Are you ready for that spring remodel project?

Are you ready for that spring remodel project?

As the calendar and Wisconsin weather turn to springtime, many homeowners’ thoughts turn to their long-planned home remodeling projects and this is the busiest time of year for local residential remodeling contractors whether it’s a newly remodeled kitchen or bathroom, new master suite addition or a lower level renovation. Unfortunately for homeowners, trying to find a contractor during this time of year is easier said than done, which often leads to being forced to choose between contractors who are “available” rather than “qualified”.
Let’s be clear: If you’re looking for a contractor in southeastern Wisconsin and they tell you they are available to start immediately, that is a red flag because if a contractor isn’t busy now, there is something wrong.
So what should customers look for when selecting the right contractor for their home remodeling project? While there’s no fool-proof plan to  picking a great contractor, there are some good things to verify before hiring someone:

1. How long has the company been in business?

Years in business is not to be confused with years of experience, as many local Wisconsin contractors have years and years of experience, but continuously start companies only to be out of business within two or three years and starting again under a new company name with a new website full of beautiful photos. Be sure to ask how long the specific company has been in business, and then verify that information by looking up the company on the Better Business Bureau’s website and checking with the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Be sure to ask for and verify the company’s State of Wisconsin Contractor Identification–also known as a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier number. It may take a few extra days to do this homework but it is absolutely essential to choosing the right contractor. The old saying in politics is equally important in home remodeling: “Trust, but verify.”

2. Is the contractor a member of the local construction trade organizations?

In southeastern Wisconsin, the most applicable trade organizations for the construction and remodeling industry are the Metropolitan Builders Association (MBA) and the Milwaukee chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (Milwaukee NARI) and while membership in these organizations is not a guarantee of contractor quality, it does indicate a certain level of adherence to contractor rules and regulations. Additionally, these organizations do verify contractors are licensed and insured before allowing membership. 

3. Does the contractor have an actual office location?

This is one of the aspects of the remodeling industry that separates legitimate contractors from mere paper contractors working out of the back of their pickup truck. Many of these will insist that an office and employees are nothing more than unnecessary overheard and justify that with a cheaper price, but finding the cheapest contractor should never be the goal of a home remodeling project. Yes, maintaining an office and staff–just like maintaining insurance and organization membership and a marketing presence–does increase a company’s overhead far more than simply a cell phone and a pickup truck. There is a reason some contractors’ prices are higher than others, and no doubt there are local contractors in Wisconsin who charge much higher prices simply due to inflated and unnecessary overhead expenses. However, one of the most important aspects in any bath, kitchen or room addition project is the peace of mind that comes with feeling confident in the company selected to complete the project. When it comes to writing out a check for tens of thousands of dollars and giving someone a key to your home, being able to stop by their office and check them out and know they are more than simply a paper contractor with a website and cheaper price than others, is paramount.

4. Price is important, but it’s not everything…know what you are getting for your money.

Let’s face it, most homeowners are not experts in remodeling or they wouldn’t be hiring a contractor in the first place. Likewise, few of us are skilled contract attorneys who can read and understand every part of a home remodeling agreement prior to signing it. But there are some elements required by Wisconsin law to be included in any home improvement contract and one of those required contract elements is a specific breakdown of materials and fixtures to be used on the project. At Winters Remodeling Group we heard many horror stories from clients who have come to us after taking their chances with the “chuck and a truck” contractor who promised equal quality work for a much lower price only to disappear with a half-finished job after collecting most or all of the money, or the contractor who used sub-standard materials that were not at all what the customer requested or expected. Before you sign a contract, insist on a clear and specific set of project specifications that list exactly what items will be used on your project.

If you are planning a kitchen remodeling project, insist on selecting the exact cabinets you want and have in writing a cabinet design that includes the brand and line of the cabinets. Do not accept a contract that includes any vague language such as “white cabinets” or “maple cabinets”. The quality of a cabinet is seen in items such as the type of wood construction used, the sides, the door and drawer styles, cabinet depth and the size of the cabinet, type of molding, etc. All of these should be disclosed and understood before signing a contract. Similarly, “quartz countertops” is not specific, as there are many different styles, thickness, edge profile and brands of quartz. Insist on seeing the actual countertop materials, not simply a small sample piece. And be certain to know exactly what is included in the price paid, as many contractors provide square footage pricing for counter tops but leave out additional costs such as cutting out the hole for the sink, the backslash or other items that can raise the cost considerably.

To reiterate, know what you are getting for your money prior to signing a contract. Too often contractors ask clients to sign home remodeling agreements based on vague materials descriptions or project allowances, without clients understanding exactly what they’re getting or if those allowances will actually be sufficient to purchase the items desired for the job. Thought it may take a little more time, homeowners should insist on knowing exactly what their project includes or excludes, what potential contingencies exist and who would be responsible for them, and when the project will begin and end. 

Thought there are many other factors to consider when choosing a home remodeling contractor, these are a good start, and if we can help in any way please give Winters Remodeling Group a call at 262.560.0000 or email at or a free, no-obligation initial consultation. Best of luck!