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I WANT TO RENOVATE:
Why does finding the right contractor always feel like the hardest part of a home renovation? Trying to find a professional who’s reliable and experienced, who really understands your vision, AND who you feel comfortable welcoming into your home — the process can be overwhelming.
In this article, we’ll start at the beginning and take you through the steps of finding a general contractor based on our expertise and the experiences of the homeowners we work with every day.
Here’s what you should know when choosing the right contractor for your home renovation.
1. Make your “Want” Renovation Wishlist
For most of us, there’s a difference between our “dream home” and a realistic renovation plan. But before you find a contractor, it’s a good idea to think big and then start to narrow things down. Spend some time in your home to figure out what you want to change. After living in your home for awhile, you’ll start to notice what’s not working for you!
Make a list of everything that you’d want (to a certain extent) to change in your home. Be specific - what kind of flooring do you want? How far do you want to push out your kitchen? What material is your dream backsplash? Are you picturing an open concept layout on your first floor? Will you need to replace appliances?
2. Make your “Need” Renovation Wishlist
Next, it’s time to decide which upgrades you want and which upgrades you need. Those luxe marble countertops would be nice, but not at the cost of the additional half bath that would make life a lot easier.
We recommend ranking each piece of your wishlist in order of priority - that way, if something ends up being cheaper or more expensive than you pictured, you’ll easily be able to course correct with your prioritized list.
3. Ask Friends and Family for Recommendations
Now, it’s time to start the search. Start by making a list of 10-15 contractors in your area. This list should be based on recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers - who not only know a contractor, but have actually used them in the past.
Ask them specifically about their experience working with the contractor. For example, did the contractor come in on budget and on schedule? How often did the contractor communicate with you and how easy/difficult was it for you to reach out and contact them directly?
4. Ask for Recommendations in your Neighborhood Facebook Group
We’ve also worked with homeowners who’ve found their dream contractor online. A worldwide pandemic has made this method even more valuable. Most likely, fellow neighbors and parents will be happy to provide contractor names, because they’ve been in your shoes and know just how hard it is to find the right contractor.
Many homeowners have found success using:
- Neighborhood Facebook Groups
- NextDoor App
- Google Search
- Parenting Facebook Groups
We’d also recommend using a web search to find out if contractors have reviews on their Google Business profile. This is a good, quick way to vet people before meeting them in person.
5. If You’re Going to Use a Designer/Architect, Get Your Architectural Plans Now
While many homeowners choose to go straight to a contractor to get plans and estimates, some homeowners go through the extra step of getting architectural or engineering plans for their renovation.
This is only required for certain types of renovations (including remodels with structural changes), but the extra money spent upfront for professional architectural plans can really help your renovation vision come to life. Often architects and designers will suggest changes that the average homeowner wouldn’t even think of, based on their many years of experience in the industry.
6. Check out their Portfolios
Before making the effort of meeting contractors in-person, ask to see images of their past work. You want to choose a contractor that specializes in the specific needs of your project.
For example, someone with a long list of bathroom remodels may not be the best choice for your kitchen renovation. Qualified general contractors will make it easy to reach out to them and see their work.
- Request information of their completed projects over the past year, including photos, blueprints, sketches and other visuals to get the best understanding of how they approach a project.
- Keep in mind that a contractor’s portfolio will usually showcase their best work, so if the project list is really short or there’s more than one project that doesn’t meet your standards, take them off your list.
7. Reach out to your Top Contractor Candidates
Schedule several interviews to meet with your top candidates. You will be communicating with your contractor on a daily basis for many weeks, so meeting them face-to-face is the best way to see if you jive.
It’s important to reach out as early as possible. It can take weeks for a contractor just to respond to your phone call - they are busy people! That’s why we recommend at least reaching out six months before you’d be ready to start your renovation so that you don’t feel rushed at any point in the process.
8. Interview your Top Contractor Candidates
The in-person meeting is the best opportunity to see if you get a “good vibe” from your contractor - to see if you trust them and feel comfortable working with them.
There are also a lot of practical questions you should ask during your interview.
Questions to ask contractors before hiring:
- Would you feel comfortable with this person in your home?
- Are they communicating clearly with you?
- Will they be compassionate about your concerns and answer your questions?
- Are they licensed? (remember this is super important!)
- Do they guarantee their work?
- How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
- How many other projects they will have at the same time as yours?
Prepare a list of questions for your interview so you can get the most out of it and don’t forget anything.
9. See Finished Products Firsthand
In addition to friends and family who may have recommended a certain contractor, ask for additional references so you have more opportunities to see projects similar to yours first-hand.
- Go tour a project similar to yours: During your visit, pay attention to the details and ask if the owner’s have needed servicing or repairs since. Choose a project or two that’s dated at least 2-3 years, so you can see how everything has held up.
- See photos of a similar project: If you aren’t able to tour a project, simply ask references for photos or a short video of the renovated area. If homeowners are happy and passionate about the contractor they’ve worked with, they are often more than willing to send you evidence of his/her good work.
At this point, you should be able to make a decision!
*Notice how we didn’t mention cost anywhere on this list.* While we know that cost is an important factor in your choice, it shouldn’t be the most important factor. Often contractors with prices that are drastically lower than their competitors are going to provide work that is drastically lower in quality. Why pay thousands for work that isn’t going to last?
Many of our homeowners tell us that they end up with contractors whose prices are relatively in the middle compared to the different estimates they get. Because renovations are such a large investment that need to withstand the test of time, we don’t recommend going for the contractor with the lowest bid just because they’re cheap.
To learn more about the cost of renovating, check out Rooms Most Likely to Go Over Budget During a Renovation.
10. Go through RenoFi’s Due Diligence Process
After you’ve finalized your contractor, it’s time to take them through RenoFi’s due diligence process - part of the overall loan preparation you’ll do before connecting with a lender.
Not only will RenoFi help you prepare to get a RenoFi Loan with one of our lending partners, once you pick a contractor, RenoFi will also help vet your contractor to make sure that they’re ready and able to take on the project. This process is just an added bonus of working with RenoFi.
RenoFi requires that your contractor submits:
- Supplier reference
- Client reference
- Subcontractor reference
- Contact information
- Basic experience information
RenoFi will request and store all of this information from your contractor before you start working with our lender.
For more help with choosing the right contractor, establishing a project budget that works for you or getting everything you need from your contractor to apply for a loan, contact RenoFi today.