28 September, 2022

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Elements to consider in hiring a home-improvement contractor

By Marty Morse
Special to The Enterprise

Securing and hiring a remodeling company can be a cumbersome task for any homeowner. Finding accurate answers to questions you may have can be difficult to sort through with the amount of information found on the web.

By breaking down the nuts and bolts of this endeavor, I was able to define five important elements to consider when hiring a contractor to work on your home.

* License and insurance: The first and most important element is to check the status of the Contractor’s License and make sure they are current with their Worker’s Compensation Insurance, or have on file that they are sole proprietors and do not require Worker’s Compensation. This can be checked at the California State License Board’s website www.cslb.ca.gov.

Another important factor to consider is liability insurance. Many contractors do not maintain a liability insurance policy. This type of insurance covers the contractor and your home should a flood, fire, or damage to the project occur during the course of construction project. I would recommend you check with homeowner’s insurance to make sure you are covered should something happen during the course of the construction project.

* References of past and current projects: This one is simple. Get in touch with customers that the contractor is currently working with. If the contractor is not currently working for a customer, that could be a bad sign. Good contractors typically keep themselves busy with projects. I truly feel that this is one of the most important aspects when considering hiring a contractor for a project.

Ask the hard questions from the acquired references. Was the project finished with the expected finish date? Was the project finished without additional costs or added work to the scope? Was the job site maintained and kept clean and orderly? Would you hire the contractor again for a similar project? Posing these questions to recent clients of the contractor is one good way to see how the contractor is working in the current market.

* Quality: Choosing a contractor that has been in business for several years typically means that the company is knowledgeable and hires seasoned and skilled carpenters and trade partners. However, I commonly step into situations with a prospective customer and get to see the quality of work that the home owner received from previous projects with other contractors.

Sometimes lack of quality can be hidden behind walls and come back and haunt the customer later. Other times, it is in plain sight and the finish is substandard. Being clear about the quality of work you expect is very important. I recommend homeowners to share their expectation of the finish and use examples of finishes that are acceptable in their home, and perhaps some that are not acceptable. Discussing the level of quality up front is very important parameter because it can also dictate final cost of a project.

* Detailed Estimates: One of the most common issues that customer’s complain about in the home improvement industry is that the project surpassed the agreed upon price when the contract was signed. One of the main reasons this happens is because the scope of work was not spelled out in detail and there was neither an expectation for the customer or the contractor.

Being thorough with estimating takes a great deal of time and energy, however, it is mandatory for a successful project. Design Build firms specialize in the planning, design, and estimating phase of the project and use their building knowledge to successfully predetermine all costs prior to the commencement of the project. Expectations are set forth by spending time explaining what the scope of work includes and the details required for the finished product.

* Communication: Is the contractor setting up expectations during the planning of the project? Is the contractor responding to your phone calls and following through on items that were discussed prior to entering into the contract? If not, you may want to evaluate the communication skills of the contractor.

Remodeling and construction projects are complex and require a great deal of communication. If the communication is poor at the estimating phase of your project, then imagine how it will be during the course of construction. Good communication is paramount to the success of a renovation project.

I hope you find these five elements useful as you plan your next home improvement project. If you have any questions in regards to remodeling, please feel free to email me at [email protected]

— Marty Morse has been a licensed contractor (#678693) in California for 28 years. He currently owns Morse Custom Homes and Remodeling, a design-build firm located in Davis.