on time and on budget?; were his preliminary budgets accurate?; was his billing clear and fair?; were his communications clear and timely?; was he willing to work with the reference if there was a misunderstanding?. In summary, you should ask the reference: would you recommend this contractor?; On a one to ten scale, where ten is the best, where would you place this contractor and why?
— Who will be working on this project? Are they employees or subcontractors? — If they are employees, how long have the employees been employed by the contractor and what is their experience in this building type?; If they are subcontractors, do they carry the same insurance level as the contractor?; Ideally, in residential construction, a project will have both long time employees working on the project and subcontractors working on the specialties, subcontractors who have a long term relationship with the contractor. Long term employees & subcontractors demonstrate that the contractor continually does good work that’s high in quality (good carpenters and subs are universally proud of their work), is fair, and importantly, has safe job sites.
— Is the contractor insured adequately to cover all contingencies? Who pays if your house burns down in the middle of the project? What happens if there’s an injury on the job? — The State only requires a bare minimum bonding and insurance, which often will not cover a problem. In some cases, the homeowner could be liable. You should ask for more than the minimum coverages and verify with your home owners insurance company that the coverage is adequate.
Don’t be afraid or shy about communicating and asking questions of potential building or remodeling contractors! Your project may cost a lot of money and this upfront investigation will be more than worth the effort.