How To Select A Remodelor

Whether your project is a small maintenance item or a major addition, it will not be inexpensive. Construction work requires skilled labor, expensive materials, and experienced coordination and supervision. The costs can mount quickly. The selection of a remodeler is important.

Periodically there appear in the local newspaper wire service articles on “how to select a remodeler”. These are somewhat helpful, but since they are written to cover the entire nation they are overly general and usually have incorrect information in them. As an example, these articles often suggest telephoning the Better Business Bureau and also verifying that the contractor is licensed. There is no Better Business Bureau in Champaign County and there is no state contractor licensing in Illinois, thus a call to the BBB is a waste of long distance charges to Peoria, and asking the contractor if he is licensed is only good for catching him in a lie.

Small Firm vs. Large Firm

First think for a moment as to what it is that you want to have done. A large firm is best for large projects. If you are on a very tight budget it is likely that any company that has an office already has too much overhead for your wallet. If timeliness is important to you a small company is likely to have too few resources to handle multiple customers in a timely fashion. If you need help with design, conceptualizing, and coordination then someone who works out of their truck during the day likely does not have the time and ability to offer. Be wary of anyone who never answers their telephone and only has an answering machine and a beeper number. These are well known devices to screen calls.

A Few Warnings

Now that you have thought a bit about what kind of company might be a good fit for your project how do you find a good remodelor? A few more warnings first –

Remember that there is no state licensing for remodelers or general contractors.

Anyone can call himself or herself a remodeler, builder, or general contractor. It is one of the easiest businesses to enter – a hammer, a circular saw, and a magnetic sign for the side of the vehicle and you are a contractor.

There is no construction trade organization that monitors or polices its membership.

Remodeling is a different business that requires different skills and knowledge base than new construction – often companies that primarily build new are not the best choice for remodeling or additions.

Avoid using close friends, neighbors, or relatives. Remember this is a business deal and business deals need to be handled in a business like manner.

Everyone gives free estimates if you own the property where the work is to be done; remember that there is a difference between an estimate and a firm bid.

In Champaign County the two best sources for finding a remodelor are the Yellow Pages and word of mouth.

Yellow Pages:

Show that the business has an address and has the resources to pay for an ad.

Donnelly Directory does not offer its advertisers a selection under Remodeling. Thus companies must either advertise under “Contractor” or “Home Improvements” or both. This is a disservice to the user of the Yellow Pages. In the construction industry a general contractor does commercial work, a home builder builds new homes, a remodeler does home remodeling, and a general remodeler remodels both residential and commercial.

Donnelly Directory often offers cross listings in other categories such as carpenter. If a company listed in a small specialty category such as carpentry, decks, or bathrooms is not also listed under contractor or home improvements they are likely both very small and very specialized.

Donnelly Directory will take anyone’s ad. Being in the telephone book does not insure quality or professionalism.

If possible check the current telephone book and the ones for the previous two years. The largest ads often belong to a start up firm trying to buy market share. Often this strategy does not work and the firm lasts less than the first year.

Word of Mouth:

Be careful about asking close friends, near neighbors, or relatives for recommendations. Remember this is a business deal. Don’t put yourself in a situation where if something goes wrong you will feel odd towards people you care about.

Do ask friends, acquaintances, co-workers, your banker, club or church members etc for recommendations.

Regardless what their advertising may say, most large chain operations do not routinely have knowledgeable enough staff to recommend remodelers. Local lumberyards can be a source for recommendations. However remember they will be recommending their customers presuming they will get the material sales. Ask at several lumberyards. Most remodelers deal primarily at only one yard.

For the same reason that you should not ask a Realtor for a recommendation for a homebuilder, you should not ask them for a recommendation for a remodeler. Many Realtors who primarily sell lots and new homes are too closely aligned with one or two builders to provide an impartial recommendation.

BE CLEAR on what it is that you are looking for when seeking a remodeler.

Following are a few suggestions:

Check with your insurance company. If all aspects of the work being done are not covered by your insurance make certain that the company you hire is insured. Typically a professional firm will carry a minimum of one million dollars in general liability as well as commercial vehicle, and worker’s compensation insurance. In Illinois an independent self-employed trades person is not required to carry worker’s compensation. This can leave you unprotected however. For jobs of several days or more ask the remodeler to have their insurance company mail you a certificate of insurance. Do not take a hand delivered one.

It is important that you spend some time chatting to determine if you have a rapport with them. For more than small jobs this firm will be involved in your life for a while. If you cannot get along now it will only be worse later. Getting along means: do they listen to you, your ideas, and your needs? Do they show respect: did they smoke inside without asking, were they polite, did they wipe their feet before coming inside, did they keep their appointment?

It is unfair to ask for a “ball park price” in the first meeting. It is grossly unprofessional to get a firm bid at the first meeting. Remodeling is much more complex than that. Remember that every building is unique. Even the simplest applications such as installing a new storm door have dozens of factors that can vary the price. Off the shelf pricing will get you off the shelf work.

You should not ask for references until you have decided to go with a remodeler. Think of it this way one day you will be a reference, would you like the remodelor to be giving your name and number out at every job lead? Also remember the remodeler will not knowingly be using references that do not sing his praises. All references prove is that the remodeler has at least a few customers who were satisfied.

For the same reason as above do not ask to see previous work unless you are prepared to start offering guided tours of your remodeled bathroom or kitchen or basement to all kinds of perfect strangers.

You should never be the first one. Never be the first bathroom remodel or ceramic tile job or hardwood floor installation or window replacement or spiral staircase installation or fireplace building for your remodeler. You want experience.

Do not ask what the hourly labor rate is unless you are not seeking an estimate but rather are looking to only hire by the hour.

Remodelers make some of their income off of a mark-up on materials. Expect that the labor will be higher if you provide materials.

Make certain that the bid includes everything – labor, materials, permits, hauling, clean up and removal of debris or specifically states what is not included.

A common error that consumers make is to ask several different companies for pricing on a project that has no detailed specifications or drawings. There is absolutely no way possible to make a rational choice from bids so obtained. They will inevitably be for different things.

If your project is in any way complex the first visit should be looked upon as an interview. Only if during the interview you can decide that this is going to be your remodeler should you proceed asking for a bid.

Most articles suggest that you get three bids. Remember a competitive bid for any project larger than routine maintenance or upgrade can only be made off of a full set of drawings with a full list of specifications. You are flying blind otherwise. You are leaving the decision only to price. If you want three bids rather than three guesses you must assume the responsibility to prepare or have prepared for you by an architect a full set of bid documents.

When you get estimates, they should be in writing and provide as much detail as possible. Make sure all bids are based on the same set of plans and specifications. Discuss the bids in detail with the remodelers to make sure you understand the reasons for any variations in price.

You should not automatically accept the lowest price. A higher price may be a better value if the remodeler provides better service, uses materials of higher quality or if the work is more extensive.

Much more common today is the design build format. With this you first select the remodelor you feel comfortable working with and then work in partnership with him on design, costs, options, choices, schedules etc.

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