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Top Questions For Your Contractor Before You Renovate

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jun 1, 2020

In January of 1963, the median sale price of a new home in the United States was $17,200. In 2018, that price had risen to $229,700. While inflation certainly has a lot to do with the difference between these numbers, homes have also been getting much bigger and more expensive. Thus a more significant percentage of our income goes towards financing a path towards homeownership.

Many existing homeowners are opting to renovate their homes due to the prohibitive costs of purchasing or building a new home. In 2019, over 400 billion was spent nationwide on home repairs and renovations. Renovating a home will usually significantly increase the value of your home. Financing for home renovation projects is often possible through home equity loans. 

Renovating an older home is typically more sustainable than building new. The efficiency gains that come with new construction usually take years to offset the carbon emissions associated with the construction of the home itself. For that reason, the most sustainable home is almost always the one that is currently standing.

However, not every home renovation project is environmentally conscious or a profitable investment that will increase the value of your home. 

In deciding what projects to tackle, you can compare the average cost of several popular home renovation projects to the average value these projects add to your home at resale. However, it is also essential to carefully plan a project and choose your contractor wisely. Below, we look at some of the most important questions you should ask your renovator before embarking on a new project.

craftsman construction

Do You Have a Contracting License and What Is It For?

While many homeowners might enjoy the challenge of doing some small renovation projects by themselves, major renovation projects should always be done by a licensed contractor. When you sell your home, sometime down the road, many homebuyers will want to see the paperwork of the contractor who completed the renovation. Banks and other financial institutions might also want to see the contractor's license when processing mortgage applications. 

One thing to watch out for: many builders and contractors might be licensed only in one construction trade. For example, you wouldn't want to hire a contractor licensed as a carpenter to replace your old, leaky roof. How can you check on this? To start, you can learn about the state guidelines related to contractor requirements. Once you know what license they should have to carry out work at your home, ask them to present you with documentation.

Additional Questions to Ask:

  • Do you have liability insurance?
  • Do you have worker's compensation insurance?
  • Do you have the appropriate safety training?
engineers looking at blueprint

What Suggestions Does the Home Renovation Contractor Have?

Once you have presented your plan, or vision, of the job you are planning, it is a good idea to ask the potential contractor for their suggestions. Engaging them in this process is useful for several reasons. First, you may have a clear picture of your desired result, but a professional might be able to offer suggestions related to materials or building methods on which you are not familiar. Next, talking with them about your vision will build a rapport, which will help develop a healthy working relationship. Last, and perhaps most importantly, engaging them in the planning process will encourage them to take ownership of the project in your home. The job will be better, and the contractor will pay closer attention to detail if they take pride in their work and feel bonded with their client (you!)

Money

How Much Will My Home Renovation Project Cost?

It is always a good idea to get several opinions related to the cost of home renovations. Many contractors and renovators will offer free quotes as part of their service.

Once you have found a contractor offering their service at a price that is within your budget, it is important to reach an agreement on the payment schedule. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has a list of recommendations for hiring a home contractor. One of the most critical elements they stress is never to pay the full amount of the contract up front. Your contractor will most likely require a down payment. Still, that down payment should be a negligible part of the total renovation cost. A fair contract would have you pay percentages of the total cost of the renovation project based on the work completed to date. You should never make a final payment until the renovation work is finished to your satisfaction.

You should also ask questions related to potential additional costs like:

  • Is the quoted price firm? Clarify if will they charge you more if the job takes longer than they anticipated.
  • Are contingencies for unexpected costs that could arise included in the quote? 
  • If not, how will they calculate overages?

How Long Will My Home Renovation Project Take?

When a contractor provides a cost estimate, they should also provide you with an estimate of the following:

  •  How long will the job take to complete?
  • When can they start the job?
  • Will they be working on other jobs at the same time that could affect the completion of your work?
Air Nailing

Will I Have a Consistent Team Working on My Renovation Project?

The construction business is competitive, and many contracting companies need to take on multiple jobs simultaneously to continue growing and returning a profit. Due to this reality, the home renovator you hire might end up sending different teams of workers to your home regularly. While it might be necessary to send a skilled professional to work on certain parts of the renovation process, consistency is usually better than turnover. You should be clear with your contractor that you prefer to have a dedicated team that shows up every day. By maintaining the same team and workers, you can exercise oversight on the renovation project. Also, you should ask your contractor if he or she plans to hire subcontractors for certain parts of the renovation and what qualifications those subcontractors will have.

LEED

Do You Have Experience or Certification(s) with Sustainable Building Methods?

One of the best ways to increase value to your home is through doing green renovations to make your home more sustainable, healthy, and energy-efficient. Home renovation projects that focus on non-toxic materials, sustainably-sourced resources, and increasing the overall energy efficiency of a house will not only add resale value to your home but also help you save money on your utility bills. Thus, you should always ask your contractor if he or she has any experience (or interest) with sustainable construction methods. 

Ask if they have ever participated in building a LEED-certified home or other sustainable home certifications like Energy Star for Homes. Or, ask what types of sustainable product certifications they rely on. You can mention the sustainability features that are most important to you, whether it be energy savings, indoor air quality improvement, or reduction of resource use. Ask what they would do in the course of the job to contribute to your sustainable goals.

Rise is building an online resource to help homeowners find design and construction professionals who are knowledgeable about sustainable home improvement projects. Our list is growing every day!

Plaster

Do You Have References?

One of the best ways to determine the qualifications and experience of a contractor or renovator is by contacting homeowners with whom he or she has previously worked. In many cases, you might be able to call or even visit a home that has been renovated and remodeled. Make sure to ask these references about the green renovation ideas that the contractor implemented. Also, ask for references related to a similar job that you are considering for your home.

Paint

By taking the time to ask in-depth questions, you can make sure you find a well-qualified contractor who will increase the value to your home while also enhancing your space's overall sustainability. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-06-11T17:17:27+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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