Let’s say you want to remodel your kitchen. You meet with three different contractors, and gather different perspectives and estimates from each. Each of the estimates is different, and they all word things differently. How do you figure out which one is offering the best value?
It can be challenging to understand what each contractor is saying. We equate it to deciphering scrolls from different civilizations: you get one scroll and you have to try to figure out what the text is saying, and then you try to compare it to a text written in a completely different language.
For many homeowners, remodeling is your biggest expense. You might have saved up for a few years for this, and you want to be sure the person you hire will be a good steward of your money and desires.
Going with the cheapest contractor can end up costing you far more money in the long run, so you want to ask a lot of questions to make sure you’re not missing anything. On the other hand, you might have a basic project that doesn’t require much technical expertise, and you’re looking for the most affordable and trustworthy contractor for the job. What you’re really looking for is the best value, and it’s important to know what’s worth paying for and what’s not.
This article highlights some of the things to consider when you evaluate contractors:
- How to recognize quality contractors vs. cheap contractors
- What to look for in a contractor’s craftsmanship, materials, and personal qualities
- What questions to ask
How to recognize quality contractors vs. cheap contractors
About a quarter of Mantis’s projects in a given year are rescue projects: cleaning up or re-doing work done by other contractors. Poorly done work affects the whole system of whatever it touches, and can end up costing a lot of time and money. Water intrusion, for example, is one of the biggest problems we see in homes:
- A shower pan that rots the floor and affects the room below
- Leaky windows that rot the frame of the house
- Hasty caulking that leaks water everywhere
Quality contractors do efficient, trustworthy, and durable work. They’re not fly-by-night handymen who cut corners. Here are some things to look for in contractors:
|Quality Contractors||Cheap Contractors|
|Are licensed and insured as required by law||May not be licensed or insured|
|Charge you fairly for the work that goes into your project||Undercharge you, resulting in cutting corners so they don’t lose money, or overcharge you for low-quality products or craftsmanship|
|Use higher-quality products that they know will stand the test of time||Use lower-quality products that have a shorter lifespan|
|Leave things looking professional||Leave things looking unprofessional|
|Welcome inspections||Dodge inspections|
|Install fixtures, materials, and appliances correctly||Install fixtures, materials, and appliances incorrectly|
|Are considerate and respectful of your home||May be less aware of their surroundings|
|Continuously educate themselves on new techniques and products||Get stuck in their ways|
What to Look for
How do these differences impact your project? Let’s look at a few examples of how a contractor’s craftsmanship, materials, and personal qualities all affect the results you’re looking for in your home:
Good tile-setting is more than just ‘licking and sticking’ tile to a wall. So much of the work that goes into a high-quality job happens before the tile is even set! A good tile-setter knows how important the underlayment (underlying layer) is for a given project. This can include water-proofing, integrated in-floor heat, sub-floor insulation backing, and more.
The next task is properly setting the tile with even grout lines and perfectly caulked seams. Quality tile-setting takes time and patience, and the contractor’s level of care has a direct impact on the finished result.
Another tile-setter might charge less, but this can be the result of using a lower-quality underlayment or less-durable techniques. Because he’s trying to make a fair wage for his time, he may not have the time or patience to do quality work.
It’s the same square footage of tile, but the results speak for themselves.
You’re replacing the plumbing in your kitchen. One plumber offers a higher bid, because she recommends using high-quality and long-lasting materials, connections, and fixtures.
Another plumber charges less, but he uses lower-quality materials or fixtures that have shorter life spans. Cheaper products are prone to fail sooner, which can often lead to extensive damage in surrounding areas. What looks like a lower price ends up being a higher price in the long run when you have to hire someone to re-do the job in a couple of years (usually just outside of warranty!).
A small window leak can cause big, expensive problems in the form of rotten framing and all materials in the vicinity of the window (including drywall, plaster, woodwork, siding, and the window itself).
A quality carpenter will stay up-to-date on the latest building science, and will properly install the window and do all the required flashing (bent sheet metal and sealing) to properly direct the flow of water away from the house.
A cheap carpenter may improperly flash your windows, resulting in hidden leaks that end up rotting your walls and causing extensive damage.
A couple we worked with recently wanted to install cabinets in their kitchen. They went with a cheaper contractor, and halfway through the project called us when they realized they had two problems:
- The cabinets they’d ordered turned out to be low-quality
- The contractor’s craftsmanship wasn’t what they were expecting
The quality of cabinetry can be difficult to tell from the outside for someone who’s less experienced. Some cabinets are made of high-quality parts and materials, and they’re constructed in durable ways. Others are made of cheap parts and materials and are assembled with low-quality techniques.
As the quality of the contractor’s work became apparent, this couple experienced a lot of stress and dissatisfaction, and ended up spending more money than they’d planned in order to have the work re-done.
You want to make sure you understand the quality of what you’re getting, and a good contractor will always help guide you through that process and make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
Finally, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the person who’s coming into your home, in terms of personality and professionalism. This project may be a significant disruption in your life, and you want the people who come into your home to respect your space and be considerate of your personal life. You don’t want someone who’s going to leave the front door open or leave a trailing mess everywhere.
Get a sense of whether the contractor is someone who’s honest, trustworthy, and of high integrity. Are they paying attention to what you’re saying? Are they representing themselves authentically? Do they care about your well-being, or are they just looking for another paycheck? This is especially important when the inevitable mistake happens or challenge presents itself: you want to feel like this person is on your team, has your back, and is focused on the success of the project all the way to the end.
What Questions Should I Ask?
We know this can be a challenging process to navigate, but hopefully you feel a little more informed and empowered after reading this article. Remodeling or building a home is like any other expense⏤you want to find the greatest value for the money you’re spending. Here are a few questions you can ask to learn more about what you’re getting:
- Are you and your tradespersons licensed and insured?
- Can I see examples of other projects you’ve done?
- Can I speak with your previous clients?
- Are your prices fixed or are they cost-plus? (see How Much Will It Cost?)
- Ask for a more thorough explanation of what’s being provided. If you’re finding large discrepancies in pricing, it’s an invitation to dive deeper to understand why. Such discrepancies are often the result of completely different products or levels of craftsmanship.
- Will there be a plan or schedule that we can count on?
- What’s the average timeframe for a project like ours?
We hope this is helpful information for you and your project. Please let us know if you have any questions! You can send us a message here or call Paul at (612) 377-0123.