Hiring a contractor to remodel your home can be quite challenging, even if you have a good referral from a trusted friend. Most builders will not do remodeling—they don’t have the time or know-how, especially in a busy market. The pool of REAL remodelers can be small, but you can find plenty of folks who will tackle the project if you let them. While remodeling your home may not be as big of a project as building new one, it can actually be more difficult, time consuming and full of surprises—especially for the inexperienced builder. Many remodeling projects require a much longer and deeper level of knowledge than ‘new construction.’ There can be so many unknowns and possible issues, that only someone with lots of experience in a wide variety of projects could provide the best outcome without busting your budget. Make sure you deal with the right contractor for you. One you believe you can trust. One you feel good about. One you can talk to about anything to do with your project. Never accept an unprofessional or unqualified contractor, even if they promise big savings…it will undoubtedly cost you much more in the end. How do you find a good remodeling contractor? Most people ask friends, relatives, neighbors, realtors, property managers—all good places to start—but you and your project are unique and what’s good for another, may not be best for you. So, what else can you do? Get good answers to good questions. Below are 12 good questions to ask before hiring any contractor in Walton County, Florida… or anywhere for that matter: 1.Are you licensed and insured? What kind of license? How long have you been licensed? Can I get a copy? Any complaints with the Contractors Board? Having a license means a ton in Florida—it’s not easy to get one because the requirements are pretty rigorous —several years of relevant experience, minimal financial stability, pass a 1-2 day exam, General Liability insurance mandated, and the review by the Contractors Board. Unlicensed contractors usually CANNOT meet these high standards. You can check a Florida contractor’s license and status here. What remodel work in Florida is required to be performed by a licensed contractor? In general, the following (but you can also check with the Walton County Building Department): Structural work, Roofing, Decking, Windows/Doors, Major Plumbing, HVAC, Electrical, and Pools. What if my project doesn’t require a licensed contractor, am I ok not hiring one? Legally, with the county building department you will be ok, but you would of course still be taking some extra risk … unless you have good construction knowledge and could manage the project yourself, and the work is fairly simple and you have a great deal of trust in your contractor. What about insurance? General liability? Workers comp? SHOW ME!! If the contractor has an active license and can pull a permit, then you know he has at least a minimal GL insurance policy, but you this next part is CRITICAL – you should still ask for a Certificate of Liability Insurance with you named as the Certificate Holder. It looks like this. If the contractor isNOT licensed, then definitely request that a general liability insurance certificate be emailed to you by their insurance company, with you as the certificate holder. A Worker’s Comp policy or an exemption is even more important. To minimize your risk against a workers injury on your property, make sure they provide a Worker’s Comp insurance certificate OR a Worker’s Comp exemption from the state of Florida. You can look both of these up HERE. Please NOTE: Very few general contractors have a Worker’s Comp policy because most don’t have employees and use only subcontractors, so the insurance companies will not write a policy—but they still should have an exemption. All other contractors should have a Worker’s Comp policy or an exemption. The Worker’s Comp policy must cover EVERY employee of that contractor, and an exemption is ONLY good for that ONE individual person listed, and 3 max per company. EVERYONE on your job should be covered by a Worker’s Comp policy OR have their own exemption. This is critical because an injury on your property could bring you trouble otherwise. 2. Will you need a permit for my work? Short answer: Maybe. If you need a licensed contractor, you may need a permit. If the work is: structural, adds on to the footprint of your home, involves changing windows or doors out, major electrical, HVAC, or plumbing work, a new roof or new pool, you should have a permit pulled by the licensed contractor. If they say otherwise, ?red flag. You can always call the Walton County Building Department and ask. Non-permitted work can cause problems down the road if the work is not up to current local building code.
3. Describe your experience. Example questions:
- How long have you been in business?
- What type & how much remodeling have you done?
- What do they specialize in? Have you done a project like mine?
