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How to Choose the Best Contractor

Choose the right contractor for your job with insight on each step of the home renovation process.

Presented by Better Builders January 25, 2023

Better Builders luxury primary bathroom renovation in the Admiral neighborhood of West Seattle, WA.

Before beginning a home renovation of any kind, you must understand the steps involved in a typical home renovation. Therefore, we have outlined a standard home renovation step-by-step process and tips to help you know what to look for in a contractor that’s right for your job. Remember, it’s worth the wait to work with a contractor who is the right fit for you rather than the first contractor available.

1.   Building the Relationship Sets the Foundation

A good contractor will approach the partnership as a relationship rather than a transaction. This means you should be involved every step of the way. Investing time in relationship building with the contractor up front creates a strong foundation for your project.

Better Builders renovated living room with preserved original coffered ceilings in whole house remodel in the Latona neighborhood of Seattle, WA.

2.   What to Look for in a Design Agreement

If you choose to work with a design-build firm, they are a one-stop shop for your entire home renovation process. During the project's design phase, you will see 3-4 key steps:

  • Communication Preferences: At Better Builders, we kick off the design phase by providing a free DiSC assessment to inform your preferred communication style. This assessment helps our team better guide you through the overall process and communicate in the best way that suits you.
  • Schematic Design: This step is where your dream becomes visualized into an initial drawing of the new floor plan.
  • Design Development: This involves developing elevations, including interior details for construction, 3D renderings, and finish selections.
  • Construction Documents: These documents may include structural engineering, surveys, geotechnical engineering, wetland delineation, and any necessary permits.

Better Builders classic kitchen remodel of a historic home in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle, WA.

3.   Home Remodeling Pricing

There are generally two types of agreements: fixed-price and cost-plus. Cost-Plus is the hourly labor cost plus the cost of materials with the builders' markup. Fixed-Price can be viewed as a guaranteed price for your project. This method prompts the builder to estimate the costs correctly up-front, and it’s their responsibility to complete the job within that number.

To acquire the most accurate Fixed Cost pricing, high-quality contractors will host a ‘sub party.’ This is a meeting at the client’s home where the pre-construction team and trade partners take a look at existing conditions to provide the most accurate cost for their work.

When getting estimates from several contractors, beware of much lower quotes than others. In addition, signing an agreement that’s based on a bid is not recommended. Typically, a bid consists of a price quote given by multiple contractors, whereas an experienced contractor would provide a price to finish the job well.

Better Builders classic kitchen remodel of a historic home in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle, WA.

4.   The Transition from Design to Construction

When designs are complete and the pricing has been compiled, it’s time to review the scope of work, budget, and design documents. Once given the green light, the Project Developer will prepare a construction agreement.

Construction Agreement: Once signed and a deposit paid, the wheels are set in motion for the transition from design to production.

Better Builders custom garage and woodworking shop addition in Bellevue, WA

5.   Project Handoff

There are two “handoff” meetings in the transition from design and pricing to production. The internal handoff is where the pre-construction team meets with production to review all the fine details. At Better Builders, we start with relationship-based information, like our clients' communication styles and specific needs, then move into project-specific details.

The external handoff consists of the pre-con team and project manager meeting onsite to introduce the homeowner and perform a walkthrough.

A responsible builder will begin the handoff discussion by highlighting any intricacies of the job, instilling trust between the homeowner and the production team.

Conscientious builders will also give the client’s neighbors a heads-up that work will be happening soon. For example, at Better Builders, we put ‘pardon our dust’ door hangers on neighbors’ houses to direct any questions or issues to the contractor rather than the homeowner.

Deck overlooking the sound - Custom home built by Better Builders in the Fauntleroy neighborhood of West Seattle, WA.

Image: Lara Swimmer

6.   Project Mobilization

As the production team gears up for construction, they launch into a detailed preparation stage that includes writing the schedule, ordering long lead time items, and site preparation. Detailed calendars, with consistent reviewing, ensure an efficient project schedule and minimize the inconvenience to the homeowner.

Part of the project management schedule is getting trade partners' buy-in to the project timeline. These relationships are why trusted and experienced contractors can offer fixed prices to clients and still be sustainable in their business.

Better Builders construction project “pain chart”, illustrating the ups and downs of a home renovation.

Common Home Remodeling Project Timelines

While it’s important to remember that many variables may impact the duration of your build, below are some common project types and estimates of the average construction duration:

Kitchen: ~10-14 weeks

Kitchen plus (expanding kitchen into other rooms or take down walls): ~12- 18 weeks

Shared bath: ~8-12 weeks

En-suite bathroom: ~10-14 weeks

Finished basement (ADU): ~14-18 weeks

One-room addition: ~16-24 weeks

Whole-home renovation: ~6-12 months

New construction: ~12-24 months

Click Here to download the eBook: The Better Builders Guide to Planning a Remarkable Renovation

Good Things Take Time

This detailed preparation takes time. A good contractor will have a documented and systematic process that appropriately sets timeline expectations and will tell you to enter the process with patience. In addition, look for a contractor that always acts as a trusted advisor and guides you through the process with consistency and care.

Discover how you can plan an efficient and successful home renovation project by downloading the eBook, "The Homeowner’s Guide to Planning a Remarkable Renovation."



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