How to get the best contractor

Follow these 5 tips to get the most out of your remodeling project.

By MSN Real Estate partner 20 hours ago

© Paul Burns/Photodisc/Getty ImagesBy Josh Gorskoff, Money magazine

 

When the real estate market was in the dumps, snagging a great contractor was a simple task. With few people remodeling, no project was too small for hungry pros, many of whom were bidding at 10 percent to 40 percent below their boom-time rates.

 

Those days are gone. Remodeling spending is now up 30 percent from its low point, and single-family construction spending has doubled. Depending on where you live, a project that cost $50,000 in 2010 might now come in at $60,000 to $70,000.

 

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"Materials costs are up, much of the skilled labor pool has jumped to the oil and gas industry, and contractors' phones are ringing," says Bernard Markstein, U.S. chief economist at Reed Construction Data.

To get the best help, you'll need to be strategic.

 

Start with referrals. Begin by polling friends and tradespeople, and tell the contractor who pointed you in his direction.

 

Using a referral will do more than just ease your mind -- it will also make you a priority for the pro, who wants to keep his clients and subcontractors happy.

Don't be vague. When you reach out, show that you've put careful thought into the project by expressing a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and a sense of what you can spend.

 

"Bidding on a job takes about a dozen hours," says Bruce Irving, a Boston renovation consultant. "He's not going to bother unless he thinks you're serious."

 

Get the contractor's opinion. When a contractor comes to see the job, don't jump right into discussing price. First ask for the contractor's input on the plan and on any initial sketches your architect has put together. This shows you value the contractor's knowledge and don't just see him as a nail-banger.

Plus, the contractor's answers will show you how he thinks -- and whether you want to hire him. Is he channeling what you want? Great. But if the contractor suggests lazy solutions or pricey add-ons, move on.

 

Now negotiate. Solicit bids from three or more contractors. Be sure to stoke competition by letting them know that you're gathering multiple offers. Skip any bids that are wildly high or low.

 

Should your first choice still be over your budget, haggling is risky: The contractor will probably either walk or cut corners on the project. Instead, let him know the contractor much the bid is over and ask for some suggestions on how to tweak the job to lower the price with minimal impact, says UCLA law professor Russell Korobkin, a negotiation specialist.

Remember to hold out a contingency of 10 percent to 20 percent because many remodels mushroom over the course of the project.

 

Be flexible. This is also the time to nail down scheduling. Ask the contractor for approximate start and end dates. But don't press too hard. For a top contractor, at a fair price, you may to have to wait a bit. 

 

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15Comments
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We went through 2 general contractors on just one remodeling project. While there are some good ones out there, my personal opinion is that a large number of them are either incompetent or crooked.  While this article is helpful, I feel that it falls way short of all that needs to be considered before trusting someone with your money/home/investment.  I recently posted all that we learned from our experience with the 2 donkeys we hired, feel free to check it out at morningsiderenovation.com
3 hours ago
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Having been an outside salesman in the building supply business I have seen every kind of builder there is. One key point is to check the credit history. The not so good builders always seem to have credit problems. A definite indicator a the type of work they do. Another key question is to ask if they are on the site full time or does he sub the job out.
3 hours ago
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You get what you pay for.  It's as simple as that.  Most people want a Ferrari for the price of a Yugo, so they end up with a contractor with a Yugo background promising a Ferrari project.  There's no way to not be disappointed at the outcome. 
3 hours ago
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Ever consider calling your local building inspector and ask him/her about the contractor's history. We know the good contractors. Ask about permits, inspections... We are there to make sure the job is done right. Use this free resource.

