Renovating can be a complicated process; and the more you know about working with a contractor, the better prepared you’ll be to navigate the road ahead. We asked our skilled team at Sweeten, the free renovation matchmaking service, to provide a guide on how to get started with a contractor—from what to look for when hiring a general contractor to what to expect from your GC.
When do you need to hire a contractor?
Miranda, Client Services
One of the first steps of starting your project is figuring out who to work with. When considering your scope for a renovation and whether you need a general contractor versus a handyman (or DIY!), a good place to start is by weighing the level of labor your project will require: are you hanging things on walls or taking down walls? Are you re-grouting tiles or replacing them? Smaller projects to make repairs or patch over errors are handyman-ready, whereas large-scale projects that may involve your electric or plumbing will naturally require a permit or inspection. In this case, a contractor with a state Home Improvement Contractor license will be obligatory.
For first-time renovators, figuring out what kind of labor is required for the project can be hard to determine. If you live in a building with a co-op or condo board, your alteration agreement may have parameters that will give you guidelines for whom to hire. In other situations, checking in with your city’s Department of Buildings will give you a sense of what types of projects will require a permit. The most important thing to remember is that cutting corners with unlicensed workers is never worth the risk.
Doing the research to find out whether or not you’ll need to hire a contractor is a crucial step in getting your project off the ground, and once you’ve figured out that you need one, the next step is finding the best contractor for your job.
How do you find a contractor to work with?
When we consider general contractors who have applied to join the Sweeten network, we ensure that they have completed transformational renovations with happy customers who are willing to rave about the work even years later. This indicates that the contractor’s work has held up over time. When reviewing contractors, start by looking for someone with experience in your neighborhood and who has done similar work. This can help you narrow down the field from thousands of general contractors to just a handful of experienced professionals. So remember to keep these questions in mind as you search:
- Have they done work in your neighborhood?
- Have they done similar work to what you’re looking to get done?
- Can they provide quality references and photos of past work?
- Are they licensed? (Working with an unlicensed contractor isn’t worth the risk)
Don’t be afraid to ask to see some of their past projects in person or to speak to their past clients—at least two. This is what we do at Sweeten when matching our clients to a selection of contractors based on location, budget, scope and style for the job.
Once you’ve found someone you think would be a good fit for your project, take it one step further and make sure they’re a good fit for you. You’ll be working with this contractor for the duration of your project, so you should like them!
What are the top 3 things to look for when hiring a contractor?
Olivia, Account Manager
1. Are they communicative? Make sure that you can trust your contractor to be responsive throughout the entire renovation process. Both parties will need to be on the same page, especially in terms of timeline.
2. Is it a good fit personality and style-wise? First impressions do matter! The contractor should be able to understand and carry out your particular sense of style. Additionally, with the amount of time they’ll be spending in your home, look for someone who meshes with your personality.
3. Do they have recent and reliable references? It’s important to review recent references of similar projects that your contractor has completed. You should be aware of the level of satisfaction of past clients. At Sweeten, our contractors have profiles which does just that: show past projects and client reviews to help you decide if they could be a right fit for you project.
What should you expect when working with a contractor?
Kimberly, Client Services
A contractor will partner with you to decide on:
- Final scope of work
- Best form of communication and how often they should check in with you
- Budget and payment schedule (make sure you have everything in writing)
A contractor cannot read your mind. Be clear, be direct, and be decisive. Do not be afraid to speak up about what you want. Be prepared with a list of questions to ask. That being said, be open to a contractor’s ideas and suggestions. The contractor is the professional with a wealth of knowledge about construction and years of experience.
What are a contractor’s key responsibilities?
Alejandra, Account Manager
Your general contractor manages your project from start to finish, focusing on the following responsibilities:
- Obtain proper licensing, insurance, and additional documents required by city, state, and specific to building needs
- Review site conditions and all relevant documents and drawings in order to fully understand the project and generate a proposal and bid (the proposal is the plan and the bid is the proposed cost)
- Specify the final scope of work, schedule, and come up with a contract
- Define the payment and deliverables schedule
- Request and follow advice from the architects, engineers or design team
- Manage and coordinate general aspects of a project, like site requirements
- Provide skilled labor, tools, equipment, and various services
- Coordinate subcontractors and other trades required by the scope of work and overseeing the quality of their work
- Maintain schedule and communication with clients to track deliverables and payment
- Review project completion with client and final payment
How much should you be paying? What are the real cost expectations?
In the NYC Metro area, you can expect a kitchen renovation to start at $26,166, a bathroom renovation to start at $24,688, and a total apartment gut to start at a minimum of $100 per square foot. The details around your particular project and space will increase or reduce cost. A few items that will likely increase cost:
- If your project requires an architect, stamped drawings, and filing and pulling permits
- If your project requires opening up walls and your electrical or plumbing need to be updated to meet current codes
Changes that affect:
- Egress (external entrances or exits, like doors and windows)
- Use or function of the space (changing a dry space to a wet space, or vice versa)
- Occupancy (combining apartments, adding or removing number of bedrooms on record), as these need to be on record and approved by the building department, as well as the fire department
- If you are looking for an extra layer of design assistance on top of what your contractor can provide in terms of space planning, or would like more hands-on direction with decorating (selecting materials, fixtures and finishes, artwork) by hiring a design professional
Generally speaking, if your renovation involves changing the footprint or layout of a space, it will be more expensive—for example, a kitchen renovation where you take down a wall and build an island, or a bathroom reno that converts a tub to a walk-in shower.
Keep in mind the value of what you are paying for:
- Labor (a licensed, insured contractor with quality service and craftsmanship)
- Raw materials
- Fixtures and finishes
- If needed, an architect, a designer, engineer and/or expediter
- If needed, costs of stamped drawings and pulling permits
- If needed, electrical & plumbing work with licensed electricians and plumbers who will pull permits if necessary
READY TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR? IF SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NEXT?
Start your renovation on Sweeten and let us find the best general contractors for your project, and help you all the way through! Learn how we screen thousands of professionals to find the mostexperienced and talented GCs to be part of our network based on Sweeten’s Contractor Standards.
Be prepared when it comes time to read one or a few contractors’ bids. Our post on understanding and comparing bids will help you navigate this process.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.