Let’s face it. When you take on a big home remodeling project, you want to make sure you find a contractor who can get the job done and do it well within your budget. As a licensed general contractor, interior designer, and owner of Access Design + Build, I've got some experience in this area. And unfortunately, I’ve picked up the pieces for clients who began their project with an incompetent contractor and repairing those mistakes have cost them even more. So, how do you find a competent contractor? Here are some tips that I hope will help you make the best choice for your project:

  1. Do your due diligence

    Hopefully you received a referral from a friend or colleague for the contractor you are interviewing. If not, ask the contractor for a phone number or in person visit with one of their past clients. If they don’t have anyone ‑ that is a red flag. Their clients should want to sing their praises. 90% of my clients come to me by referral.

  2. Talk to the contractor about your goals

    Be honest about your budget, so your contractor can help you align your wants with current day pricing. They want to give you the biggest bang for your buck because prices are not coming down anytime soon.

  3. Look for a company with licensed architect on their team

    When you’re doing any project with an addition or major structural changes, you need someone who knows intricate details. This is your home, not a shed or garage, so make sure their team includes a licensed architect, rather than a draftsman hired by the contractor.

  4. Make sure the contractor and all subs are licensed, bonded, and insured.

    Licensed contractors are required to include their license number on their business card and all marketing pieces, so if it’s not there ‑ it’s a red flag. You can also validate that a license number is up to date on the MN Department of Labor website. Simply type the number into the “Find a Contractor” field.

  5. Permits - they must pull them

    In 95% of all remodeling, a permit must be pulled from the contractor, plumber, electrician, etc. If they ask you to pull the permit for them under your name ‑ this is a huge red flag, and you do not want to work with them.

  6. If your vision doesn’t match the contractors, you won’t get what you paid for

    If you say, “Here’s what I want,” and they say, “Here’s what I can build,” and they don’t match, they’re not listening to you. There are acceptations when the things you want can’t be done for the price you want to pay, but overall, you both need to agree on the final outcome.

  7. Don’t expect a breakdown of all project costs

    There are many pieces to any remodeling project, so an itemized list of every product is not reasonable. Prices should reflect sections of the project like building, cabinets, flooring, etc., and will include labor and materials, which is why you can’t price match your estimate with items you see on a website. You want your contractor to source the best products, and those products may not be the lowest cost because they purchase for quality and longevity.

  8. Like your contractor, not the price

    If you don’t like your contractor, but like the price, you’ll have problems.  You will be less likely to communicate with them, and you will pay more for things that have to be re-done because they did it wrong or you didn’t like the outcome. 

  9. A good contractor will have a warranty

    A typical warranty will be 2-years for labor and whatever the manufacturer has listed for its product. We offer a 5-year labor and material warranty because we are that confident in our people and the products we supply.

  10. Ask your contractor for lien waivers

    With large projects, asking for lien waivers is another way to check if the contractor is legitimate. Any reputable contractor is happy to provide lien waivers to show they’ve paid their subs. If they refuse, that is the time to say good-bye.

Every contractor has a different process, and you need to feel comfortable with the one you choose. For example, as general contractor and interior designer for Access Design + Build when I walk my clients through my process, it helps them realize that I run a good business. I cement trust within the design process, and I explain why things cost what they do. I also use project management software that is accessible to my clients 24-7, so pricing is transparent, and they can view the items they have selected. In addition, they will know the schedule of who is coming to the house on any given day, what they will be doing, and how long they will be there.

I introduce clients to my subcontractors before presenting a price for their job, and when I present the price and it’s more than they anticipated, I explain why that is. I gain trust by repeating what they say, and using computer drawings to communicate style and placement, so they know I understand their vision.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and I would welcome the opportunity to be considered for your next remodeling project! 

Here are some other resources to help you find the right contractor. There will be a list of member contractors on their website, and they vet their members.

National Home Builders Assn (NHBA)  https://www.nahb.org/nahb

Housing First MN   https://housingfirstmn.org/

National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) https://www.narimn.org/