How to Choose a Remodeler
A remodel is a significant investment. Whether you’re updating your kitchen, adding on a room, remodeling your historic home, or digging out and finishing a basement, it’s important to work with professionals who will deliver for you.
Here is some advice to consider as you choose a remodeler to work on your home.
Choosing a local remodeler means choosing somebody with deep roots in your community. Local remodelers are invested in building strong relationships and are incentivized to deliver in the community where they live and work for the business to survive.
Familiarity with local regulations
Local remodelers are familiar with local building codes and officials. This is especially important in historic neighborhoods like Old Town in Alexandria, Hollin Hills, Fairfax, or Georgetown in Washington D.C. Historic properties and neighborhoods have oversight boards, unique regulations, and detailed permit processes in place to protect them. You need a remodeler who is experienced at working on homes in these neighborhoods. A knowledgeable local contractor will know exactly how to get the right permits to remodel your home. Their knowledge can save you money in the long run.
Logistics are less complicated for local builders. Choosing a remodeler who you can track down is important – you want to know where your builder is located. Is your builder’s shop near you or far away? Do they have a physical office or shop or just a PO Box? Proximity also makes it easier for your builder to manage projects and stop by to check on their workers.
As you work to choose a remodeler, don’t just consider their local knowledge – verify their basic qualifications.
Licenses and Insurance
Any remodeling company that you work with should be licensed in the local jurisdiction of your home, as well as the state or district, and carry insurance. Once a contract is signed to do your work, it is best practice for your contractor to provide a specific certificate of insurance made out to your project, as well as a copy of their state and local licenses. You can also research a builder’s status by getting their license number, address, and name and looking up their information in a database. Here are two applicable links:
- Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR)
- District of Columbia Office of Professional Licensing (OPL)
This step may sound obvious, but it can be easy to forget as your excitement builds for your kitchen, bath, basement or addition remodel.
Professional Associations or Affiliations
It can also be helpful to make sure the remodeler you’re interested in is engaged in education and continuous improvement among peer builders. Professional organizations help keep members informed about new products, construction techniques, business practices, and industry issues, while also holding members accountable for business practices. You can do some research by checking with accrediting bodies like the Mid-Atlantic chapter of PRO (a.k.a. the Professional Remodeling Organization).
One of the most valuable assets a remodeler has is their reputation. Good remodelers will share their reputation with future clients. Most remodelers will showcase completed projects on their website. Looking at those projects is a great way to check their work, but you should also reach out to past clients and even professional references such as supply houses and architectural and engineering firms that the contractor has worked with. Ask questions. Ask the community whether or not the contractor has a trustworthy reputation among their peers and their clients. Was the work done on time? Were any of their delays for good reason? Were the lines of communication open and clear? How were warranty issues handled? Would the customer use the firm again?
Established contractors will have a list of clients they’ve done work for in the past. These clients can speak to the quality of work that a remodeler does. A remodel is a significant investment. Make sure that you choose a remodeler who respects your time and money.
Bids, Estimates, Proposals, and Allowances
Not all costs presented by builders are equal. There can be different interpretations to the meaning of various documents presented for the purposes of discussing project costs. Make sure that the contractor can clearly explain their process for estimating project costs and finalizing project contracts before starting construction and be clear about what is included in the contract documents.
A bid is an offer to do some work, with stated conditions, for a certain price (usually fixed price). An estimate is a judgment made, usually written out, for the likely price that will be charged for specific work. A proposal is an offer (for a price) to do work. An allowance is an estimate for products, materials, and processes that can’t be determined at the time that the proposal is presented.
Typically contractors will give homeowners an estimate of what they think a project will cost, but it isn’t until all of the details (structural plan, HVAC design, plumbing plan, tile selections, window costs, etc.) are worked out that a firm bid can be presented for the entire project. Contractors will often charge (as does Rust Construction) for estimates when projects involve design and/or have unique specifications. Pulling together all of the details with bids from subcontractors, vendors, and in house expertise is a lot of work and can take a significant amount of time to do right. Starting a project without a clear scope of work and without accurate pricing on the details means that there is increased risk that the project will be more expensive and run longer than hoped for and discussed. Without this detail and planning work upfront you will not be able to make an “apples to apples” comparison between estimates, much less a bid or a proposal. There are just too many variables and opportunities for contractors’ cost assumptions to diverge that will not be apparent until the project scope is fully developed.
The time to sign a contract is after the design is complete and your builder/remodeler of choice has priced out the full scope of work, with clear caveats for allowances (if needed). At a minimum the contract should include:
- Summary or work (project narrative with clear costs and design documents)
- A communication plan for schedule, budget, and decision updates
- Procedures for handling change orders
- Provisions for building permit (who is applying for and when)
- Start and completion dates
- Schedule of payments and statement about billing procedures
- Information about guarantees and warranties
- Process for handling disputes
- Copies of applicable licenses and insurance
- Consumer protection information
The main idea should be that the obligations and liabilities of all parties are understood and written in plain language.
Understand the contractor’s capabilities
Just because a contractor is a “good” contractor doesn’t mean that they are the right fit for the job and your specific requirements. Not all contractors are organized the same way. Some contractors are single person operations with very little overhead and other contractors have full in-house design teams with architects and engineers on staff in high end office spaces. One builder may only do one project at a time and can give you their undivided attention and another builder may take a much less hands on approach. One remodeler may have a tremendous amount of creativity in dealing with complex/ unusual problems and another may only focus on projects that don’t require too much out of the box thinking and planning. None of these examples make one contractor better than the other, but you should understand where any given contractor falls in relation to your needs.
Why choose Rust Construction?
Our team at Rust Construction has served our local community, from Old Town in Alexandria to Washington, DC, for over a century. The company is focused on providing quality services and honest communication to our community. We focus on home remodeling and have a diverse portfolio of projects, including many historic homes. No matter the project, we work hard to provide value to our clients. Contact us to set up a time to discuss your project and whether our team, experience, and capabilities are a good fit.