It’s an old story. Homeowners regularly pay twice as much for services than they should. Three roofing companies recently gave me quotes for reroofing my house. The first one arrived in a new in a spiffily painted truck. He stood in the yard looking up at the house and said $16,000. “Getting rid of the shingles alone will cost $3000.” The second contractor sent his foreman to the house and then met with me at my kitchen table. He arrived with shingle samples, a copy of his GAF certification, a typed proposal that listing everything he’d do, warranty information, a start and completion date, and a list of 40 or 50 references. His quote was $9000. The third contractor also sent a worker to check out my roof and called in a quote of $11,600. I’m sure you can guess who I went with. When I offered to give him a deposit, he said to pay in full when the job was complete.
What you can do
When you need to hire a contractor, there are several things you can do to ensure a fair price. First, look for top tradesmen in the area. Word of mouth is good. So is Angie’s list. Another good source is a trusted real estate agent. They often have developed relationships with tradesmen in order to help clients with a sale or purchase. By tapping into an agent’s network, you have instant credibility with the tradesman and some assurance that he will treat you right (or risk losing his standing with the realtor).
Take the time to meet with candidates to get to know them. Will you be able to communicate with him? Will he offer the quality of work you’re looking for? Does he have a side job (such as the fire department) that will interrupt the work flow at your house? Does he really want to be a musician but does carpentry to pay the rent? References are invaluable in helping to answer these questions, but a 15-minute conversation over a cup of coffee will reveal a lot as well.
Get at least three quotes. You’ve heard this many times before, but how many times have you done it? While you’re at it, insist upon professionalism. It’s easy to become a contractor in most states but not easy to be a good one. Only the best are able to remain in business for long, so some history and a good reputation are important. Also insist that he’s insured, licensed, and certified when relevant.
Last, be involved. Educate yourself about the work. Accompany the contractor to supply houses and lumber yards. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Help out where you can, even if it’s only clean up or painting. Involve a designer on bigger jobs, like kitchen remodeling. There are simply too many options to wing it!
If you’re not sure, but want to give a contractor a try, contract for only a portion of the work first. For example, if what you need is someone to convert an attic, ask for a quote for insulating the ceiling rafters – and see how the job goes. If you’re not happy, try someone new for framing out the walls and hanging the drywall.
Being careful and diligent can save you thousands on a home remodeling. It takes a little time but is well worth the effort.