Getting ready to work with a Contractor
You are most likely reading this because you have reached a place where you need to start a project with the help of a contractor. Maybe it's a small repair such as a few broken pieces of siding, or it could be a much larger and daunting task. Either way, understanding your role and how it affects which contractor you choose is vital.
Money, money, money!
The first thing you need to determine is a budget. Do you know any friends that have recently worked on a similar project with a contractor? I emphasize recently because material and labor costs can change drastically, even in just a year. Maybe you received a quote five years ago to rebuild your deck and are finally ready to pull the trigger. Do not expect the price to be the same. The best way to figure out the average cost is to have multiple contractors write up an estimate. Then you can decide if you have the cash on hand or need to consult a lender. After giving the contractors the information they need (which I will lay out) compare the estimates. Notice any outlying numbers, for example the time needed. Let's say most estimates project your deck rebuild taking three weeks to complete from demo to finish, but one contractor estimated only one week. That sounds pretty amazing, and would lower the price on labor, but it is also concerning. Maybe this company over-sells and you would end up having to pay the same amount in the end, and your experience would be frustrating. Instead stick to the average bids and base the rest of your decision on when the project can be started and how well they communicate.
Before we move on I want to explain what a contractor needs to give you an accurate estimate. If they can visit your home in person to take their own measurements, that is best. But if traveling to you is not an option, take pictures and measurements for them. Next, let's stick with the deck remodel, you want to research which materials you love the most. Do you want to refinish your deck in the future? Or would you rather have a material that is more durable but more expensive? Most contractors can give you a quote with multiple material options, so be sure to have multiple ideas of materials, or be open to them, in case your top pick is unavailable or does not fit in your budget.
The next major topic to consider is when you want your project to be done. For a deck remodel, you wouldn’t want to start it in the middle of winter in the pacific northwest. It can be done of course, but often weather can cause delays and slow down work. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are asking for an estimate now, but cannot start the project for a year, prices on materials and labor will be different. Be sure to ask for estimates closer to the time you would like to start the project. If the contractor is unable to provide a crew quickly but you like working with them, ask if they can order the materials now to lock in the material price. Storing it on your property is the best option, but some contractors can store the materials for you until they have a crew ready for you! Above I mentioned how the estimated time to finish your project might vary depending on how quickly they believe their employees complete tasks. A faster crew for a job like siding can be more beneficial as it is an easier material to assemble, typically. But like our deck remodel we have kept in mind, a carpenter that measures twice and takes his time to make a safe exterior space is much more important. All this to say, take into account the type of project and the average time you receive from multiple estimates.
The last but most important question to ask yourself is, how do you want to be treated? This might seem a little fluffy, but it’s true. Imagine you are remodeling your deck, and a major contracting company can help you right away and for a good price, but they constantly put you on hold, treat you like an inconvenience, and consistently miss their appointments with you. In this case you, the client, prioritized the price over customer service. That is certainly a choice you can make! But if it makes the process of customizing your home too stressful, choosing a smaller company with better customer service is better. It’s all about what you and your household can handle. Other customer service options to consider are, do they utilize email and/or text? Do they have a local office? Will the same employees be visiting your house or is there scheduling more chaotic? These are all good questions to ask during the estimate process! Believe it or not, I recently worked with a subcontractor that did not check his email! He mostly worked on warranty claims but would not check his email, even though that's how home warranty companies notify him of claims and deliveries. He ended up missing the delivery for a new air conditioning unit we needed because of this quirk, but had I known that I would have requested a different company to work with. It unfortunately delayed our repair for 2 more weeks, and the house was unbearable. A simple question would have saved me a lot of time and discomfort!
In the end this is all about deciding what you want and need before inviting a contractor to visit for an estimate. But maybe you are completely lost with making these decisions, the last thing I would ask a contractor is if they have a design team. For the times when you are stumped, design teams make all the difference. They will do the groundwork for you to research supplies and/or find solutions for awkward spaces.
Now you are ready to start a project, confident of how to choose the team to welcome into your home!