Lite Construction, Inc.


Making the Right Choice: How to Hire a General Contractor

Deciding to renovate your home is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. It can be a major step in cultivating a space that’s authentic to you and perfect for your needs, but it’s also a major investment. And if you’re like the majority of homeowners, you probably don’t have extensive experience or knowledge of structural engineering, building code, and other issues that can pop up during a home remodel. Here are some tips on how to find, choose, and communicate with a general contractor that will ease your stress and improve your entire renovation experience.

Know what you want in the end

That can feel like the most daunting part! But luckily, you don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of the specifics at this point—you should just have a strong idea of your goals for the project, and your ultimate dreams for the space. If you’re finishing a basement, think about how you want the space to function—as a family movie night, or a swanky entertaining space? In a kitchen, do you know you’ll want a big island for friends to gather around, or maybe an area completely dedicated to your baking hobby. Even if you can’t really picture how your ideas will translate into a functional feature, be ready to talk through how you need the space to function. You may also consider (or you can look for a contractor who offers) an interior designer (or two depending on your preferred style!) or space planning consultant to help walk you through this phase.

Lite Construction whole house remodel

Many of us get stuck in considering the phase of life we are in now, and it’s crucial to take a step back and consider how that space will fit your needs in 5-10 years. For example, building a brand new home right as you are having your first born and want all of the bedrooms right next to each other, and then suddenly you have “tweens” who want sleepovers and you can’t get a split second of sleep because all of the girls are screaming and giggling in the room right next to yours.

Where to start? How to find a general contractor in your area.

Google is an obvious place to start, but make sure you’re paying attention to things like number of reviews, rating, and how the business responds to any negative feedback. If you find someone who looks promising on Google, check them out on Facebook as well. Both are good forums for an honest picture, because they don’t allow review blocking or sponsored reviews.

A more reliable option than a simple web search is through word of mouth. Capitalize on your friends’ great experiences (or learn from their painful mistakes) by getting their input on past contractors they’ve used. You’re guaranteed to get a fully honest (and much more in depth) review than the Internet can provide. Make sure you consider the specifics of your situation when assessing your options. If you’re planning a bathroom remodel, don’t waste your time on contractors that focus on basement renovations or deck building. Additionally, double check that they’re licensed and insured before moving on to the next step.

Have a conversation (or two or three!)

Once you’ve gotten insight from friends or Google, choose a few standouts to actually speak to. You should obtain at least three bids to compare pricing, portfolio, process, and schedule. It’s important that these conversations be in-person—you want the professional to actually see the space before he gives an estimate on the scope of work. During this stage of the process, pay attention to how each candidate communicates. Do they primarily use text or email? Are responses prompt and easy for someone of your knowledge to understand? However they get back to you, make sure it meshes well with your preferred communication style, or you could be butting heads and feeling underinformed throughout the renovation.

When you do meet with your chosen candidates, here are some important questions you can ask to help make the most informed choice:

How many years of experience do you have?

  • How many [your specific need] have you remodeled?
  • Do you offer any guarantees or warranties on your work?
  • Does this project require any special permits? How do you handle permitting?
  • Where do you source your materials? Will you accept a materials budget?
  • What is your payment schedule?
  • Are your employees part of the company or subcontractors?
  • What insurance covers you and your employees?
  • Is there a project manager, or will I communicate directly with you?
  • How is project site cleanup handled?
  • What is your estimated timeline for this project?
  • How/how often will project updates be communicated to me?

And, most importantly:

  • Can you provide me with a list of references?

It takes some due diligence

To hire a general contractor, you should be willing to put in a bit of background work. Once you get the lists of references, make sure you call! It should go without saying, but many people reach this stage and get too intimidated to actually pick up the phone, figuring if the contractor was confident enough to share the names, they must do decent work. But you can learn so much from talking with past references—not just if the contractor was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but nuances about how they communicated, how issues were handled, and if their style is a good match for yours.  Don’t skip this valuable step! Additionally, check the company’s full legal name against the Better Business Bureau and any local regulatory bodies to ensure that, if there have been any complaints against them, you can understand what the situation was and how it was handled. You can also check that the company has all required licenses with your state, and that they carry an appropriate amount of insurance coverage (typically at least a million dollars in liability and worker’s compensation.)

Pro Tip: The lower a contractor’s license number, the longer than have been in business. So when you see a license number 8, 9 or 10 digits long, it means they just got their contractor license recently. This doesn’t mean they are a bad contractor, but that they simply don’t have the years of experience contracting yet, which is a consideration to weigh in choosing the right contractor.

Align on expectations

You’ve landed on your preferred option, done your background work, and you’re excited for the next phase.  Now you need to set expectations for what that phase looks like. Talk with your contractor about their schedule—when can they begin the project, how long will they plan for it, and what will the daily work on the jobsite look like? They should at least be able to give you an overview of the stages of renovation: for example, first a week of demolition, then electrical and plumbing need to be run. That will require an inspection, so likely a few quiet days. Once inspection is passed, it’s time for cabinets and counters, and then tiling and so on.  They may not have everything locked into a specific date, but the process should be fairly easy to describe.

Finally, you should remember to manage your expectations, as well—even the best laid plans can (and do!) run into snafus. Inclement weather, contractor illness, and supply chain issues can all impact a project timeline.  But if you’ve followed the advice laid out here for you, you’ve hopefully chosen to work with someone who will communicate any issues to you clearly, and who will handle them professionally. By hiring the right general contractor, you’ve made your home renovation project as stress-free as possible and you’ll be enjoying your finished space soon!

Lite Construction is a family-owned and operated residential construction and remodeling company, serving the western suburbs of the Twin Cities since 1986. Reach out and we would be happy to discuss your project: 612.803.8121.