Interviewing Contractors for Your Kitchen Remodel
Interviewing contractors for your kitchen project is a critical part of the remodel process.
In another article, we looked at why you need a contractor, how to find the best one for you and your kitchen remodel project, and what to say when calling contractors.
Now it’s time for face-to-face contractor interviews and asking those all important questions.
Meeting the Contractors You Selected
If a contractor fails to show up for your first meeting and does not call to reschedule, cross him off your list. Common courtesy is a must.
Go into the interview with your prospective contractors armed with specified knowledge. You do NOT have to sign anything until you are satisfied with their answers to your questions. Also you may walk out at any time.
The most important characteristics of the contractor you’re interviewing are trust and reliability. This person will get to know you and how you live better than your best friend. He will be in and out of your home for months. He will have a key or code to your home. Thus, you had better be sure of your choice.
Interviewing the Contractors You Selected
Here are some questions the National Association of the Remodelers Institute (NARI) members recommend you ask before signing a remodeling contract:
- How long have you been in business?
- Who will be working on the project — employees or subcontractors?
- What is your approach to a project like mine?
- How many projects like mine have you completed?
- Can I get a list of references from those projects?
- Are you a member of a national trade association?
- Do you have a license to work in our area?
- Are you insured with personal liability, worker’s compensation and property damage coverage? Can you provide proof of insurance?
- Can you provide a quote?*
- What do your payment schedules typically look like?
- Can you show me a project you’re currently working on?**
* The quotes you get from the contractors you meet with should be similar. If one gives you a much lower quote, this could be a scam or an indication of bad quality work or a sign they don’t know what they are doing.
**This is your opportunity to check out how organized they are and how clean their job site is. If the homeowner is available, you can ask them if they are satisfied with the contractor’s work.
Ask about Payment Schedule during Contractor Interview
Once you have decided on a contractor, your next step is setting up the payment schedule.
No industry standards exist for specific amounts on payment plans; every contractor will be different and will have different expectations for the price of the down payment.
Some states have laws limiting the amount of money the contractor can request for down payment, as well as limits for final payment beyond the agreed upon amount, so do some research for your state.
A good idea for your payments is to make them contingent upon on-time and quality completion according to the terms of your contract. That way if there’s a hold-up, you do not have to pay until the service has been completed.
Stress Importance of the Contract during Contractor Interview
No details can be left out when putting together the contract with your contractor. If something goes wrong during the project and you have to seek legal action, your contract will be key to proving your case.
Make Sure Your Contract Contains
- Detailed description of the exact work to be done.
- Physical address of the contractor. (You can’t serve a subpoena without a physical address if things go wrong.)
- The project’s start date and end date, or its start date and the length of time until completion.*
- Your payment schedule.
- Detailed schedule of the stages of the project including demolition, electrical, plumbing and carpentry.**
- Detailed list of all materials, including color, model, size, and brand.
- Allowances. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it.
More Things the Contract Should Contain
- The contractor will file for all necessary permits.
- Potential time conflicts from other projects the contractor may be working on.
- Change order provisions. A change order is authorization to the contractor to make changes to the work described in the original contract. You may want to include what will happen if you change your mind about something in the project.
- Names of sub-contractors.***
- Names of suppliers.
- Information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them — the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. Include length of the warranty period and any limitations.
- A “broom clause” that holds the contractor responsible for all clean-up.**
- A termination clause: what factors can cause the end of the project, and any costs and/or consequences to both you and the contractor.
- Written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days
Never sign an incomplete or partially blank contract. Do not be pressured into signing an agreement before you are ready and make sure you read and understand everything before signing.
*Delays. You might be able to write language into the contract deducting or holding back a certain amount of the final contract payment for each day the contractor does not meet the deadline if the delay is the contractor’s fault.
**Demolition. The installation schedule is usually determined by the cabinet delivery date, and demolition may begin up to a week before they arrive.
***Sub-contractors. Most contractors have subs they regularly work with, and they set the schedule. They know what’s expected from them, and in what order they need to be at the job site. Each member is expected to show up on time and clean up daily. On occasion, this may not go exactly as planned because of previous jobs running late. This is the contractor’s responsibility and he is the one who must find solutions that keep the project moving.
****Cleanliness. Because demolition will create dust that will penetrate to all areas of your house, be sure to ask how the contractors plan to seal off the kitchen when they’re working. They should use heavy plastic with zippers that are firmly sealed around doors to contain dust and dirt. The area should be swept clean at the end of each day, especially if you’re living in the home while work is done.
Your Responsibilities During the Project
- Keep records to make sure your kitchen remodel project is proceeding according to the contract.
- Keep physical copies of all change orders.
- Take photographs of the work in progress in case you need evidence.
- Write down the content of conversations you have with your contractor where you may have agreed to things that weren’t included in the contract.
- Keep all payment receipts.
Before Final Payment
Before you give your contractor your final payment and sign for completion according to the contract, double-check to make sure:
- The work has been completed according to your contract.
- You have copies of all warranties.
- You have proof that everyone who worked on the project was paid. This is important because laws in some states allow subcontractors who weren’t paid by your contractor to sue you for payment.
- The job site has been completely cleaned.
- You have inspected and approved the work.
- Make sure you are aware of your warranty coverage and how to deal with service issues.
- Keep your contract for future reference or if any questions arise after the work is complete.
During Contractor Interview, Ask About Warranties
Warranties are connected to the company that makes the products. Typically, appliances and cabinets have a one- or two-year warranty, but higher-end materials will have longer warranties because they are built to last longer.
Your designer will help you work through any warranty issues that arise, such as paint that starts to crack on cabinet doors, especially within the first year.
For minor repairs, such as adjusting cabinet doors, the designer will take care of them for you.
Your kitchen designer is your advocate when it comes to resolving any disputes with the contractor. This is why it’s a good idea to select a contractor recommended by your designer because the line of communication is more open, and the contractor knows what the designer expects.
If communication fails, you can request assistance from:
- Your state attorney or local consumer protection office
- National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
- National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)
- Alternative dispute resolution programs
- Better Business Bureau
During Contractor Interview, Ask How Long the Remodel Process Will Take
A project remodel should take 6-8 weeks, which includes 2 weeks waiting time for the countertops. If the job is complicated, if you’re gutting the downstairs and putting in new walls, replacing or adding windows or doors, taking down a load bearing wall – the project could take longer.
Be prepared to add in extra time for installation delays or unforeseen damage that needs to be addressed or hidden pipes that couldn’t be seen before demolition.
There’s no single right person to hire. in fact, it takes a team to build your dream kitchen. The pros you hire become your team, and it’s important that you have a good feelings of comfort and professionalism. Base your choices for those on your team on their experience and their credentials.
You’ll never regret spending more time on your kitchen homework.
KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.