With the changes in the construction market as a result of the recent slow down in new home construction, it is now more important than ever to take great care in choosing a company to work on your home. Finishing Basements has traditionally been at the bottom of the priority list because the profits are low and the homeowner is usually living in the house under construction. Contractors have typically used basement finishing as a last resort; when building slows down, they become desperate & often go to extremes to get work. For this reason the following guidelines will help you avoid those contractors and get a quality finished basement, at the Right Time, the Right Price, finished on time.
- First impressions are everything – If a contractor does the following: is non-responsive on the phone or when you call to set up an appointment, or is late for that appointment, or does not get back to you in a timely manner during the estimate process, chances are, your basement finish is likely to turn into a NIGHTMARE. Pay close attention to their attitude & their mannerisms in your home. Do they listen to what you want? Are they willing to educate you on the finishing process? Paying attention to these kinds of details will tell you volumes about how that contractor will finish your basement!
- Get Multiple Bids – It is important to make sure you are getting the best value for your money and getting multiple bids helps do that; however, be careful not to get the best price and the best value mixed up. When choosing a contracor keep in mind that price is one factor, and in most cases not the most important one. All estimates should have the same parameters, comparing apples to apples. Be sure to compare the companies’ guarantees, warranties, years in business, reputation, and references to make sure you get the best value at The Right Price. The Right Price may not be the lowest but it will certainly be competitive & in line with your other bids! It is usually good to go with a company that has specialized in basement fiinishing because they will be a accustomed to dealing with the ins & outs of basement finishing. Ideally they will give you an itemized quote so you will know how much each part of your project will cost! (i.e. broken down as permits, framing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, drywall, doors, trim, painting, cabinetry, flooring, fixtures, etc.)
- Make sure they design the space on a computer – By designing your space on a computer contractors get precise measurements (such as total square footage actually finished), wall feet, cabinet lengths, etc. If they do not have a computer rendered drawing to show you, chances are they are truly just ESTIMATING (AKA GUESSING) and the cost will almost always go signifcantly UP after your basement begins.
- Get and Check RECENT References – Many contractors will give references of projects they did 6 months to 1 year ago or longer. This will give you part of the story though it tells you nothing about the current state of the company. It does however tell you how long it has been since they have finished a basement their customers would recommend. Ideal references should be from basements that were completed within the past few months or even current projects. Call and speak with the customers about their experience! Often times they will let you stop by and see their newly finished basemen! Most people are happy to show off their finished basement & by so doing you will end up with a better idea of what their experience was like by talking to them in person. Also as a sidenote, if you can find someone that has the same floorplan as you (and they already finished their basement), ask them if you can see it! This is one of the best ways to find out how to finish your basement! Often times you will see things you like & will want to avoid with your basement.
- Make Sure they have a Deadline Guarantee – A deadline guarantee protects you from having your basement project dragged out months over the deadline. The best Deadline Guarantee is good old fashioned money subtracted from the final bill, every day they are late. The bigger the Deadline Guarantee, the more motivated your contractor will be to finish on time! $75.00 to $100.00 per day or $375.00 to $ 500.00 per week should be enough to crack the whip. This is important because we are seeing many contractors enter this unstable market, start finishing a basement, only to leave the smaller basement to finish a larger, more profitable basement. This means your basement sits on the backburner for months! Please do not be a victim, do your due diligence!
- Make Sure they Stay Downstairs – Because you will be living in the house while your basement is being finished it is important your contractor is attentive to the security and safety of your family. It is so easy to change the lock on the door that separates the upstairs from your basement. Though it may not be a cure all, it will serve as a strong deterrent to those tempted to “snoop around.” Another great feature would be a dumpser & a Port-a-Potty on the premises. The dumpster keeps your home clean & the city happy. The porta-potty keeps it clean as well, we have heard horror stories about children catching contractors peeing on the side of the house or in window wells! It seems so simple but it really does make a big difference. A good basement company is accustomed to going through the windows while finishing your basement. This keeps the construction mess downstairs separate from the upstairs so that life can go on uninterrupted while your basement is being finished!
- Make sure you understand Allowances – All Allowances are not created equal! Contractors give allowances for things like flooring, cabinetry, and plumbing fixtures because their cost varies depending on the customers’ final choice. It is therefore important to make sure you make sure the allowances are realistic before your basement starts. If your contractor lowballed your allowances you are in danger of them being marked up significantly after your project begins. Many contractors will lowball allowances because they know that is where they can make more money once the final choices are made. Keep in mind many contractors build profit into allowances which means you may not get what you pay for dollar for dollar. Ideally you should negotiate your allowances so they are a “through cost,” that way there is no mark up from the contractor & you get your full moneys worth!
- Deposits at Contract Signing – Many contractors today are asking for a significant amount (30% – 50%) upfront. Don’t do it!! The only reason a contractor would need any money upfront is to pay for past projects that he owes on or to pay personal bills such as a mortgage, car payments, utility bills, etc. Contractors are notorious for giving lowball quotes, collecting your 50% down and running off to Mazatlan with your money. Ideally the company will have a policy that guarantees your money will pay for your project. That way you know for sure that the subcontractors that do your work are being paid & you don’t have to worry about a lien showing up 6 months or a year after your basement is finished.