Choosing A Qualified Contractor

Choosing a contractor is something that most clients need to do when planning a renovation project. You may be surprised by how early in the process you need to start thinking about building your A-team. In this article, we go through the process of choosing a contractor, things to look for, as well as some red flags that may indicate you may want to steer in another direction.

the preliminary process of choosing a contractor

AMR’s design process begins the moment we meet for our Initial Consultation. After this information gathering meeting, we go back to our studio and get to work coordinating the design direction for your project. First step is to complete the existing floorplan and create our proposed layout as in our initial discussion. As part of this process, we will also begin to determine preliminary material selections such as hardwood, tile, carpet etc. At this point, all these items will be general high level concepts and we will not have selected specific materials. Once we have completed this conceptual design package, we will review it with your contractor. They can then price on the proposed plans based on the rework of the floorplan, engineering, and their expert evaluation of pricing using previous projects at the same finish level. If you do not have a contractor selected yet, AMR Design is happy to provide a referral to our Preferred Contractors so we can keep the process going.

While we have our A Team Contractors we love to work with, we do not hire the contractor, but rather work with the contractor you decide to hire directly. AMR Design works for you, the client, not the contractor and we are your advocate throughout the process. We have several reputable contractors that we work with that we can recommend for your project. However, we also love meeting new skilled contractors and adding to our list of contractors we can recommend to our clients.

This is the point where some clients may get confused. You may think  “Why am I deciding on a contractor already when I haven’t even seen the design plan?” AMR does not provide general contracting services and as such, we cannot determine what the price is to create our proposed plans without contractor involvement. They will be the ones to review our floorplans and overall material selections to determine the general cost of the project. They will also likely take time to meet you and view your home in person.

Once you have had a chance to meet with the contractor and find one you get a good feeling about, we will send all our information to that contractor to provide preliminary pricing. It is important to note that at this point, you do not yet need to be 100% sure that this will be your contractor. Ideally, you do want to move forward with them as they have taken the time to meet you and price your project, but at this preliminary stage, you are not bound to one selection.

That being said, delaying the choice of contractor will also delay your project from starting. We follow a process where we “design to the dream” and you can decide what takes precedence based on the pricing the contractor provides. Without a contractor choice, we cannot provide pricing and therefore, it is much harder (and even impossible in some cases) for clients to make decisions about moving forward without any numbers in place. This is why we suggest choosing a contractor early on in the process.

Below is a timeline of our process. We aim to have a contractor selected prior to our Conceptual design meeting so that they can provide pricing at this meeting.

things to consider

We know that choosing a contractor is a decision that won’t be taken lightly – especially if you are embarking down a path of a large renovation that could be phased over several years. This is a long term investment and you want to make sure you have the right people on your team. Below are a few things you can do to ensure that you are making the best decision regarding a contractor choice for your project.

1. Gut Feeling

As simple as it may sound, this is one of the most important aspects in your contractor choice. If you get a good feeling from the contractor and they are open and transparent in their conversations with you, you are on the right track. While this isn’t the be all and end all, it is important that you get along with and like your contractor. This not only makes your life easier and more enjoyable throughout the time you will be working with them, but it also makes the relationship stronger. These relationships with people who are working in your home are important and intimate and care needs to be taken to ensure that the relationship will stand up under the stress of a renovation project.

2. Reviews and Referrals

We always recommend that clients check reviews, references, and referrals of contractors. We are one such resource for our clients when we recommend our preferred contractors. We recommend these contractors because we trust them, know they do good work, and our processes jive well together. We do not receive any kind of compensation or commission for these referrals. We simply recommend contractors based on the way they work and how we think they would connect with certain clients. AMR Design has high standards of quality and craftsmanship and we will only ever recommend a contractor that we believe does excellent, high quality work.

1- AMR DESIGN modern custom fireplace in family room

3. View their work

Check out contractors’ websites or google their business to see photos of their work. If you have a friend or family member recommend someone, ask if you can view their home in person to see the craftsmanship and quality of the work. While styles tend to vary based on the client, it is helpful to see photos of the work so you can get an idea of the quality of work a contractor produces.

red flags: when it may be time to find someone else

Even when we do all the right things, sometimes these relationships still fail us. Say you’ve had a chance to meet with a contractor and may have even had them present budget numbers when you suddenly wonder if this was the right decision. Are you maybe getting cold feet or is your gut trying to tell you something is off? Below are a few items to consider that could be red flags and may have you rethinking your contractor choice.

1. Budgets and contracts not clear

Budgets and contracts can be confusing to many people, so it is important that a contractor can explain these items in detail and to your satisfaction. While the budget and pricing will be very preliminary until specific materials are selected, your contractor should be able to provide a broken down budget that clearly shows where your money is going. Having a general $75,000 budget for a kitchen where you have no idea how much the cabinets are versus the countertop, will leave you with many more questions than answers.

It is also important that you understand the contract. You should have all your questions answered to your satisfaction and if your contractor cannot or will not answer these questions, it may be time to move on.

2. Communication doesn’t line up with expectations

Communication is often very important in our industry, but not everyone places such a high importance on this skill. If communication is important to you and you feel that you are being left in the dark more often than not, it may be time to have a chat with your contractor about your communication expectations. While some contractors will only alert you when something needs your attention, others may provide weekly updates based on your project. It all depends on what is important to you and how often you want to be updated. If your contractor doesn’t seem to be interested in matching your communication expectations, it may be best to cut your losses and find someone who can.

3. Personality doesn’t jive

Remember how we mentioned that first tip of following your gut feeling when choosing a contractor? This is why. Personality type can make or break these relationships and if you choose someone you do not like (but you decided to ignore this fact due to a good price or based on their work etc.) we are certain that this will be a painful process for you. These relationships can change throughout the course of a renovation, especially in the more stressful times, but if the relationship doesn’t work from the get go, we suggest you find a new one.

final thoughts

As Interior Designers, we have worked with our fair share of amazing and not-so-amazing contractors. The only type of contractor that we will not work with is a client who wants to act as their own general contractor. We have found that our process best lines up with professional contractors that are covered with insurance and hold a strong reputation and as such, we do not work with clients who are acting as their own contractors. 

As mentioned previously, we work for our clients, not the contractor and we will never accept or expect compensation for referring a contractor for a project. These referrals are made on the basis of our trust in these contractors – we are someone who can “vet” for them because we have worked with them for years, seen their work, and heard reviews from our clients first hand. While working with our preferred contractors is usually “easier”, we often work with new and different contractors with ease and enjoyment, as well as beautiful results.

If you have any questions about hiring a contractor and want advice from a reputable Interior Design firm on the process, please feel free to reach out to us!

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