The kitchen is the heart of your home, and you wouldn’t trust your heart to just anyone, right? So if you’re planning a kitchen remodel, you’ll want to search far and wide to find the right contractor for the job.
A kitchen contractor manages every aspect of a kitchen renovation so you don’t have to—ordering materials, hiring subcontractors if necessary, and helping you decide what will work best for your space. And we’re here to help you find that special someone in our second installment of our Dream Kitchen Remodeling Guide.
Here’s how to find a kitchen contractor who has the skill, experience, and credentials to get the job done right—and not burn you in the process.
Find a contractor who specializes in kitchens
First off, you’ll want not just any old contractor, but one who specializes in kitchens, since kitchen contractors are their own animal. Kelly Parks, owner of Paris Gibson Realty in Great Falls, MT, suggests asking at your local kitchen design center or cabinet dealer for recommendations.
You can also ask your neighbors and friends (particularly if they have a renovated kitchen you love) but even if you’ve heard good things about certain contractors, make sure to read up on them on Angie’s List, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau before you contact them directly for an estimate, suggests Tonya Bruin, chief executive officer of To-Do Done Renovations and Handyman Services in Ottawa, ON.
You’ll also want to find out if they work with a designer—key if you’re considering a large-scale renovation—and other professionals who have expertise in each area you’ll be improving.
Make sure their license and insurance are legit
Asking “Are you licensed?” is a no brainer, but you should dig a little deeper.
“A license ensures that the contractor is liable for the project,” says Michael Bellone, owner of Michael Anthony Contracting in Morganville, NJ. However, he adds, “It is not uncommon for scammers to operate under someone else’s license.”
Joe Goldstein, of Contractor Calls in Pleasanton, CA, suggests visiting your state licensing board’s website to verify contractors’ license numbers. You should also always ask potential contractors what insurance they carry.
“A legitimate contractor should carry personal liability, workers’ comp, and property damage coverage at the minimum,” says Goldstein. Not that you should just take their word for it.
“The certificate should come directly from the contractor’s insurance agent to you,” says Bellone. “A certificate handed to you by a contractor may not be in effect, even if the expiration date is hasn’t yet been reached.”
Beware of anyone who says ‘I’ll need the money upfront’
“Down payments are a standard practice, but should never be unreasonable,” says Justin Lavelle, of BeenVerified.com. “Check the rules in your state regarding down payment limits. Some states limit down payments to 10% of the project price, or $1,000, whichever is less.”
Any contractor who asks for more than that—or all of the money up front—could be conning you.
“He might tell you the reason is because he needs to order materials or rent supplies,” says Lavelle. “But once you pay him, he’ll disappear. Or he’ll do a poor job, thinking you can’t fire him because you’ve already paid him hundreds, or thousands.”
Bruin notes you should only pay the full price once the job is complete and you’ve received what was promised.
Ask who’s pulling the permits
“Some contractors attempt to cut corners by not getting all necessary permits before a job, or may even expect you to get your own permits,” warns Goldstein. “That’s a red flag which could become a big problem if you ever want to sell your home.”
Bellone agrees, adding that if a contractor asks you to apply for the permits in your name, “Cross him off the list.” The reason: “This would leave you as the responsible party for the project and for closing out any permits,” he explains. “More importantly, this would leave your contractor free of any obligation to your project or the permits.”
Find out who you’re really hiring
Monica D. Higgins, author of “Remodel Success: Home Remodeling Done Right, On Time and On Budget,” suggests inquiring about just who will be managing the project by asking: “Will I be working with a single person or a team? If a team, what are their individual specialties?”
Find out if your contractor will be hiring any subcontractors, and if so, make sure they’re licensed and insured as well. “You generally want to know who else will be on your property, and it may be worthwhile to do additional research on those subcontractors,” Goldstein adds.
Grill those references
Everyone knows it’s a smart idea to check references, but recent references is key.
“The last three clients are usually the best,” Bellone says. “That way, you can get a feeling for how your contractor’s current workload is being handled.”
You should also ask these previous clients some very pointed questions, such as the following:
- Was your contractor personally present on the project the whole time? If not, did he have a competent supervisor to oversee the project daily?
- Did the crew show up daily until the project was completed?
- Was the crew timely, clean and courteous, respecting your home and space?
- Was the project cleaned up daily, with debris and tools out of your way?
- Was the contractor reasonable and flexible with changes to the project?
- If you were dissatisfied with anything about the project, did your contractor correct it effortlessly, or did you have to insist?
Get a written contract
You’ll definitely want a contract outlining what will be done to your kitchen, and in what time frame.
“Always get everything in writing,” says Lavelle. “A legal contract is your safety net, should any issues arise. If you are not comfortable reading it, ask an attorney to review it before you sign. It’s a worthwhile investment to avoid problems down the road.”
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