There are few places in the world that hold as much importance in our lives as our home. It’s where we share intimate moments with those that we care about, where we express ourselves, and where we unwind. The excitement of having the opportunity to renovate our homes is undeniable – we get to make our mark on our space and design it according to our needs. But with such importance (both in time, cost, and impact on our lives), we should be wary of whom we partner with. The decision of whom we select to take on the renovation is as crucial as budgeting and designing. The last thing you want to do is invite a wolf in sheep’s clothing in. And believe us, there are plenty out there.

It’s never an easy decision to know which contractors to hire, even with lots of research things can go wrong, but one company is there to streamline that process and ensure that you find the right professional for you: Greatbuildz goes through a 10-step vetting process to make sure that every contractor they work with is best of the best. At the moment their network extends to the LA area, but we asked Paul Dashevsky, the company’s Co-Founder and Partner, a few crucial questions that will help you in your search no matter where you are.

The stat is that 50% of homeowners have a negative experience with a contractor. In what ways do they tend to be unhappy and why does that happen?

A homeowner’s negative experience with a contractor typically involves one of the four following issues: increased costs, delays, quality or communication (sometimes just one and sometimes a few of these).   

Increased Costs: Sometimes, contractors will submit a low bid for a project expressly with the intent of winning the job and ‘making up the profit’ with change orders, which is infuriating to clients. If a homeowner is in the middle of a project and the contractor requires a change order to continue the work, the homeowner has very little leverage to negotiate a reasonable price. If the contractor provides a price that the client thinks is outrageous, the client’s only option is to halt the project and bring in someone cheaper to perform that task – an unrealistic course of action.

Delays: Some amount of delay is inevitable and homeowners should expect that, but some contractors will take on too many jobs simultaneously knowing full well this will cause one or more of those jobs to suffer long delays. Other contractors don’t manage their crews correctly or they get stretched too thin and will pull workers off one job to work on another which will often severely delay one client’s project. 

Quality: This issue is less straightforward because the idea of a ‘quality’ finished product can vary between the client and the contractor. Some contractors will notice an issue with quality, be it part of their work or an existing condition and say nothing to the client in hopes they won’t notice. Then, at the end of the job, the client notices this issue, but now it’s very difficult to address because the job is completed. Alternatively, a contractor might use materials that happen to be on the ‘back of their truck’, regardless of whether they are the right part for the job or used/damaged.    

Communication: Like the rest of us, contractors are busy with their business, family, etc. and can’t always respond to all clients immediately, but a subset of contractors seem to put absolutely no priority on communicating with their clients. They neither keep them updated on the progress of the job nor respond to clients’ calls or emails. Probably the most infuriating of these four issues is that it makes the homeowner feel the contractor has a lack of respect for their time, project, and relationship. 

Why is it important to go through all of the vetting steps that GreatBuildz goes through?

Most people make a contractor hiring decision based on the cost estimate, their ‘gut feel’ of the contractor after one meeting, and sometimes the contractor’s rating on review sites. This is a good start, but it’s grossly insufficient to tell the good guys from the bad guys. When you meet a contractor, they are trying to sell you, so they are on their best behavior (like a first date), and you can’t use that as a gauge. The price they give you for the job is important but tells you absolutely nothing about whether they are a quality contractor. Reading reviews should definitely be part of your homework, but you have to be cognizant that reviews aren’t totally reliable anymore and most contractors have many more good reviews than bad ones. Because this basic level of vetting is insufficient to truly finding a trustworthy contractor, a homeowner should take as many of the below steps as possible to protect themselves from having a renovation nightmare.

  • Make sure they’re licensed. Check your state licensing board to ensure the contractor is legitimate and has no derogatory license issue.
  • Get a copy of their insurance certificate and call their insurance broker; ask whether they have had any insurance claims in the recent past.
  • Call at least three references and take a look at their prior work. If you have the chance to visit one of their past jobs and see the renovation in person, even better!
  • Run a background check on them. Your contractor and their team will be in your home, quite likely without you in it. You want to make sure you can trust them, the same as you would with a nanny for your child.
  • Set out your expectations of them. A good way to do this is to present them with a “Contractor Code of Conduct” document. If they don’t agree with some of these expectations, they should explain why. 
  • Interview the owner of the company and the person on their staff who will manage the job/be your day-to-day contact. 
  • Prepare a comprehensive checklist. Ask the potential contractor important questions you need to know about them and their process to ensure they are a good fit for you. 

GreatBuildz doesn’t have contractors yet in my area – how do I find the correct contractor?

The best way to find a great contractor for your renovation is to ask your friends and neighbors if they‘ve recently hired a contractor and were happy with the experience. Make sure to ask for contractors that do the kind of work you need. A recommendation to a plumbing contractor won’t help you if you need a general contractor to remodel your kitchen.

Also, if you seek recommendations on Facebook or any other online platform, only trust recommendations from ‘real-life’ friends.  Suggestions from any of your other contacts are often biased (i.e. their cousin is a contractor). If that doesn’t work, visit some local material suppliers, such as tile or flooring stores, and ask the manager or owner for a recommendation to a quality contractor. Or, as a last resort, go online and check the review sites. In any case, make sure you do your own due diligence on all these contractors and don’t just rely on a recommendation.

