Finding a Good General Contractor for Your Renovation

If you want to do some renovations around the house, whether it’s a big fix or small, a general contractor can help you get things done, on-time and on-budget. Don’t just settle for any contractor though — be sure to hire a good one. A reputable and trustworthy contractor can ensure that your home projects are done correctly. That means no cut corners or sloppy installations — only quality work that doesn’t need to be redone.

Finding a reputable contractor you can trust is the first, and probably most important, step. These tips can help.

Contractor or Handyman?

Before hiring a contractor, consider the scope of your project — it may not be the right job for a contractor. A handyman — someone skilled in general home repair and maintenance — may be a better fit for your project. Understanding the skills of a handyman versus a contractor will help you find the right professional for your home repair project and may save you money in the long run.

General contractors are licensed professionals who typically work on large-scale projects like renovations or remodels. A handyman is not required to have a trade license, but they are typically highly skilled at repairing homes. Hire a general contractor if your home repair project is large in scale and will have many moving parts. If the project is smaller scale or a specific repair, like a leaking faucet or new shelf, go with a handyman. A handyman will typically be less expensive and they are best suited for smaller projects.

Contractor Cost Estimates

If you decide to hire a contractor, you’ll want to know how much they’ll cost. This isn’t always clear though, as a quote for a contractor varies depending on factors such as where you live, the materials needed and what type of project it is. Whether your general contractor needs to hire subcontractors to get a specific task done is also a big factor. For example, if you are renovating your kitchen, your contractor may need to hire a plumber to help with installing the sink.

Home Advisor estimates the average rates of contractors and the average costs of projects that general contractors are typically hired for:

  • Electrician: $50 to $100 per hour. Average $321 for entire project.
  • Plumber: $45 to $200 per hour. Average $321 for entire project.
  • Bathroom remodel general contractor fees: $300-$300 per day.
  • Average cost of home kitchen remodel: $13,053-$37,018.
  • Average cost of home renovation and remodel: $46,795.

Tips for Finding & Choosing a Reputable General Contractor

1. No more guesswork about how to find experts

You know what you want, right? Maybe it’s a renovated kitchen with an island and new flooring. Or an updated bathroom with a shower stall. But have you thought about what and who it’s going to take to make those renovations happen? Your general contractor can help you find the right experts, at the right price so you don’t have to guess.

2. Ask your agent for contractor recommendations

Your American Family Insurance agent is a great resource and always ready to help. They know and work with local contractors, especially in storm-damage situations, and most likely have trustworthy recommendations. And, if a storm is the reason for your renovations, they can help you get started submitting any applicable storm damage insurance claims.

3. Do materials make a difference?

Another great topic to discuss with your American Family Insurance agent before you begin construction is if there are homeowners insurance discounts for using certain materials or having upgraded or renovated systems. Going with the cheapest bid and the cheapest materials may actually cost you in the long run. Being an informed consumer gives you the finished product you want and some discounts down the road.

4. Look for good contractor referrals

Word of mouth is a great way to do business. Start out by asking your friends and family if they know any good contractors. If you come up short there, go ahead and Google it. There are a ton of great referral resources online.

5. Stay local

In major storm situations, outside contractors often come into the area. Along with them come those looking to take advantage of storm victims. If possible, try to stick with local contractors near you who have ties to the community and a reputation to uphold. They’ll also be better versed on where to find subcontractors and supplies in your region and are more likely to comply with local licensing requirements.

6. Shop around

Interviewing contractors can be time consuming, but it’s still the smart move. You’ll discover you can learn a lot about the contractor and the process just by asking a few questions.

Wondering what to look for in a general contractor? Here are questions to ask in order to properly vet your contractor:

  • What are their specialties?
  • Do they handle jobs like yours regularly and is the size of your project within their scope?
  • Do they subcontract any of the work? If so, will they provide you with information on the subcontractors?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they have the proper licenses for your municipality?
  • Will they give you a list of references or previous clients that you can call?
  • When can they start working and how long will it take?
  • How many projects will they have going at the same time?
  • How do they handle permitting?
  • How much will the entire project cost and how much of that is for supplies?

Plan on interviewing at least three different contractors and getting a written bid from each one. Once you have your three (or more) bids, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price.

7. Figure out what the contractor specializes in

If you have hail damage and you need your roof replaced, you’ll want a contractor with roofing experience. If you’re building on a new addition, look for a contractor with a wider set of skills. The goal is to find the right builder, with the right set of skills, for the job at hand.

8. Learn what you can about subcontractors

It’s not uncommon for a general contractor to have a few subcontractors they use regularly for specialized jobs. If your contractor is going to be using subcontractors, take time to learn more about who they are, what they do, what that means, how payments are handled, etc. The more you know about the team working on your home, the better you’ll feel about the job getting done right.

9. Check references

If the contractor gave you references, don’t hesitate to give them a call. Even better — find a project they’re currently working on and ask the homeowner if you can stop by to see them in action on the job. Check out how clean the jobsite is. How many people are working? Does it look safe and are they being respectful of the homeowner’s property?

10. Do your research

The Better Business Bureau and local court records are excellent resources for finding any past issues connected to a contractor. It’s also a good idea to dig into professional disciplinary boards in your region. These steps can take some extra time, but you’re putting your home in this person’s hands, so being proactive about protecting your home is a smart move. Also consider researching online through popular review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List as a convenient way to find top-rated and local contractors.

11. Determine if their licenses are in order

Municipalities can vary on licensing requirements, but a license of some sort is typically required. Check to see what your area recommends and then make sure the contractor you’re interested in is up to date on their requirements.

12. Insist on having the proper permits

Most home renovation projects require permits. If a contractor suggests skipping the permits to save money and time, it’s time to find a different contractor. If you don’t get the proper permits, you could be at risk of violating local ordinances, and that could lead to a fine. And when you have the right permits, it means the work will be properly inspected by the city or county to ensure everything is up to code. Oh, and be wary of any contractors who ask you to get the permits, this is their responsibility. Make them do their job.

13. Get it in writing

It’s best if you can have the details ironed out and signed in a contract. If changes are made along the way, get them in writing too.

14. Watch for lowball bids

If one of the bids comes in way lower than the others, it may be tempting, but probably not a good idea to go with that contractor. When one contractor is really out of range of the others, it might suggest they are cutting corners. The money you think you’re saving now could lead to big expenses down the road.

15. Verify insurance coverage

Get a copy of the contractor’s insurance policy and speak with your agent so you know what’s covered by your homeowners insurance and what’s covered by the contractor’s business insurance.

16. Don’t pay everything upfront

While it’s expected that you’ll pay something upfront in order to buy materials, you should never pay the entire bill before the work is done. If you’re being pressured to make a full payment before the work even starts, it’s probably in your best interest to walk away from that contractor. If you can, set up a payment schedule. Make a down payment at the start, a bit more at certain milestones and pay majority of the balance at the end, when every detail is done to your satisfaction. Both parties should feel comfortable that the payment schedule is fair.

If you’ve found a great contractor who you trust to deliver a quality job on time and at a price that’s fair, you’ve discovered a real gem. Let them know that you appreciate the way they handle their business and how they treated you and your home. Offer to be a referral for them or write them a sincere review. A little appreciation can go a long way.

While you’re focusing on managing your renovation, make managing your insurance easier. Log in or sign up for My Account, where you can access your insurance cards, file a claim, pay your bills and much more! Even better? You can do it all from the MyAmFam app. Download it today!

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Related Topics: At Home , Home Insurance , Owning A Home