How to find your contractor and get your first bid!

Construction estimate

What do I need to know about contractors?

Building and remodeling are an expense that very few people in the world outside of the industry have the luxury to experience on multiple occasions. Without any experience, it is nearly impossible to know how to navigate the process without conflict and complication without assistance from someone who has been in the industry for years. Asking friends and family who have done remodeling or built a new home before is the best way to determine the quality of a builder. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, in construction, there can be a high turnover rate so who your friends and family had run their project may no longer be there. Most companies have a certain standard of work that they have built over the years and they should be expected to stay at that level of quality no matter who is running the job.

How do I find my contractor or builder?

Unless you already have a builder or contractor that you have had good experience with in the past your best bet is to meet with a few builders. You may be wondering where to find these builders and that will be entirely dependent on your location. In Houston, we have the GHBA (Greater Houston Builders Associations). If you do not have a local group Houzz has also turned into another very useful tool for finding contractors as well. These interviews are very important, they give you a very good look into if your personalities can mesh. Remember, these people will be in your home for a long period of time, having the ability to work well together is incredibly helpful in the process. You can also find builders by word of mouth, a personal referral goes a long way from a trusted friend. Even though you have the referral make sure to follow up with some questions.

How should I get bids from my contractor?

In my experience, it is best to talk to 5 contractors for an initial interview and work on narrowing that number down to 3. Once you have your favorite 3 contractors you should start talking budget and ballparks. Most builders will provide ballpark estimates for free but the amount of time it takes to give a truly accurate bid can be staggering. The reason I suggest 3 builders is because it gives you the best idea of how accurate the contractors are.

  • 1-Bid: 1 bid can never provide you enough information to know that what your bid is is accurate. The only exception is if you have a builder you are comfortable with and have worked with in the past (And even still it's not a bad idea to compare the prices).
  • 2-Bids: 2 bids put you in a better spot than one but it still does not give you enough information. If both of your bids are drastically different it is very difficult to know which bid is the more accurate of the two.
  • 3-Bids: 3 bids is the sweet spot. It gives you a lot more scenarios and a lot more information.
    • If all bids come back very different from each other the problem is not typically with the builders and more with the scope of work. If the plans are not clear builders may interpret them differently and you may not be getting the same scope of work from everyone. If this ends up happening, go back and review your scope of work and make sure everything is clearly presented.
    • If 2 of the bids come back the same and 1 is different, your best bet is to pick from the 2 that were similar in price and choose the one you had the best chemistry with.
    • If all the bids are the same that means your scope is clear, and all the builders are on the same page. Pick the builder you had the best chemistry with and go into the project feeling comfortable about the price.

I am comfortable with my ballpark bid and I picked a contractor now what?

This can differ from contractor to contractor but the best practice is to get a written takeoff. A construction takeoff is created by reading the house plans and itemizing the scope of work to get a better representation of the price. I always go back to what my 1st boss told me "How can you bid what you can't see". Too often do people get bids on projects without any kind of plans.

No matter how good the estimator, the task is near impossible. Do you remember playing the game telephone growing up because that is what ends up happening. The information gets diluted and changed from person to person till the scope that is bid does not match what is wanted. With drawings like those provided at 3D Home Designs, you have a fixed record of what is wanted that should not be open to interpretations.

The written takeoff will showcase the scope of work and give a much more accurate cost of the project. Having a bid that just says "Bathroom - $34,258.22" next to it does not give you too much information. The more info you can have the better. If your builder gives you a takeoff that matches the scope of work and you like the number you are ready to get started on your project!