Request references, and if possible, see the contractor's past projects in person—don't just rely on photographs. "You should always get references—don't ever take anyone's word for it," stresses Frank Larson of Larco Construction Services, an Eichler-focused general contractor based in the East Bay.
"Take the time to look at the reference. Don't just call them. Someone [one of the contractors you're considering] could call their buddy and give them $50 for a recommendation. Go and physically look at the work. You'll know immediately if it's what you want."
Ask those references how well the project was managed and how long it took to complete and what the professional was like on the job. Unlike your pet sitter or lawn maintenance contractor, a remodeler will be a part of your daily life if hired. They'll become intimate with your personal life and daily routines, so a good fit of personality, among other things, is a must. You should feel comfortable enough to ask questions and make requests when necessary. The building professional should have an overall feeling of trustworthiness, quality, and attention to detail.
"You have to be comfortable with the people working in and around your home," Larson says. "It's a short-term marriage. If you are ripping out somebody's kitchen or bath, the honeymoon will be over quickly if you don't get along." "Eichler people are kind of quirky, and so am I," Larson adds. "We have a certain kind of personality, and look for the same things in a project, so it's usually a good mesh of personalities."
It is very important to find pros that have experience and knowledge of your type of home and pay attention to detail. Mid-century modern homes have quirky infrastructures that thwart many building practices, such as heating (especially in-slab radiant), electrical, plumbing, roofing, and framing. Experienced MCM contractors know what's hiding in the walls, ceilings, and floors and can propose efficient recommendations about routing electricity and HVAC before you commit to a project.
What also comes with this experience is an awareness of the proper timing of each home-improvement project. In Eichler homes, for instance, it is best to consider changing out plumbing and electrical only when re-roofing, update the wiring before installing new drywall or a roof, and pressure-test and repair radiant-heat tubing before installing that new flooring.
"If you have the funding to do the whole project, you'll spend less money overall doing everything at the same time," says Klopf. "However, if phasing is a must, it does make sense to group projects together. Like replacing your plumbing system and waste line for a new bathroom even if you don't plan to do the bathroom right now. A lot of times owners will make a five-year plan for a house."
Seasoned pros also know how to work with nuances of these historical homes. "For instance, I have my own cabinet shop, and I can match wood pieces for siding from the original home with replacements," Larson says. "Take a look at how a remodeler deals with beam replacements. Many people will just paint and caulk with cheap products, and they'll paint just the parts you see. After 12 years on the job, I see the same things fail time after time. Over time, you see what caused it and know how to fix it."
Overall, look for quality materials and construction, hallmarks of experienced professionals. "There's something about quality that most homebuyers can instinctively see when they walk into a home," Boyenga says. "You see it through how carefully a wall is painted or how cabinetry lines up and trim matches. All of these details help improve the overall value of a home."
Contractors should be licensed, bonded, and insured. Being licensed shows that the contractor has met the legal requirements of their profession and they have a current license to perform their trade within the state of California.
"Do not let someone mess with your house who is not a licensed contractor," says Catherine Munson. "Most homeowners do this [home remodeling] only once or twice in their life, and hiring professionals eliminates the hassles of the bad jobs."
Homeowners can check the status of a contractor's license by calling the Contractors State Licensing Board at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752), or online at cslb.ca.gov.
While it is not a legal requirement that a remodeling contractor have liability insurance coverage in place in order to perform a remodeling project, that contractor nonetheless is required by law to notify the homeowner involved about the current status of his or her liability insurance by way of a written notice that accompanies their project contract.