With most home projects, you'll ask a number of contractors for estimates, which essentially turn into their bids for the job. Sometimes, there are huge differences in the bids you receive, and going with the lowest amount isn't always the best choice. Here's what to consider with each bid so that you choose the best contractor:
What materials are included in the bid?
When some contractors quote you a price, their price includes all of the materials you need for the job. Other contractors assume that you've purchased the materials yourself, so their quote is just for the labor involved. Still others will include some of the materials, but not all of them. For example, a contractor you hire to lay tile might bring supplies for the job, but assume that you've ordered your own tile. Make sure you talk to your contractor about the materials, so it is clear what is and is not included.
If the materials are included, it also pays to find out exactly what materials will be used. Some contractors cut costs by using low-quality materials. Make sure you get samples of the materials used. You can also as the contractor to break down the costs into material versus labor so that you can see where the money is going, and that way if you choose to upgrade the materials, you can.
What's the scope of the work to be done?
Every contractor does a job differently, so make sure each contractor who submits a bid talks about the work they'll do. For example, if you're hiring a contractor to replace drywall in one area of your house, does the bid include removal of the old drywall? If you hire a painter for a few rooms, does the bid include painting the trim? A bid that at first seems to be the least expensive may not actually be as good as you think when you find out the scope of the work.
What is NOT included in the bid?
If something isn't specified in the bid, chances are that it isn't included. When in doubt, ask. You don't want to be nickel and dimed to death when the project starts. Contractors typically are clear about the items or services they don't include in their bid, but some will hide this information to get more money from you.
What are the payment terms?
With some contractors, you'll owe the entire price of the project upfront. Others have you pay in increments, while still others only require the cost of the materials until the end of the project. When you review the bids you're given, take into consideration when you'll need to pay for the project. Do you have the money to pay for the project right away? If not, you might need to pass on some bids to work out a payment plan that works better for you. Keep in mind, however, that everything is negotiable, so if there's a contractor you really like otherwise, talk to him or her about a new payment schedule.
How fast will the project get done?
Along with the cost of the project, each contractor's bid should include a time line for completion. If you aren't in a hurry, time line doesn't necessarily matter, but you don't want to live in a construction zone for months and months when your contractor initially said the project would only last for a few weeks. Sometimes, it really does make your home unlivable, since many projects require you to turn off the water or electricity, remove the roof, or otherwise cause you to stay somewhere else for a few days. If one contractor can get the job done in two days and another will take a week, your decision may be to work with the first contractor.
Of course, time also depends on the number of people working on your project, and a larger team isn't necessarily a good thing. Make sure that those working on your home are qualified to do so and that the contractor who bids on your project initially will be on site to ensure that the work is of a high standard.
How long is the bid valid?
Depending on the project, the bid your contractor gives you may not be good for more than a few weeks. The price of products increases over time, and you may find that over time, contractors raise their prices for labor as well. Whenever a contractor gives you a bid, make sure you note how long this price will be valid. If you take too long to make a decision, the price may go up.
Obviously, the price isn't the only thing you should consider when hiring a contractor. In the end, you want someone who understands what you're trying to achieve and is reliable enough to show up to get the job done. Price does need to be considered, though, so get bids from a variety of contractors to help you decide whom to hire.