About Contractors: Hire a Pro…in the Know - Page 2

Home improvement can be an enjoyable experience—if you choose the right professionals

"Would I do it again this way? I don't know. It was definitely harrowing, but we got everything we wanted at a substantially good price and on time."

Lastly, contractors and architects have been known to differ as to who should be the first to enter the remodeling process. The contractor, who is generally more familiar with building processes and costs associated with projects, can be valuable if brought in before the architect's final design is rendered.

On the other hand, offers architect Klopf, "Architects are pros at imagining the possibilities while most contractors tell me they're interested in building what's been designed, and completely uninterested in designing the project."

If you choose to work with both an architect/designer and a general contractor, strive to get both parties involved, and communicating with each other, from the onset.

The Design/Build Contractor. If you prefer to hire only one company for design and construction services, you may opt for a design/build firm. Design/build is a concept developed to benefit the remodeling homeowner by providing both design and construction services within the same general contracting company. A design/build contractor will see your project through from start to finish, keeping design, engineering, and budget in mind. Some firms have architects on staff, while others use certified designers.

The advantage of working with this type of firm is one-stop shopping; the homeowner has just one company to rely on for planning and construction and ensuring that the job is completed on time and on budget.

Where to Find Them

contractors at work

Referrals are the best place to find a remodeling professional. In tract communities, especially Eichler ones, news about contractors travels fast. Bad news travels especially fast. The grapevine is a valuable resource, so ask your neighbors, friends, and local shopkeepers.

"Call your area realtor to get recommendations," points out Eric Boyenga, a realtor who focuses on mid-century modern homes with Intero Real Estate on the San Francisco Peninsula. "They see so many homes and will know who does good work and who has the reputation necessary to do a professional remodel." Realtors also know the types of projects that add value and selling power to your home.

According to research conducted by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, most remodeling businesses attribute more than 50 percent of their annual volume to customer referrals; some even claim up to 90 percent or more of their total annual sales. Look for someone who has an established reputation in your neighborhood and community.

The Eichler Network is also a valuable resource. The staff monitors performances of participating companies and logs complaints when they occur.

"We're happy to let homeowners know about any of our participating service companies they may inquire about," says director Marty Arbunich. "Though, for the most part, our current companies have solid track records, we've been known to turn away others from participating in our network whose performance records were not up to our standards.

"We also have a process to assist in the facilitation and mediation of disputes, which are rare, between homeowners and our affiliated service companies."

What to Look for

architect and couple looking at plans

With recommendations in hand, do some preliminary research through phone calls and a visit to various professional organizations' Web sites. Find out if the companies you're considering belong to any professional associations, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), or the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). Belonging to professional organizations is a clue that the professional takes his or her business seriously and stays up on the latest building regulations and trends.

Check with the local Better Business Bureau to ensure there are no complaints on record for the contractor and inquire on the status and complaints of licenses with the Contractors State License Board.

Interviews are an important part of the research process. You need to find the contractor you feel will provide the best service and offers the best design, planning, and construction skills. They should be able to answer all your questions, including: How long have you been in business? What's the time frame of the project? What product sources can you offer? Ask them how they operate. Do they have employees or do they hire subcontractors? What's the daily work schedule? How well do they clean up during and after the project? Who's the supervisor for the job? How will you be notified about hurdles and updates to the project?