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The Nitty Gritty

First Rule of Renovation: Hire the Right Contractor

Home renovation projects can be very exciting and stressful. Hiring the right general contractor can improve your experience by making sure your project comes in on time and on budget. The trick to finding the right is to do your homework by following these simple steps.


Why do you need a general contractor?

A general contractor works as the project manager and oversees the renovation project from start to finish. They provide materials, permits and workers to complete the project.

Before starting your project, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is the timeframe of the project a month or longer?
  • Does the renovation require a variety of professionals to complete the job?
  • Are work permits required?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then a general contractor should probably run your project.  

Where should you start?

The process of hiring a general contractor will go more smoothly if you know the answers to two important questions you will likely be asked.

First, what exactly will your renovation include? Do you want to take out the bathroom completely or just the sink? You need to know the scope of your project to better evaluate if a contractor is the right fit.

Second, what is the budget for your project? Based on the size of your project, you should be able to estimate a reasonable range that you are willing to spend. On top of the estimated cost of the project, a general rule is to add 20% to pay for any possible unforeseen issues that arise.

“The worst thing a homeowner can do is go into a project thinking it's going to cost X and it ends up costing much, much more than X,” said Justin Goldman, CEO of RenoFi, a local financial technology company dedicated to helping homeowners through the renovation process.

If you think you will need to borrow, it’s best to figure out the financing before reaching out to contractors. For homeowners with enough available equity to cover renovation costs, a traditional home equity loan or line of credit [link] is a good choice. If the cost of your project exceeds your equity, an Ardent Renovation Loan [link] could be an option since it allows you to borrow against the after-renovation value of your home.

How do you find contractors? 

Start by asking any of your local friends and family who have recently undergone a home renovation. This is the best way to find quality contractors since the information comes from people you trust who have experienced the entire process.

“In finding a great partner, I highly recommend you get out there,” Goldman said. “Be social and start conversations with your local network who has had a renovation lately and get an introduction.”

The Better Business Bureau can also be a good resource once you have a few names. There you can read reviews to get a better feel before you contact them.

What should you ask potential contractors?

With your homework done, contact potential contractors and ask each one a few questions before you sign a contractor or provide any funds.

  • Do you have a portfolio where I can see your previous work?
  • What is your projected timeframe and cost for the work I wish to be completed? Can I get this in writing?
  • Will permits be required and will you need subcontractors?

Most importantly, never hire a contractor before you meet them. When you meet face to face to discuss project specifics, you’ll gain a better feel for the person who will be working in your home.

What are the “red flags”?

While you are searching for and talking to each of these contractors, be wary of these three things:

  1. A lack of reviews, whether positive or negative, may say a lot. Don’t select a contractor that is new to the business or doesn’t delight his clients.
  2. Their portfolio shows finished jobs without a before picture or the before photo is hard to see clearly. You need to see real results and your contractor should want you to share the improvements made.
  3. Bids that are much lower than competitors. “One of the things we do for homeowners is review all of the plans and quote in detail to ensure the contractor hasn't under bid the project just to win the job, which undoubtedly will cause pain down the road for everyone involved,” Goldman said.

Time to start your renovation project

While renovation projects can be very stressful, a good general contractor will alleviate some of your angst. Taking the extra time to hire the right one will be worth it.

Learn More About Our Renovation Loan