How to Hire a Bathroom Contractor
Is it time to turn your en suite bathroom into a personal oasis? Before you start poring over which tiles or slipper tub to install, know that the far more crucial choice is to find the right contractor for the job.
Pinpointing a great contractor amid the many mediocre ones can be challenging, but there are ways to do your due diligence—and it’s important if you want your renovation to stay within budget without leaving you toilet-less for months! That’s why, in this second installment of our Dream Bathroom Remodeling Guide, we tell you how to find a trustworthy contractor. Heed this advice to find a contractor who’ll get your job done right without stressing you out in the process.
How to find a good bathroom contractor
Sure, ask your friends and neighbors who’ve redone their bathroom for recommendations. But that should just be the start. You’ll want to go online to conduct a broad search for contractors in your area, particularly those who specialize in bathrooms. While any contractor can technically work in any room of the home, it’s best to hire someone with specific bathroom experience. Sometimes it’s essential.
“In many states only a licensed plumber can do actual plumbing-related work,” says Rick Johnson, a general contractor with STL Remodeling, in Groton, MA. “The concern is that a water supply could be contaminated by improper practices.”
If you are only replacing fixtures that you can pick out, look for a contractor who can simply execute your plans, which will save you money. If you want a complete reimagination, then consider hiring a contractor who can also help you with design.
“Visit their website and Facebook page to look for reviews of projects to get a sense of the contractor’s work,” says Jody Costello, founder of ContractorsFromHell.com and creator of the Home Remodeling Bootcamp for Women.
Questions to ask a bathroom contractor
To get a snapshot of the contractor’s business practices, interview all your potential hires before a meeting. Ask if they have experience with bathrooms similar to yours. Because if you have an older home with tricky plumbing, you likely want a contractor who can roll with quirks. Ditto if you live in a brand-new condo with high-pressure plumbing.
“You also want to know if they have employees or rely solely on subcontractors,” says Costello. Employees usually equals familiar faces showing up every day; subcontractors could mean a revolving cast of workers. Ensure the contractor will visit often to oversee subcontractors who may not know as much about your project.
Finally, ask how often the contractor will communicate with you. If he has a lot of other projects that keeps him away, who will realize if, for example, the wrong cabinets were delivered? That may seem like a small thing, but there’s a six-week lead time for cabinets, so mistakes can have a massive impact.
Aim to get three to five contractors to come see the bathroom and bid on the job.
Do a background check on your contractor
Call all references. “And if a contractor can’t drum up three happy clients willing to be references, beware,” warns Darla DeMorrow, a certified professional organizer and owner of HeartWork Organizing who has overseen numerous renovations.
Also do a little online digging to reveal any related lawsuits, history of complaints, or credit issues with suppliers. You can figure this out by checking websites such as RipOff Report and ComplaintsBoard, venues where customers can anonymously air complaints about shoddy work. Also check the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit where more formal complaints are lodged.
Ask to see paperwork
There are many contractors who don’t have insurance or a license. And while their estimate will likely be lower, it’ll cost you big-time if something goes wrong.
Contractors should carry coverage for liability and workers’ compensation. Liability insurance protects you if, say, your contractor causes a pipe to burst and flood your basement. Your homeowners insurance usually doesn’t cover work for hire.
If the contractor has employees at your home and they get injured, you could be sued if the contractor doesn’t have workers’ compensation.
“Get the email and phone number of the agent at the insurance carrier so you have it on file,” says DeMorrow.
Ask for a current license, which offers proof that the contractor has met certain industry training standards. Then confirm that the license is valid through the contractor’s state license board.
Make sure the contractor will pull permits
What needs a permit varies by state. But if any permits are required, your contractor should be pulling them. (If you’re curious, call your local building department to determine if you need a permit.)
In most states, whoever gets the permit is responsible for passing inspections with code enforcement. And you’ll want that person to be the contractor. If the work doesn’t meet local building codes, the contractor will be responsible for making the needed changes.
Signs of a bad contractor
Some states limit the amount a contractor can request as a down payment, so research the legal requirements for your state. California, for example, limits down payments to 10% of the total estimated cost. In states without limits, some contractors require no more than 10% while others need upward of 30%, followed by progress payments.
The key is not to overpay upfront so the contractor has a motivation—money—to finish the job. So if a contractor asks for a large deposit to start, it’s generally a sign to run away. And never pay cash—you want a paper trail!
What you should get in writing
“Be sure the contractor will provide you with a written estimate that includes materials, a description of the scope of work, time frame, and overall responsibilities of the contractor,” says Costello. Be sure the payment schedule is spelled out as well.
Also make sure they will agree on written and mutually signed “change orders.” These are used if any extra work crops up to avoid any surprise billings.
Finally, your written agreement should include protective clauses—such as right to fire due to shoddy work.