Interest in the job
Now that you've deemed they can fit you into their schedule and they are qualified to do the job, invite them over to take a look. During your interview, you'll want to assess a few things. The balances of their Yes's and No's to your requests. Too much of either is a red flag, in my opinion (anyone watching Good Wife?).
Let's say you're doing a kitchen remodel and you're listing all of the changes you want to make. If the contractor continues to say, "Oh no you don't want to do that." or "You sure about that?", don't hire that downer. Do they see a problem that is justified or do they just not like your idea? Don't get me wrong, you should listen to their reasons why something won't work. Perhaps they'll have a good reason. But, too many negative remarks is a bad way to start a job. I've stopped in middle of an interview and said, "Listen, I've been doing this a long time and I know what I can do and I know what I want." In my head I was thinking, "Peace out." You don't want to be treated like a doormat.
(Or boy boss.)
Either way. You da boss.
On the flip side, you don't want a contractor who YES's everything saying, "Sure! I can do anything! Weeee!" That's the sound of money pouring out of your pocket. They should be looking out for the integrity of the home. So, if taking a wall out is a bad idea structurally, they should be pointing that out. A good balance of enthusiasm and warnings makes for a good contractor.
At this point, you've met with a few contractors and you have some estimates. You're ready to choose. Odds are there is one you are drawn to just because of their demeanor. Maybe they were a good listener, had great ideas and you just got a good vibe. If their price isn't exactly what you had in mind don't count them out just yet. Contractors will almost always negotiate their price. Let's hope they gave you a detailed estimate. If not, ask for one. If they will not provide you a breakdown of costs, do not hire them. You have right to know what you are paying for.
Go through each item and decide whether or not you are willing to pay what they are asking. Google "labor costs tile floor install" and check it against industry and location standards. Talk with them about how they came up with that number and if they can come down a little. Be fair. Remember, this is how they make a living.
If the cost is still way off, consider changing the scope of the project. Maybe it's you, not them. Maybe you're expecting too much. Maybe you can use a different material that is easier and more quickly installed. Maybe you can paint your cabinets instead of purchase new ones. During your initial interview, ask for cost projections for different scenarios such as laying new hardwood flooring vs. refinishing the old.
Money Up Front
This is the scariest part! You like a certain contractor, but they want some money up front. This is not uncommon, but I'd still shy away from it. They will need to purchase some materials for your job. This is the truth. But, will they? Who knows. There are two ways to go about protecting yourself.
- Have the contractor put a material order together at the supply house, then you pay for it yourself. Purchase all of the materials and have them delivered to your house. Clear some space in your garage or rent a storage container for a month.
- Purchase just the finish materials such as cabinets, vanity, mirrors, faucets, etc and have them delivered to your home (more help with this to come in a future post). Have your contractor pick up the building materials needed for the project. This should greatly reduce the cost they will incur. Reimburse them for the materials after they have brought them to the project. Promise to pay them at the end of each week, and do so. Any decent contractor should be able to foot the bill for a few hundred dollars in materials. Don't expect them to have to pay for too much, though. Most contractors are not rich, although their nice truck might fool you into thinking otherwise. Be fair.
If the materials are taken care of, then what do they need to be paid for upfront? NOTHING. If they haven't done anything yet, then they SHOULD NOT GET PAID. Labor SHOULD NOT be paid up front. If they claim it should be, then this is a huge warning. It's likely they are trying to pay this week's payroll on another job with your money. Sadly, they're in the hole and trying to make up for it. This will only snowball and turn ugly very, very soon.
Sign a contract! Signing a contract is not just for legal reasons. It also explains the expectation for the job. So much goes into a remodel that it is easy for a contractor to forget that you decided to put a fan in the master bedroom instead of just a light. "Install fixture" is not good enough. A good contract has a detailed scope of work and spells out everything that will be done. Make sure it is specific so there is no discrepancy. Spend time with this so mistakes are minimal. Getting a contractor to come back and fix things is incredibly frustrating and time consuming.
If any changes are made during the renovation, put them in writing. You may discover some plumbing had to be fixed unexpectedly and were not told how much it cost until the final bill shows up. Surprise bills at the end are an easy way to go over budget. You as the homeowner should know how much you are going to spend beforehand so you can accept a fair price. Get all changes in writing before the work begins. Plus if you are worried about them padding the numbers, an undocumented change would be a good place for them to hide it.