 

8 hours ago
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I'm a sales consultant for one of the largest contractors in the US. A company that also tops the lists of Google Reviews, Angie's List, and frankly nearly any forum you could possibly look on. After years in this business I have concluded that the number one reason homeowners have so many problems with contractors is because of HOMEOWNERS. The number one reason people say no to me during an estimate is because of the price being higher than they expect, and to be sure I come in regularly twice as high as the next guy. However after 22 straight years of solid growth and customer satisfaction in the age of the internet it would be hard for us to conceal that we were up to something unethical. We dont charge twice as much for the sake of charging twice as much. We charge MORE because we do MORE, and it is what it costs us to guarantee a 5 star review. That so many of our customers regard us so highly is precisely why were on incorporated 5000 fastest growing companies list, and why during a recession we grew bigger and stronger. Our customers had faith that we had their best interests in mind and and that our success depended on their reviews. I guess I'm trying to say that so many lousy contractors exist because HOMEOWNERS keep hiring them. Contractors have kids to feed and bills to pay and when you force them to compete, not over value but price, you get three price tags with a vague possibility of value.
10 hours ago
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I always tell the sales man I am checking with other contractors for a better/lower price, I tell them before they give me a price that I do not haggle, it does not matter what price they quote it is going to be too high, and I tell them that... I let them know that I know the prices of the materials and that I am willing to buy the materials myself , that I am interested in the labor costs and how long it takes to get the job done, Yes I know they do not usually keep it down to the days they state, some take longer some take less,  I like to pay cash, and I tell them  that I will pay cash when the job is finished, they seem to like cash in the hand! I always ask them if they have at least three jobs they have finished in my area if I can have the phone number of at least three people they have did jobs for even if someone has recommended them to me. They MUST HAVE A state Lic.. with the state, and I check to see if they have a lot of complaints , so far I have been able to get them to do little extras for free , like repairing a broken door knob, repairing where the door knob broke the plaster , repair the ceiling where stucco needed to be replaced, repairing the wood under the sink, and replacing a panel in the toilet down stairs, they also re stained a section of my wooden floor next to my couch in the TV at no extra cost... I only ask about these things AFTER a price has been agreed upon, if they suggest raising the price to repair these little things, I tell them I will have to think it over if I want them to do the job...I like to deal with people who work on commission , i find they will lower the price if they think I am going to have them fix something, they usually can give me a discount from their commission...I have only had one sale man  who tried to get me to pay too much for a counter top replacement, he say his company was the best one in the area, because he worked for Sears and he was not a sub contractor, ( he worked on commission)  but his workers aare sub contracted , just like most of them where i live, they use cheap labor in a lot of cases, they must speak some English or I do not use them!  and I tell them up front I need people who can speak English, So they do not have to keep getting a supervisor, out when I have a question or need them to make corrections on the spot, I hate having to wait for someone to come and explain to them what I want or need done.
11 hours ago
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We just had and are having a mega remodel---ask for referrals from family/friends---The Contractor should give you a time schedule, you choosing materials; he waiting until all materials are in, then the project begins, to save money and time.  It should go fast---do everything by Code today--it is helpful if you can afford a designer work with you---you buy the materials and don't like them?---You still "own" them--paying for the restock fee, and/or the material.  It is H-------l on Earth to go thru this process--be prepared.  1 1/2 years later---each craft person specialist should be lined up with a calendar date.
13 hours ago
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A good contractor will give you the real price on the first bid. When you ask for a lower price I always ask what part of the job would you like me to do a lower quality job on. Most people respect that this means I have given them a real price.
13 hours ago
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I agree with "All That" who commented a bid is his best price. That is what a bid is supposed to be. You should solicit bids from three or more reputable contractors. If the low bid is more than your budget, discuss it with your architect. The article says, "First ask for the contractor's input on the plan and on any initial sketches your architect has put together." No the architect is the expert looking out for you. He should work with the contractor to discuss modifications to bring the project into budget, with your approval. The contractor regardless of how nice he is in this relationship, is you advisory, the architect by his professional obligation and code of ethics is your fiduciary looking out for your interests. You, the home owner, probably do not have the expertise to do deal with the contractor.

And second, a bid cannot be based on an architects initial sketches, a guess at the final cost maybe. A bid is based on complete construction documents and explicit specifications.

The article says UCLA law professor Russell Korobkin, a negotiation specialist wants you to negotiate with the contractor to tweak the scope of work. I am sure that contractor (fox) is going to have you leave the door open to the chicken coup.


15 hours ago
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I don't negotiate.  Period.

When I give you a bid, it IS the best price.

You want it done cheaper?  No problem.   Call me to fix it when the other guy is done.

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