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How to Choose a Contractor to Remodel Your Bathroom

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

Deciding to remodel a bathroom is one of the best investments you can make in your home, in terms of both value and, of course, comfort. A remodeled bathroom will typically return 80 to 90% of your investment at resale, and the pleasure you'll get while using an updated bath is without a price tag.

Unless you plan on doing the job yourself, you'll need to choose a contractor to handle the job. But before you pick up the phone, you'll have to make some decisions. How much do you want to spend? What features are essential? What are the "wants" in addition to the "needs"? What's your style preference? Do you have your heart set on particular materials, such as a tiled shower or granite vanity tops?

Once you've answered those questions, it's time to start your search. The best first step is to ask friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbors for recommendations-and just as importantly, for the names of contractors they wouldn't hire again.

When asking about contractors, here's a good list of questions to start with:

  • Were you informed of additional costs as they came up?
  • How did the contractor handle setbacks or glitches? Was he or she easy to work with when the going got rough?
  • What was the contractor's crew like? Were they respectful? Did they clean up after themselves each day?
  • If plans were changed while the work was in progress, were the changes accommodated, or was the contractor inflexible?

Consider using an online referral service-they're pre-screened for insurance and licensing, and some provide user ratings and comments.

Interviewing for the Job

Set up appointments with at least three contractors, and don't hesitate to expand your list. The more, the better. Estimates are free, and you may come away with good ideas, even if you don't end up choosing that contractor for that job.

This is not a time for trust. Ask for everything from proof of worker's compensation insurance to any licenses your state requires. Most importantly, ask for references of recent jobs. When you call, it doesn't hurt to ask if the homeowner is willing to let you see the work that was done.

The bids you receive from contractors should be in writing and should include these four points:

  • The work to be done, in detail
  • The materials to be used
  • A time frame for the work to be completed
  • A firm price

Present the same specs and job to each contractor so you're comparing apples with apples when you get all the estimates, which are called bids. Though it may be tempting to choose the contractor on the basis of price, take care to look at the details of the bid, especially the work to be done and the materials to be used.

If this is a remodeling job rather than an addition, be sure the contractor you choose has a lot of experience in remodeling and not just construction, because remodeling requires a lot of rerouting, replumbing and working with existing structure and infrastructure.

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