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How to Hire a Remodeler
Part 1: Telephone Interview

Most people dread interviewing remodelers and
contractors because they don’t feel like they have the ability to discern if the
builder is honest.  By researching
potential remodelers with thoroughness and patience, you’ve spared yourself
that anxiety because you already know your candidates are qualified, honest and
reliable.  Do they have a professional,
updated website with recent photos of their work?  Are there positive online reviews?  Have the questions you’ve asked other
homeowners [link to: questions to ask homeowners blog post] been answered to
your satisfaction?  At this point you
should feel confident about your “short list” because you’ve already
prequalified the names on it.  If you
don’t feel confident, you need to ask yourself why and dig a little deeper.

When you move into the second phase and begin remodeler
interviews, your task will be to locate a builder you can work with, one whose
interest in your project impresses you, and one who listens to you
carefully.  The goal of this quest is to
find compatibility with a remodeler whom you’ll be able to work with
successfully for the one, two, six or twelve months a project typically takes.

Once you’re ready to begin the interviewing
process, call the contractors in the order you’ve rated them.  Be prepared to describe your project and
state when you’d like to begin construction. 
To give you a peek at how the prospective contractors might handle your
call, let me tell you how I deal with initial conversations.  When I, as a professional builder and remodeler, speak with a prospective client, I attempt
to gauge their seriousness by asking specific questions about their design
ideas and budget.  If they’re planning an
addition for instance, I ask if they know
how large they want the addition to be and what rooms will be included.  I want them to describe to me what they want
in as much detail as they can.  I also as
if they’ve thought about what grade of finish materials they’d like.  For example, will kitchen counter tops be
Formica, Corian, or polished granite? 
Will bathroom fixtures be brass or chrome?  Will new rooms be hardwood floors or
carpeted?

I also ask if they have a preliminary budget for
their project.  Their response lets me
know whether they understand the true cost of custom remodeling.

Good remodelers are very busy, frequently working
six days per week.  They also have a
well-deserved reputation for not returning phone calls, so you may have to be
patient as you attempt to set up your first meetings.  If someone you like doesn’t return your first
call, give him or her a second chance. 
If they don’t return that call, cross them off your list.  Just as you want to avoid fly-by-nights, you
also want to avoid someone who is too popular. 
If a builder doesn’t have time to return your call now, you can imagine
how stressful that could be after work on your house begins.  When you call the contractors on your list,
have three to five preliminary questions to ask each.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Have you completed a job
    similar to this before?
  2. If you have, may I see it?
  3. Do you have a list of
    references that I can contact?
  4. When will you be able to
    start the job?
  5. When could we meet in
    person to further discuss this? (Only if you are further encouraged by the
    answers they give.)

There is no script for these calls.  In fact, in the course of some conversations
a builder may offer everything contained above and more.  Be aware of how easily the conversation
progresses.  When you hang up, make a few
notes on the conversations.  What were
your impressions of the remodeler?  Did
he listen well? Did he answer your questions thoroughly?

Read my next blog post on suggested questions to ask during your first meeting with a remodeler.