Asking The Right Questions Upfront

It is crucial that the contractor is reputable and can prove to you that he will honor the promises he is making to you up front.

Client’s Three Biggest Fears

Michael C. Stone (2007)
  1. Will they do the job I want them to do?
  1. Will they do the job at a fair price?
  1. Will they do the job in a timely manner? 


When interviewing a contractor, ask: Does the contractor…

  • Offer at least a 1 year written warranty?
  • Respond to warranty calls immediately? What is the process for doing so?
  • Have a guaranteed price using a fi xed–amount contract. Is this a 1-2 page agreement or a thorough detailed contract covering what is included, and more impor-tantly, what is NOT included in the project?
  • Provide an upfront production schedule at contract signing so that you know what will happen each day throughout the duration of your project?
  • Have written agreements with employees and trade contractors to ensure performance?
  • Institute a Pre–Contract Meeting for each project to ensure that everyone that is involved in the production phase of the project is familiar with the details, consequently eliminating “surprises” and possible change orders?
  • Have a list of outstanding references that you may contact on your own?
  • Acquire permits and use licensed trade and mechanical contractors (e.g. Plumber, electrician)
  • Have a license and certified staff for performing RRP Lead renovation required by the EPA on all homes 1978 and older?
  • Practice clear communication in a timely manner consistent with today’s technology?
  • Have a license and bond as required in your city?
  • Have written testimonials from past clients?
  • Show clear and well–done photos of past projects?
  • Possess at least 1 million dollars in liability insurance coverage and require that all trade contractors possess the same, in addition to their own workman’s compensation?
  • Have a clean reputation on the internet? (i.e. Google the company name)
  • Offer unique and attractive designs?
  • Have a detailed systems/processes to carry you through the sales–to–design–to–production phases of a project?
  • Have an idea of how long the project will take to complete, and also how long the design and planning phases will take?
  • Have a bid that is extremely low? Why?
  • Seem trustworthy and reliable? Does he or she put you at ease?
  • Communicate well with you, including listening?
  • Have a plan for how he or she will respect your home and your family?
  • Have their office located near you? The further away a contractor is the harder it is to properly service you and give you the attention you deserve.


There is a long-standing expectation in this industry that all contractors should give free estimates. As a result, little work actually goes into the initial estimate. Herein lies the problem. Some con-tractors guess an estimate or make a low bid to get their foot in the door. As a result the consumer chooses the low estimate because he or she trusts that the contractor actually put a lot of time and energy into quoting their project.

But is the estimate really free? Seriously, who works for free? I don’t know too many people who are willing to produce quality products for no cost. The fact is people don’t work for free, especially business owners. If they do, they typically aren’t in business for long. Someone will eventually pay for that free estimate in one way or another. Whether it is the one out of ten homeowners that accept an estimate and start a project or the contractor who goes out of business because he didn’t charge for his time. Someone ends up paying for the free cost. In most cases it is built into the selling price of the project.

So “free” for many is paid for by a few. Worst–case, and the most common scenario, is that the price we pay for a “free” estimate is a poorly planned, inaccurately priced, mess of a project which results in disappointment and sometimes the homeowner having to hire a second contractor to correct what should have been done right the first time.

So when examined more closely, collecting the “free” estimate is not the best approach to hiring your contractor.

We feel that most contractors have good hearts and actually care about people and their product. But again, it is very easy to start a remodeling business and there are not many standards set in our industry on how to run a remodeling business. So each contractor does it his or her own way.

We know this from experience. Many skilled craftsmen enjoy working with their hands and get to the point where they decide to start their own practice out of their love for the trade. After ten years their practice has evolved into a business and they fi nd themselves stuck in a business position without business knowledge or experience. As a result, business errors are made, corners are cut, and they have few or no systems and processes. Sadly, there are many home remodeling companies that fit this profile.

Your Kitchen This Thanksgiving

Bringing friends and family together for a big Thanksgiving dinner is a well-established American tradition. We look forward to it with great anticipation (and sometimes unrealistically high expectations!). There are times, however, when our homes just aren’t ideally situated to handle the extra people.

It’s no wonder that so many homeowners have opted for open floor plans that allow them to expand their kitchens and incorporate a great room into the design. Not only does that mean that whoever is cooking the turkey is no  longer isolated in the kitchen, but it’s much easier to accommodate everyone in the same space. It’s much more festive—and the open nature of the design can make the space feel even larger than it is.

But what if you’re in an older home that doesn’t have that kind of floor plan? Can you remodel to get the kind of space you want? You’d be amazed at what can be done! Undertaking this kind of remodeling project can be a little overwhelming—particularly if you have a hard time envisioning open space where there are now walls and doors! But that’s where a good designer and remodeler can help. They’re used to seeing—not just what’s currently there, but what can be there—and how to make it happen!

That’s why it’s good to sit down with your remodeler first and tell him or her what it is you want to accomplish.  Then he or she can come up with a plan that meets your needs—and matches your budget. It doesn’t happen over night, but a significant remodeling project like this isn’t something you want to rush.

So if things feel a little cramped when family and friends come over for Thanksgiving dinner, give your builder a call afterwards and start working together on a plan to make your home the perfect place to celebrate next year!

The Typical Method of Selecting a Contractor

Mr. and Mrs. Smith decide to find a contractor to remodel their home with the hope of getting the kitchen of their dreams. This is a project that has been years in the making and is long overdue. The kitchen is dark and outdated, drawers are broken, there is a lot of wasted space, and it is way too small for entertaining their large family and many friends. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are fed up with their drab non–functional kitchen—it is definitely TIME to remodel!

Like most people, Mr. and Mrs. Smith contact 2–3 contractors and collect estimates to remodel their kitchen. During each appointment they may look at some photos of the contractor’s past projects and ask questions like, “How long have you been in business?” or “How soon can you start?” Then they compare the estimates and make their decision. They might feel like they have done their homework. After all, the typical homeowner has been advised to, “Collect two to three free estimates, compare prices, and hire the contractor who isn’t the cheapest or the most expensive.” Seems logical. Or does it?

What are the risks of an insufficient selection process?

If a homeowner does not ask the right questions when interviewing a contractor, the potential for having a bad experience is very likely. The fact is the remodeling industry is any easy–entry industry. A person can have little to no experience to jump right in. All it takes is a truck and a handful of tools and presto, you’re a remodeler.

Where do homeowners go wrong?

Most people believe the advice that you should collect three free estimates, or bids. This is an anti-quated method for selecting a contractor. We live in a diff erent culture today. People do not have the time to be inconvenienced longer than they should or have to correct work that should have been done right the fi rst time. By using the “three bid” selection process, one typically bases their decision on cost. The results of this can lead to a catastrophe in your home!

Apples–to–apples comparison: Why is this wrong?

Most homeowners make their decision based on comparing estimates. It’s not that this is wrong, it’s just extremely hard (if not impossible) to do. The problem with this is that there is no industry standard for estimating a project and all contractors off er diff erent levels of service. Plus there is not one company alike. In addition to this, the typical free estimate is based on a one to two hour visit to the home and a ton of incomplete information causing a horribly inaccurate bid. Overall, it is impossible to do a true apples– to–apples comparison. So why compare estimates at all?

How should contractors be compared?

We recommend getting ballpark price ranges or average project costs from a contractor to make sure they fit your desired investment criteria. Then interview the contractor based on their level of service.

Your project cost will be different from any other project total because your project is different than any other project. So as long as the contractor is somewhere in your price range, spend time interviewing the contractor himself. After all, you will be spending the next several weeks and months working with this individual or company. It would be best to make sure that they meet your expectations and that the two of you are able to clearly communicate.