What are some red flags that I should be aware of before and while working with a contractor?

When you’re searching for a contractor, my best advice is to do as much homework as possible as the more information you get, the easier it’ll be to spot potential red flags. Some very simple red flags to be aware of:

  • The contractor sends a salesman to meet you. You need to be keenly aware that this person (even if you like and connect with him/her) will NOT be involved in the project; therefore, you should interview the owner of the company or at least the person who will supervise your job.
  • A contractor that takes longer than a week to meet with you or respond with an estimate most likely means they’re too busy, disorganized, or poor with follow up.
  • The contractor is pushy or doesn’t seem to respect your budget and scope. This is a really bad sign; if he/she can’t listen and respect your wishes now, it will only get worse during the project.

Once you’ve hired a contractor, there are a few things you want to keep an eye on to ensure that things will continue to go smoothly.

  • Make sure workers are at your house on a daily basis. Once a contractor starts missing full days of work and making excuses, that’s a red flag that you will likely encounter delays.
  • If a contractor starts asking for more money earlier in the project than expected, that can be a red flag that they are having financial issues or are stretched too thin.
  • If a contractor becomes unresponsive or slow to respond to you, that’s a bad sign that he/she is either too busy with other jobs to give you adequate attention or there is some other unknown issue keeping them from communicating with you. 

What should I expect from a good contractor? Is it normal that they are working a few projects at a time?

Yes, most contractors handle more than one project at a time. Large contractors have a significant number of projects going at once, and a good contractor can handle all the projects they undertake. There are several ways to know if a contractor is able to sufficiently handle their current project workload and service you as a client. First, call their current clients and confirm their job is not substantially delayed and that the contractor maintains a high level of communication.        

What is something that most people don’t know about the construction industry that they should?

Most people are somewhat aware about the potential issues involved with renovating, be it through some of the shows on HGTV or because of a renovation nightmare that a friend described to them. However, I believe a majority of people don’t really realize the inherent imbalance in the contractor/client relationship which can lead to these scenarios. Let me share a few of these imbalances here. The first and easiest to describe is the knowledge imbalance. The contractor knows a ton about construction while the client often knows very little. This disparity can easily allow a dishonest contractor to “pull the wool over the eyes” of a client with regard to costs, quality, materials, etc. and the client has no way of knowing it.

Another issue is there is no way for a client to truly determine some important details about the contractor prior to hiring him/her. Are their workers consistent? Do their subcontractors like working for them? Do they take pride in their work? Are they overbooked with projects right now? The contractor knows all these details, but will certainly only tell the client about the good qualities and not the issues. Also, because of a client’s limited knowledge of construction, they won’t know if the contractor’s work is performed in a quality manner and with quality materials.

Finally and unfortunately, a client often has limited options for recourse if a contractor does poor work, doesn’t finish the job or just acts unethically. Filing a complaint with a bond or a licensing agency is one option, but it’s time consuming, frustrating, and doesn’t guarantee a positive result. Often, the only real recourse is a lawsuit, which is tremendously costly and stressful.  

What is a normal payment process/structure for a construction/renovation project?

Upon signing an agreement with a contractor, the client should provide only a minimal deposit (California law is $1000 maximum). With regard to future payments, the contractor should provide the client with an approximate schedule (including amounts) of payments based on project completion (i.e. first payment of $5000 at demo completion, then $5000 at rough framing completion, and so forth). If this is agreed to upfront, there should be no issues with regard to payment timing, and the client should have no concern that the contractor will run off with their money before doing the work.

Also, there should be some minimal amount of the total withheld, even when the job is complete, so that the client has the opportunity to inspect the final product and provide the contractor a ‘punch-list’ of repairs/touch-ups/etc. Once the repairs are completed, the final payment can be made. 

In the case that I work with someone through GreatBuildz and it doesn’t end up being the right fit, how do you assist me in mediating that situation?

GreatBuildz continually provides our contractors with great projects and clients, and we, therefore, have created strong relationships and a regular line of communication with these pros. So, if an issue arises with one of our clients, our concierge starts by listening to the client’s concern and providing some feedback on how this might be addressed. Then, the concierge will reach out to the contractor to discuss this issue with the expectation that they work towards a solution that satisfies the client. A majority of the time, reputable contractors will go the extra mile to ensure their clients are happy, even if it costs them extra time or money because they take pride in their work and reputation.

Can I compare bids from different contractors through GreatBuildz?

Yes, bids are sometimes very inconsistent among contractors. Let’s face it, when you meet with three different people, they may hear three different things (and maybe you even forgot to mention something in each case). That’s why it’s important to carefully review and compare all bids for consistency. Once a client has all their bids, they will email them to GreatBuildz and their personal concierge will spend the time to compare them and provide comments regarding any potential inconsistencies or gaps.

Paul’s advice is crucial for ensuring a smooth renovation experience. However, we also recommend working with a top-tier designer (Lisa Staton, whose work we’ve featured in this article is a great example) who will know the right people to hire.