A kitchen contractor isn't necessarily hard to find. What’s challenging is finding ones that people are willing to recommend, remodelers with the right blend of qualifications and experience. Actually, it’s better to find several remodelers to interview, so you can find one who matches your goals on quality and cost. Recommendations are always the best place to start. If you have friends or family members who've recently had a kitchen remodeled, their experiences, both good and bad, can guide you. (Read: Why Hiring a Contractor is So Difficult)
Another great place to find recommendations is a good old fashioned lumber yard. The people who run the yard know contractors who have been in business in your area for a long time. And according to Tom Silva for This Old House, they also know who pays their bills on time, which is a nod to their trustworthiness.
If you are thinking about a kitchen remodel any time soon, you've already got a lot on your plate. To help ease some of the stress, here are a few things to look for that can help you choose the best person for the job:
Check Trade Organizations for Kitchen Contractors
Another good source for leads are professional trade organizations, as membership indicates a level of commitment to their business and the industry. Depending on the state where you live, membership may be stronger in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) or the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). For example, the New Hampshire Home Builders Association has 9 local groups and no real NARI presence. In Massachusetts, NARI is the more active association.
The benefits of working with their members include:
- They've gone through the application process with references from an existing member (my banker) and suppliers (for me, Ricci Lumber and Harvey Building Products in Portsmouth, NH).
- They have agreed to follow a business code of ethics (see example) covering things like advertising, contracts and handling of customer complaints.
- They follow all local, state and federal rules about licensing and/or registration.
- They carry all insurance required by federal, state and local authorities (for my handyman business – general liability, worker's comp, bonding and vehicle insurance).
- They use quality products and follow practices to insure the safety of their employees, sub-contractors and customers. Following the lead-safe Renovation, Repairs and Painting (RRP) rules is especially critical for homes built before 1978.
What this means is that the people you hire are active, full-time contractors who committed to their profession. If they claim expertise in some aspect of home building like green building, you should ask them to describe the education they've taken to support this claim. I've taken the classes to become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) but didn't pay the additional $175 for my official certification.
Learn Whether Contractors Have Dedicated Kitchen Experience
When is a great contractor not the right contractor for you? When most of his experience is with bathrooms, or bedroom remodels, or any place except the kitchen. You need a professional with plenty of kitchen experience, because there are so many different elements to this room. (Download: Find and Hire Your Home Contractor)
A kitchen contractor doesn’t just know about structural issues.They're experts on special wiring issues for kitchen appliances, plumbing, tile work, countertop surfaces, and all of the things it takes to pull a kitchen together. The best bathroom remodeler in the world is usually not as good a choice as one whose expertise lies with kitchens.
Check Each Contractor’s References, Licenses and Insurance
Regardless of where you find the contractors you're interviewing, you want to check their references and make sure their licenses and insurance are current. Don't rush through your due diligence during the planning stage. You're making a big investment of your time and money, and you not only want great value, you want the experience to be positive. When you hear horror stories (everyone does), if you probe a bit you'll likely find that the homeowner didn't do the proper due diligence.
References don’t help if you don’t check them, so be sure to make those calls. And any good kitchen contractor will happily show you proof of licensure and insurance. He won’t make you feel uncomfortable for asking, because that is part of the job.
Give Serious Consideration to Contractor Personality and Bid Range
Once you have a few — at least three kitchen contractors — to choose from, you’ll want to meet them in person. Your contractor will be inside your home a lot, and probably for several weeks, depending on the scope of the project. If your personalities don’t mesh, imagine what spending that much time with him underfoot would be like.
Another important thing is the bid range. You’ll be asking each contractor for a bid, but going with the lowest bid isn’t always the best approach. If one bid is only slightly lower than the others, then he’s probably just being competitive and wants the job. But if one is dramatically lower, you’d be risking shoddy workmanship, says Silva, so it’s better to take a higher bid.
Ask the Kitchen Contractor to Put Things in Writing
A great arrangement is one thing, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot without a written agreement. You’ll want a contractor who backs up his promises in writing. This might seem like a hard line approach, when all you want is a new kitchen. But there are so many things that can go wrong.
An agreement protects both you and your contractor. It should make plain the terms under which you’ll pay, and also the terms and timeframe under which he will perform the work. The more detailed the agreement, the better. That way, there is less room for confusion, disappointment, and disagreements.
Hiring a kitchen contractor can be more stressful than the remodel itself. But if you really do your homework on the front end, everything that comes after will be less of a burden. Both you and the person you hire will have fewer surprises. And if there’s anything that a remodeling project doesn't need, it’s more surprises.
Have you hired a contractor recently? What worked well or didn't? Or maybe you'd like to use our homeowner guide, Finding and Hiring the Right Contractor.