Start with your friends and family. You can always rely on them to have your best interest in mind. Your architect or designer will also have great recommendations of contractors they have worked with before or contractors that are most likely qualified to properly execute your design. These days, there are several online options that can give you insight as well as examples of the work, such as Houzz.com
Once you’ve assembled a list, make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions:
- Do they take on projects of your size?
- Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?
- Can they give you a list of previous clients and addresses of completed projects?
- How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
The answers to these questions will reveal the company’s availability, reliability, how much attention they will be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go.
Meet Face to Face
Based on the phone interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. It is crucial that the two of you communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time.
Now that you’ve narrowed your list, put your research to use. Call up former clients to find out how their project went and ask about the contractors ability to problem solve without impeding on design. The thing that sets a good contractor apart is how they deal with things when they don’t go according to plan. From here, select two or three to continue forward with.
You have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Now it’s time to stop looking back at past work and start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will not only want a complete set of blueprints, but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Be sure to investigate allowances and quality of materials to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples.
Don’t Let the Price Rule the Process
All prices should be within 5% of each other for total cost of labor and materials. If you find a larger variation there is likely a discrepancy in something. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he/she communicates as well as the comfort level you have with them. All things being equal, it’s best to get someone you are comfortable with.