Really get a good understanding of their remodeling history and what projects they’ve complete that are similar to yours. Look at their website, photos, Facebook page and actual jobs if possible. Contractors that have longevity in building and remodeling can often deal with difficult issues, as well as control their jobs efficiently and provide a high degree of confidence to the client to get the job done correctly. 4. How do you get your business? Do they have repeat business, referrals, or do they get it through advertising? There may not be much repeat business in remodeling since many owners only do remodel projects every 5-10 years, but there may be some, and you want to see how much of that is referral. Hopefully, past clients, realtors and others in the real estate business are referring a good portion of his business. Contractors who do great work always earn business through word-of-mouth. Happy clients love to tell everyone about THEIR “great contractor find.” 5. Can you provide referrals, clients, jobs, examples of your work? If you heard about the contractor from someone you trust, that is the best referral. It’s still a good idea to ask them more questions and actually see some work they’ve done. The contractor should have additional past clients he can refer you to and maybe a current client you can speak with, and even visit the job if possible. Photos of past or current jobs could also be helpful. And of course everybody has a Facebook page. Look there and scroll through the posts of past jobs—it can also give you an idea of their work history for the last few years. 6. How do you structure the contract/payments? It’s always very important to discuss this right up front. All contractors and projects are different with this. There are fixed price contracts, cost-plus and even a combination of both. A fixed price agreement can be a good way to go for simple, straight-forward remodel jobs—like new kitchen cabinets and tops, an updated bathroom, a new deck, new roof, replace windows or siding, etc. A cost-plus agreement is well suited for complicated projects with lots of unknown issues, custom work, water intrusion, wood rot, or large projects where you may not know exactly what you want with everything up front. Deposits before starting a job may range from 0-50%, depending on the contractor and the nature of the job. Be leery of more than 25%. Often contractors need payments made weekly if the job moves quickly, is large and labor intense—less often on smaller, slower moving jobs. Also, some material or fixture purchases and custom items require 50% deposits from the suppliers. Make sure you understand how a contractor will bill you and why. Ask how and when payment is made: by check or wire, which day of the week and how much notice? Contractors are generally NOT in position to bill too far out and cannot finance the job since much of their expense is weekly labor costs. 7. Who will supervise, manage and do the work? You want to know the answers to all of these sub-questions:
- Who will be running your job, how will they run it, is it the owner, a project manager, or someone else?
- How often will this person be on your job site?
- Who will actually perform the work on your project…Employees of the contractor or individual sub-contractors who specialize in specific work?
- How long have they used these subs & suppliers?
- How good & reliable are they?
- How do you make sure all the subs have insurance? Both General Liability and Worker’s Comp.
- Who is your main point of contact regarding the work?
8. When could you start work, how long will it take, and what’s the schedule like? You should get a good idea when the contractor can start, how long it will take and when they will finish. Discuss how the job will proceed so you can see that they have thought your project through and you can discuss all issues that could affect the timeline. Remember: on large or complicated remodel jobs, unexpected issues ALWAYS come up which could very likely add time to your project. Also ask about how many other projects the contractor will be working on while yours is underway, and how that will affect you. 9. What would be your approach to this kind of project? What concerns you? This is a good general question that will give you an immediate feel for the contractor’s knowledge and skill level. Their description in their approach will give you a great deal of insight in to their background and knowledge of your specific problem/project. Wisdom and experience are great teachers, and if they have plenty, you will hear it in their questions, answers, suggestions and understanding of your situation. Good, honest remodeling contractors with experience will give you options and warn you of pitfalls. They will point out considerations that need to be reviewed for projects of a certain type. You’re looking for candid, open transparency. Listen closely and use your own wisdom to judge if they are the right fit for you. 10. How would you protect my property? Don’t take this for granted and assume all contractors are clean freaks. Most are the opposite, and construction—remodeling in particular—is a very dusty, messy operation. Make sure the contractor has a plan and has thought about this issue for your home. You don’t want the workers to damage more than they fix. This is a conversation best had well before construction begins. Part of the house can be closed off, pictures moved, furniture covered or moved, floors, cabinets and tops protected. It’s helpful to remove as much as possible from the construction zone. Don’t forget the AC system: if left on during construction, dust can get blown to all parts of the house and the filters can clog so badly that your system is damaged, so make sure there’s a plan for this too. The contractor should be willing to take reasonable measures to protect your property, so be sure to ask what they will specifically do. Here are some additional questions to get you started: (Think of other questions that may relate to your specific project too)
- How will you protect furniture and other areas of the house?
- What about dust and my AC?
- What about my floors?
- Will you move items to other areas of the home to protect them?
- Should we move furniture out of the house into storage?
- How will you make sure my home is kept secure?
11. Is there a warranty for the work? Most contractors offer a warranty of some sort on the labor and workmanship which is up to “generally accepted construction standards.” Most materials used are warranted by the vendors against defects. Equipment, appliances, fixtures come with their own warranties individually. Keep in mind that most contractors do not provide a warranty on products or fixtures UNLESS they provide them. If you purchase items yourself online to be used on your project, most contractors will NOT replace defective items for free. Working with a contractor that offers a warranty is one way to instantly put your mind at ease. Make sure you get the details and don’t forget to clarify what your responsibilities are to maintain the warranty. 12. How will you communicate with me? Communication is so important between you and your remodeling contractor. Make sure you establish the mode and frequency of communication throughout the project. Set expectations for availability and any “after hours” concerns. Weekly meetings at the job is a great way to make sure you and your contractor are on the same page. If you are not on the job on a regular basis, ask how you can stay informed. Nowadays most contractors send photos, videos, voicemails, texts and emails.