How do you go about selecting a remodeling company that is going to make you happy?
Unfortunately most consumers have no idea, and most remodeling companies can't tell you either.
It's a problem that every business wrestles with: "How do we make sure that the people our product or service fits with understand that our product or service is perfect for them?"
Home remodeling adds some unusual complications to the mix. Every job is custom and represents a significant financial investment on the part of the client. You're not going to have your kitchen remodeled three times and then decide company number 2 was the best and have them back to do it over once more.
In my previous life I was a chef and restaurateur. I often think of how much more wisely people choose a restaurant than a remodeler. They likely get lots of recommendations for restaurants from friends and family; people love to talk about good restaurants and they're trying different ones all the time! They look at the menu, quickly see the price point and decide if the menu looks interesting. If they're on a tight budget and looking for maximum calories for their dollar they hit a fast food joint and they know exactly what they're going to get.
So how do you tell if a remodeling company is a McDonald's or a Five Guys? What if you're looking for the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse of remodeling companies and you accidentally hire the Outback?
I can tell you how not to do it: let's imagine we're going to find a restaurant at which to have dinner the way most people choose a remodeling company.
First I'll google restaurants and jot down a couple phone numbers. I call each one and tell them I'm looking to get dinner and I'd like chicken, can you tell me how much that is? After I collect a few prices for my "chicken dinner" I'll agonize over the fact that I've got 2 or 3 wildly different prices for my chicken dinner. How can one chicken dinner possibly cost 5 times as much at one restaurant versus another? The most expensive one is clearly just fleecing their customers for chicken so I toss that one out, but I'm still pretty confused over the price difference between the other two. The higher priced one had a really nice and helpful person talking to me and I'm inclined to get my chicken there, but at the end of the day we're still talking chicken for much more money.... maybe I'll call more restaurants just to make sure the higher priced one isn't ripping me off for my chicken. So I call another restaurant and tell them I'm thinking of having some chicken for dinner at another restaurant but I'd really like to know how much their chicken dinner is because the price at the other restaurant sounds high. They give me a price that's higher than any so far...now I'm really confused....should I call ten more restaurants?
Aside from the fact that all the restaurants you called probably think you're nuts, does that sound like a good way to choose a restaurant? Do you expect your KFC 2-piece breast and wing meal to cost the same amount as the organic Lancaster chicken with truffle boudin blanc and beluga lentils in a natural jus at Le Bec-Fin? If not then may I suggest a better way to look for a remodeling company?
Shift your thinking. You are not "calling to get estimates", you're conducting preliminary phone interviews to find a service provider whose typical service offerings mesh with your goals and needs (and only one of those many needs being price point vs. budget).
Don't jump straight to scheduling a visit. You should be scheduling a few visits with companies that you think can meet your goals, not just scheduling a few or more random companies to look at your project.
Define what your goals are and share that information. If you don't know what you are looking for how can anyone else figure it out? "I'm looking to have our bathroom enlarged by moving a wall two feet so my husband's knees don't hit the wall when he's sitting on the toilet" is very different from "We want to enlarge our bathroom to create a spacious light filled master bath that can accommodate additional storage and fixtures", but they both fall under the general statement "we want a bigger bathroom."
Establish your price point on the phone and find ways to be specific. Telling me your project has a budget does not mean anything. All projects have budgets, is it a "local diner" budget or a "10th anniversary at a five star joint" budget? I realize that sharing your budget feels like jumping into a swimming pool without looking to see if there is any water in it first. If you're not comfortable jumping first ask the contractor for a ballpark range based on your description of the project and whatever questions they may ask. You can also do your homework and check Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report to get an idea of what projects cost.
Ask the company on the phone what type of project and client is an ideal fit for them. If they can answer that question, does the answer sound like you and your project? If they can't answer the question or tell you "they do it all" it's time to be scared. No company can be everything to everyone.
Understand up front that no two, ten or 500 companies are going to produce the same finished project, designed and built the same way, unless they are working from a detailed technical set of plans and specs. Even if you do have complete plans and specs there are still many variables such as timing, customer service, working and personal relationship, safety, quality of craftsmanship, cleanliness, warranty....and the list goes on.
When you've found a few remodeling contractors that you think may be a good fit schedule your visits. Now you can interview them in person and see which company feels like a good fit.
Approaching your hiring decision more thoughtfully helps you find a partner for your home improvement project to achieve exactly what you're looking for and saves you time, stress and potentially money.