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Selecting a Contractor

Good, Cheap, Fast

It's important to keep in mind that it is impossible to hire a contractor that does quality work fast at a cheap price. You might be able to get 2 of the 3, but you probably will not find a contractor that is all three. See graphic to the right.

Comparing Apples to Apples

There are some items contractors often leave out of their estimates. Be sure to ask your contractors about the following items:

1. Connecting the addition to the existing house

Keep in mind you will need plumbing, electric, heating, air conditioning, and any additional modifications needed to connect the two parts together and create a unified and functional exterior and interior configuration.

2. Finishes

You should make sure your contractor includes the normal things that most people want in their house such as finishes, walls, base and trim moldings, flooring and bath tile, ceilings, painting, electrical, lighting fixtures, heating and air conditioning, plumbing fixtures, doors, windows, exterior siding and roofing.

If your personal taste tends toward more expensive features and finishes, this is not reflected and must be added. The idea is to provide you with useful information and a general idea of what the project might cost to build.

Contractors will generally exclude the cost of kitchen work, bathroom finishes, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, flooring, tile and painting. A contractor's initial estimated budget cost will likely be lower than what these figures show for this reason. These items are factored in since it is assumed that complete and finished construction is the goal. You need to be aware of this. When dealing with contractors, it is not just "how much" but also, "what specifically does that cost include and NOT include".

Be Prepared for Surprises

It's important to be prepared for surprise unexpected conditions that could delay the project or cause design changes along the way. Many of the culprits are hidden behind walls—structural damage, for example, or electrical wiring that isn’t up to code. Even though most contractors plan for those contingencies, we recommend adding at least a 10 percent cushion into your budget to cover such surprises.

On major home renovation projects, it’s worth paying a few hundred dollars for a pre-inspection by a certified home inspector. 


Remember that budgets are a moving target. The number you start out with during the planning phase is likely to change when you begin to see what materials actually cost. General contractors have to make similar calculations, factoring what they think the job will cost against their own profit margins and unforeseen expenses.

Stay Involved

You can’t just write the contractor a check—then check out. Homeowner involvement throughout the project is critical. Even if you’ve moved out of the house, plan on a couple of in-person meetings every week and more frequent meetings at crucial points, such as during the demolition phase or before tile is installed (changing the layout or grout color can be difficult and costly once work has started).

Selecting a contractor is one of the most important decision you will make for your project. The link below to the Consumer Reports article has great information about selecting a contractor and setting your remodel up for success. Below are some of the most important points:

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