It’s easy to get caught up in the aesthetics and costs of a project and overlook the credentials of your design builder, but that can be a huge mistake when choosing to renovate.
Even a licensed contractor who seems friendly enough may not be equipped to handle a large renovation. Worse yet, other contractors can present themselves as professionals yet they are not licensed by the state.
When choosing a contractor make sure you ask for and verify these three things:
Q: Anthony, when you and your wife first started looking for contractors how you did go about screening potential candidates?
A: To screen candidates, we used a questionnaire to interview contractors we found online. We had plans to interview at least three candidates but decided to go with the first candidate we interviewed. In hindsight, we made a mistake of only interviewing one contractor. I wouldn’t recommend anyone take the same approach.
Q: What drew you to the contractor you originally chose, and what research did you do before selecting them?
A: Our research was very limited — we received a referral from a trusted friend. During the interview there were some red flags (e.g. contractor couldn’t produce pictures of past projects, didn’t have a website, etc.), but we ignored them and moved ahead feeling that we needed to make a rush decision with a baby on the way. The contractor upsold us on an idea of going with an addition for a price which was too good to be true.
Q: How did this contractor transition from initial design to construction? Did they use paperwork to document this process?
A: The initial design was very rudimentary at best. The process for starting construction was more haphazard than structured. We didn’t get an actual contract until weeks after the demolition work started.
Q: If you had to use one word to describe their process what would it be?
A: I think this phrase is better fitting… “All over the place”
Q: Once construction began what were the red flags that led you to terminate the working relationship and look for a new design build contractor?
A: The contractor was unable to get a building permit and kept giving us excuses for the delays. We ultimately decided to go to the County office of Permits and inquire about the status. The person we spoke with said there was not any permit paperwork on file for our address.
Q: How difficult was it to end the relationship?
A: Very easy process. This might be one of the few positives that occurred during the entire process.
Q: When you began your second search for a contractor did you go about it the same way? If not what did you do differently?
A: We went to the Washingtonian magazine and searched their list of top design build firms, contractors and architects. We selected five firms and conducted interviews with each firm using a standard questionnaire for each interviewee.
Q: Why did you ultimately choose to work with Merrick Design and Build?
A: It was an easy decision. One of the five interviewees indicated our project wasn’t the typical job in their portfolio and suggested we reach out to Merrick Design and Build. Unbeknownst to him, Merrick was one of the five firms on our list. Hearing such positive remarks about Merrick from a competitor made the decision clear for us.
Q: Once work resumed, what did you notice about Merrick that was different from how your first contractor ran things?
A: I think another phrase summarizes the difference….”Professional (Merrick) vs. Unprofessional (first contractor)”
Q: Were there any drawbacks to switching contractor’s mid-project?
A: We wasted time and money with the first contractor. While money can be recouped, the time wasted could not.
Q: In the end was the switch worth it?
A: Oh Yes!!!!
Q: Last question, what piece of advice about selecting a contractor do you have to share with other homeowners looking to remodel?
A: Two pieces of advice. Number #1: Don’t feel rushed to make a decision. Number #2: Do your homework. One thing we didn’t do was stick with our original plan to interview multiple contractors using a standard set of questions. Because we got a referral from a trusted friend, we decided to forego our initial plan. Regardless of getting a referral from a trusted friend, you should do your homework and interview multiple contractors.
See Anthony’s whole home remodel here.
If you are having a hard time selecting a contractor you can trust, try searching the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s (NARI) database.