The Real.Est List
NYC Renovation Chronicles: 7 tips for finding a great contractor
The cost of construction in New York City makes hiring a bad general contractor very expensive. Finding a skilled, trustworthy, responsive GC to renovate your apartment is essential.
And while it isn't as hard as getting your child into preschool, it does take some dedicated effort.
Here are some tips for finding the right person for the job:
- Ask friends & family Personal references from people whose judgment you respect can be a reliable source for finding a skilled contractor. Ask the people making the recommendations what they liked and did not like about the contractor. What would they have done differently if they did the renovation over again?
- Look online Search for “Manhattan General Contractor” or “New York General Contractor.” Established contractors will have websites with a listing of services and/or images of their work. You can also Google a firm’s name and “customer reviews” to see client opinions of the work. If there a sizable percentage of negative reviews, stay away. If the clear majority of reviews are positive and there is a small number of negative reports then often you can chalk it up to malicious personalities. Recommendations on discussion forums of websites like StreetEasy and Brownstoner can also be a good place to start.
- Find a contractor with local experience Hire only an experienced, locally based New York City general contractor, because renovating apartments in Manhattan differs from anywhere else in the country. For instance, the cost of tolls, the traffic jams, the tips to the building staff often cause a contractor from New Jersey or Long Island to fall behind schedule and/or they lose money on the job. A contractor who is losing money is not a happy individual and, in the worse case scenario, might try to minimize the loss by cutting corners or walking out on the job.
- Evaluate responsiveness E-mail or call the firm you are interested in interviewing for your project. How professional do they sound on the phone? Do they return phone calls and e-mails quickly? If contractors are unresponsive during the sales process, they will be the same way during the job with potentially disastrous results (e.g. when your bathtub is leaking into your neighbor’s apartment).
- Grade the estimate Was the estimate submitted when they said it would be? Is it detailed and does it provide line-item pricing for each task? A detail-oriented firm will provide detailed pricing. Be wary of any firm that lacks enough financial management skills to estimate a job thoroughly. Do not hire contractors because they offer the lowest price. Often a low price for renovation translates into poor service and quality.
- Contact references Ask to be provided with some references from people who live in New York City for whom they have worked. E-mail or call the references and ask them about the positive and negative qualities of the contractor and whether they would hire that person again.
- See samples of their work Most established general contractors will have a website with a portfolio of their work. You will see samples of their finished jobs and should be able to get a good impression of the commitment to quality. You can always ask to see some of their actual finished jobs. Keep in mind that this can be tough for the contractor as he has to ask a valuable client if he can bring a complete stranger to see his/her private home.
Yoel Borgenicht is the president of King Rose Construction, specializing in residential and commercial renovations in the New York City metro area.