This post originally ran in The Seattle Times.

Today we’re hearing from our friends Noah France and Dana Chermak of Chermak Construction. Noah and Dana are the president and director of Chermak Construction in Edmonds and are members of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). Together, they have years and years of experience in the industry. In this blog, they’re answering a question that’s on many people’s minds, particularly when the warmer months roll around and projects pick back up: When is the best time to hire a contractor—and how? Here's Noah and Dana. 

The process of hiring a contractor can be stressful, but doing your homework will help you achieve great results while saving a tremendous amount of time, money, and anxiety. The following tips will help guide you through the process of finding the right general contractor for your next project.

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Start Looking Early for a General Contractor

If you’re interested in tackling a project this year, you should already be planning for it. Once the holiday season has passed, homeowners feel energized and start refocusing on their homes. Our business starts picking up on day one of the new year, and the earlier you jump in the better off you’ll be.

If you’re planning to go all out—full design and engineering plus permitting—anticipate waiting 12 weeks before a contractor starts on the project. If the project doesn’t require engineering, half that (six weeks) will be enough. Due to all the planning involved, no contractor will start a project immediately. Because of this, you should engage a contractor a month or two before the project's ideal start time.

Some projects are dependent on cooperative weather, which drives up seasonal demand for certain trades like painting, concrete, and dirt work. It can be very difficult to book these contractors during the summer, so you must get on their schedules very early in the year, even if it means contacting them before January 1.

Know Your Project Scope Before You Start

Often, clients will come to us with a laundry list of work they’d like done. In this situation, our job is to help align their budget with the overall scope of work, because adding to the scope always drives up costs. Having this conversation early on can help you get the most value from your project budget.

Identify a Reputable Contractor

To identify a reputable contractor, start with a credible source. We’re big fans of the MBAKS and think their Remodelers Directory is a good place to start. The Better Business Bureau is also a great source. To be listed there, a contractor must have no outstanding issues with their customers. It's a great place to find out if a business is licensed, insured, and bonded. You can also visit http://www.lni.wa.gov for a snapshot of this information.

Before You Hire a Contractor, See Their Team in Action

You should visit the company’s offices and meet the crew to see their project approach firsthand, including how they manage accounting, scheduling, and production. You’ll get a feel for the atmosphere of the office and how that might affect the project. We also recommend visiting one of their job sites to ask questions and get a sense of how clean and safe it is. Don’t be afraid to request a meeting with a past client. Their testimony will prove whether the contractor can deliver what they promise.

installing new kitchen

Always Get a Referral

A trusted friend or colleague’s opinion can be a great place to start if they worked with a contractor and had a positive experience. During a major project, you’ll be spending a lot of time with the contractor in your home—having a trusted first-person account will help you make the right choice. You can also call your local lumber store and ask them who their biggest customers are as they might be able to refer you to reputable contractors.

If You Are Unsure, Start with a Small Project

When it comes to recruiting a contractor for a large project, having them start with a smaller project is one of the best ways to find out how effectively they work, schedule, and budget. Before and during a project, ask specific questions to see if they can answer in a relatively straightforward manner. For example, how do they deal with a problem when it arises? Be wary of contractors who tell you your project is going to be smooth sailing the whole time.

Once You Begin, Stick to the Schedule

Your contractor should always give you a tentative but detailed schedule for a project, and it’s in their best interest (as well as yours) to keep to that schedule. When they go over on time, they go over budget and drive up overall costs.

When Hiring a Contractor, Choose Wisely

The key to this entire process is finding a contractor you can easily trust, get to know, and work with. The more you know up front, the easier time you’ll have going forward on the project. Good hunting!

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