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Guide to Hiring the Right Contractor For YOUR Project

According to the Contractor’s State License Board, there are roughly 290,000 licensed contractors in California. Trying to find out which one is the right fit for you can be overwhelming enough to avoid getting started on your home renovation project. I have compiled some helpful tips to make sure you end up with a contractor you love.

The first tip should be a minimum requirement; make sure the contractor you choose is Licensed, Bonded and Insured. If you are hiring a General Contractor make sure they only work with licensed sub contractors as well.

The next thing you should take into account is what type of project are you doing at your home? Contractor’s tend to have specialties, for example, they may specialize in Framing, or concrete, or drywall. Other’s may specialize in project management and all the worker’s on the project will be subcontractors. Before you hire anyone, ask what they specialize in, it is not a trick question, they should be able to tell you

Planning a Kitchen Remodel?

Stay away from hiring the one-man band - if he breaks a leg you'll be without a kitchen for a while. You will want to hire a company large enough so that if a key player gets injured or has a family emergency, the project will still proceed on schedule.

If you are only planning on doing a drywall patch or painting a wall a handyman is a great route. Typically more affordable as they have low overhead.

When the projects get very large (like building a new home from the ground up) you can go with one of the big custom home house builders but you may be stuck with an employee project manager of a large company. Or you can go with a company with lots of experience and the owners will personally be on site every day to make sure all the details of the project are considered each and every day (ahem…RJ Murphy). We build a new home every year or two in addition to our kitchen and bath remodel business.

We limit the number of projects we take on at any one time to make sure each project has the right amount of attention to detail. Contractors are notorious for starting a project and not completing it before starting another project. Make sure you ask how many projects they will take on at any one time and make sure they understand you don’t want to have your job sit still while they go tend to someone else’s project.

Check review sites, but be careful of giving your information to some of those websites that say they will give your information to 3 local contractors. From what I have seen, your information will be re-sold to 5-10 contractors and your phone will ring off the hook from sales guys trying to win your business. Searching local contractors in Huntington Beach or Newport Beach and reading their reviews on Yelp or Google will give you all the information you need to make your decision.

Asking a list of references from your potential contractor will help you feel secure in knowing that there are other happy customer’s. Be sure to actually call the previous customers. Ask them all of the hard questions:

  • Was the job site clean or was it a disaster?
  • Was the contractor on site every day or did he just leave a team?
  • Was the project on schedule?
  • Was the remodel on budget? Did they miss many items on their original estimate?
  • Did you feel the change orders were fair?
  • Was someone on site every day? Or were there down days?
  • Was the crew respectful of your home?

If the previous customer(s) who have remodeled with this contractor before have nothing but good things to say, you have probably found a reliable company who can take your project on safely!

Comparing Estimates

No two estimates are created equal. If someone is significantly cheaper than your other quotes you need to dig deeper to figure out how that is possible. Some ways people can provide a cheaper estimate include:

  • Missing items from the scope of work (be sure to double check what work is included so you don’t get a change order later)
  • Unlicensed - If you get a quote from an unlicensed contractor, you will likely save 30-40%. The risk may be worth it to some people, but I would advise against it.
  • Less experience - Maybe the contractor is new and doesn’t understand the amount of work it will take.
  • Less overhead - This one is an actual legitimate way a contractor can keep costs down. Maybe they don’t employ a full time office staff, they don’t own a building and not everyone in the company drives a work vehicle. These are all ways to keep business costs down.

To Recap:

  • Hire licensed contractors
  • Hire companies that specialize in what your project entails
  • Make sure the company is sized properly for the scope of work
  • Check references & review sites
  • Compare estimates and make sure you are comparing apples to apples

Thanks for reading!

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Kevin Murphy
Kevin Murphy is a second-generation general contractor and a key driving force behind the success of R J Murphy Construction, Inc. With humble beginnings sweeping floors during the summers of high school, Kevin's journey in the construction industry has been marked by dedication, resilience, and a commitment to excellence.
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