Choosing a Kitchen Renovation Contractor

Many minor kitchen improvements are do-it-yourself projects: buying a new refrigerator or painting the walls are often done by homeowners themselves. However, as the scope of your project increases, most homeowners hire a professional contractor. This is one of the most critical steps in completing a kitchen remodelling -- choose the wrong contractor and you may pay too much money, end up with shoddy workmanship, or need to hire someone else three months down the line to do it over!

There are three steps to this process:

  1. Generate a list of contractors to contact
  2. Interview those contractors, and request bids
  3. Renegotiate the bids, and choose the best one

Generate a list of contractors to contact

Your initial list of contractors should come from a network: either your personal network of friends and associates or from a company that specializes in developing a network of professional contractors. (If your friends can only recommend one or two contractors, contact one of the online companies as well.) Your goal is to get the name and phone number of at least three or four contractors in your area. (If you can get a few more, all the better. Good contractors are often busy, so you may need to contact several just to get one of them to bid on your project.)

Networks are important for two reasons: First, your network will tell you if the contractor did a good job; Second, the contractor knows that if they do a bad job for you, the word will get around to the rest of the network, often with substantial negative consequences.

Interview contractors and request bids

Here are a number of criteria to consider when interviewing contractors and requesting bids.

  • Longevity: has the contractor been in business for several years? Assuming all other criteria were held constant, you would probably want to choose a contractor who has established a successful track record over one who hasn't. An established record provides two benefits: (1) the likelihood is that the contractor has made his or her clients happy more often than not; (2) if the contractor has established a track record, they should have not problem providing you with references who can substantiate that record.
  • References: Always request and check multiple references. A simple phone call will do. Here are some useful questions to ask the reference:
    1. Can they confirm that they hired the contractor in question?
    2. Were they happy with the contractor's work?
    3. Did the contractor finish the project on time and on budget?
    4. Would they have any hesitation recommending this contractor to someone else?
    Beware of references who are unwilling to discuss a contractor, or who give a lukewarm reference. People are understandably reluctant to give a blatantly bad reference about someone that they may work with again in the future.
  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau: Ask them if anyone has filed a complaint about this contractor.
  • Is the contractor properly licensed? In the United States, contractor licensing is typically determined at the state rather than the local or national level. However, not all states require kitchen contractors to be licensed. Your state may have a License Board, a Contractors Board, or some other department (such as the Department of Revenue) may have jurisdiction. The important point is to track down the department responsible for licensing, find out whether your contractor needs to be licensed, and then find out whether they have the appropriate license.
  • Ask the contractor to show proof that they are properly insured.
  • Do you need to get a permit from the city or town in which you live to complete this work? Call the town clerk in your town or city and ask if you will need a permit for the work you need done.

Renegotiate the bids and accept one of them

Once you have received bids from your favorite contractors, you need to review the bids. If you aren't sure your contractor reached a number, give them a call and find out. Make sure that the contractors understand that you are taking several bids, and choosing the best one.

Don't choose a bid on price alone -- neither the highest nor the lowest priced bids are necessarily the best. You need to consider your contractors' references, their schedules, and how well you think you'll work together. (Remember, they may be spending several weeks or more in your kitchen!)

If you are happy with more than one bid, go back to those contractors and try to negotiate a better deal -- perhaps less money, perhaps a more favorable schedule, perhaps a better brand of appliance for the same price. Don't hesitate to negotiate, it's part of the game.