Upper Manhattan- How to Choose a Contractor
Posted on February 5, 2018

Bohemia Blog by Agent Emily Ackerman Mencke

How to Choose a Contractor
By: Emily Ackerman

Few things in life are as stressful as doing a large renovation in your home and choosing a good contractor. This can be an extremely daunting process! So, how can you reduce your risk of things getting very expensive and you ending up in a mental institution when trying to make this choice? Here are some tips!

I am currently interviewing contractors to do a complete renovation of my kitchen in a CoOp in NYC. I am also interviewing contractors for an out-of-town seller who is trying to manage the estate sale of her late uncle. All in all, I've interviewed maybe 6 contractors to work on both jobs. Here is what I've learned!

-Good contractors take notes and photos.
Out of the 6 contractors I interviewed, only two took notes, photos, and measurements. This translated into two very specific bids and four very vague bids. A vague bid means a lot of unexpected costs are about to come your way! The other four who hadn’t bothered to take notes, had to ask me a lot of follow up questions and I had to remind them about a lot of work items that they had forgotten; I found this frustrating. I spent approximately an hour with each contractor at our initial meetings, and it took up a lot of my time trying to go back and forth with them because they had forgotten details that we had already discussed. This made me feel like the entire process with them would be a mess. The two that had taken the time to take notes were very specific, and I felt like they respected my time. When I feel like someone respects my time, it makes me trust them more and it foreshadows how the entire experience will be. The two contractors that took notes and photos were professional (and were also on time for our appointment, another big plus!) Ultimately those two contractors made it to the final round of my decision making.

-Good contractors give you a specific bid.
And I mean VERY specific bid. A good contractor will take the time to write down exactly what they are going to do and what they are going to cover in terms of supplies like tile, countertops, cabinetry, etc. If they expect you to pay for appliances separately, the bid should state that and your contractor should go over how much they estimate that cost will be (often contractors have relationships with suppliers so they can get you a good deal on things like appliances). If a contractor is going to cover certain supplies, they should quote you on how much they will cover. For example, if a contractor is including the cost of tile in their bid, make sure they include the price allowance they expect. If your contractor is allowing for $3 per square foot of tile and you want something that costs $8 per square foot, you'll have to pay more. Check your bid carefully, and make sure each work item is represented. If it isn't, ask for it to be included.

-Good contractors give you a solid timeframe and are transparent about the process.
You have to know what you are dealing with if you are doing a large scale (or even a small scale) renovation. A good contractor will be honest with you about possible pitfalls and problems that may arise, and will tell you how they plan to safeguard your home from dust, debris, etc. They will warn you if there are any issues that they can forsee, and they should give you regular updates.

-Good contractors have a multi-point payment structure.
Never trust a contractor that wants to be paid up front. There should be at least two or three points of payment: A downpayment, a mid-point payment, and a balance at the end.

-Try to get a contractor that comes with good reviews from people you know.
Great reviews on yelp are ok, but reviews from people you know are the best. You can see the work that was finished and find out about how the process went.

-Don't be afraid to ask questions!
A great contractor will be happy to educate and empower you about the process, and the more you know the better. I look for transparency when I am dealing with contractors, and I want specific information; the more the better. The contractor I ultimately chose to renovate my kitchen took the time to talk to me through everything, gave me a very specific bid, showed up on time, answered my questions clearly, and was honest about the pricing and potential issues we may face. I really appreciated that and I will refer them to everyone!