Our “New” Home – Part 2… To choose a contractor, or not to choose a contractor…

Naptime Gnome Post #22

Getting Floored – Where to start… Choosing a Contractor.photo(2) Once we established that we didn’t like our floors, it was actually a fairly long journey to find the ultimate flooring for us. We always thought we wanted hardwood: we liked the warm rich look, and the idea of them not feeling “cold,” but more than anything, I liked the fact that they are relatively easy to install. I’ve laid a few different types of hardwood and have several saws that were rather excited about the prospect, but the thought of discovering the first of many many scratches, dings and other inevitable signs of wear and damage did not seem appealing. Further, after seeing what some friends’ dogs had done to their hardwood over many years of running around corners (only to go slamming into a wall) leaving hundreds of little scratches and grooves all along the way, we decided that 100+ lbs. of force behind those precious little paws, or claws rather, may not be the best fit with wood floors.


Don’t let the fluff fool you… there are talons hiding in those fluffy slippers!

Not only were claw marks a concern, we also wanted to use the same flooring in our common areas as would be used in the bathrooms, laundry room and kitchen… and as you know, water and wood do not mix… not if you want them to stay pretty… AND I do. So we thought tile would be our best bet, but we kept finding ourselves in Lumber Liquidators trying to talk ourselves into their amazing prices and relatively simple installation… I can’t tell you how many times we gazed longingly at carbonized bamboo with hand-scraped grooves… but ultimately the idea of kids leaving wet towels on the floor, a dog bowl being dumped over while we’re out, an overflowing sink, or potty training a puppy we haven’t even considered getting, kept calling us back to tile.

So tile it was, and being that I’d never done a tile job this large, and the hubby was not crazy about living on concrete for a few months while the Naptime Gnome made a few hours of progress each day, we opted to hire a contractor and get the whole project knocked out in a week or so.

After speaking to a few contractors, it became strikingly clear that not all tile-layers are created equal. So before you start your next big tile job, please take a moment to learn from our experience, mistakes and all.

We found early on that some contractors do demo AND install, some only install, and there are even companies that only do demo. You will also find that some will pickup and deliver the product, and even work such services into their pricing, while others aren’t equipped to transport pallets of tile and sacks of thin-set. Further, some contractors will reinstall baseboards when they are done as either part of the service, or as an additional service.

All of these fine variations complicated the task of acquiring comparable quotes, so it’s best to be thorough in your questioning. One contractor looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if they installed baseboards, while another explicitly stated that he would install them as part of the price for flooring installation, as long as I had them painted and ready to go.  Additionally, some contractors will seal the grout for free (you buy the sealer) while others charge an additional fee per square foot (and the list goes on).

So here are some suggestions we have come up with for choosing the right contractor for you… and this applies to just about any type of contractor:

1. Make a list of contractors you are interested in interviewing. Start your list by talking to:

  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Neighbors
  • Local family members
  • Flooring vendors
  • Talk to people you meet in flooring and home improvements stores (you’d be surprised how many business cards you can come away with)
  • Beef up your list with a google, yelp or yahoo search.

2. Do your homework. Before calling, visit their websites if they have them and check them out on Yelp, The Better Business Bureau, HomeAdvisor.com, and/or Angie’s List, if you have an account.

3. Organize your list. Rank your options based on first impression, comments, complaints and reviews and photos you’ve seen or if you have seen their work first hand.

4. Measure your space. Even if you will have a contractor doing the purchasing and installation, be sure to measure the space yourself. We had one contractor estimate our space as being TWICE as big as it actually is, after “measuring” it. This also happened to be the same contractor (who was, by the way, licensed and bonded…) that appeared to be “casing the joint” the entire time he was here for the quote, wondering into parts of the house we were not looking to tile, getting “LOST” while supposedly following me… seriously, our house is NOT that big.

5. Do a little product hunting and get a good feel for the materials you’d like to use (our next post in this series will highlight our adventures in choosing materials). Bring home samples and decide what you like the look and feel of before talking to a contractor. Be sure to keep these samples handy for meetings with contractors (see step 7).

6. Make some calls. After removing any contractors with whom you aren’t satisfied, start making some calls. Be sure to ask if they do residential work, if their advertising isn’t clear. You will also want to ask what their lead time is on projects at present. Ask for general estimates based on your square footage and material choice. You may also ask if they perform demo and what their rates run for those services. You will likely find very few companies willing to give quotes of any kind (even non-binding, unofficial quotes) over the phone. They will likely want to come out and see your space… use your questioning to assess whether you want them “seeing” your space. 

7. Get official quotes from at least 3 contractors. After you know your space and your preferred material type, bring in the experts. Get their opinions on your material choices, they may know where you can find it at a better price, or may recommend a product they prefer working with. Take notes and suck up all they have to say. You’d be shocked how much info you can leach out of a potential contractor for FREE. I felt terribly guilty about squeezing info out of people I ended up not employing, but ultimately each bid is weighed evenly and you need to have as much information about an individual’s capabilities and knowledge as you can possibly glean in a single brief meeting. So ask LOTS of questions and try not to feel guilty. If multiple contractors give you conflicting information, don’t let it drop, ask more questions until you can comfortably determine the who really knows their stuff and who’s feeding you a line. This may require calling a few contractors after the quotes are all in, or even having one or two come back out.

8. Get thorough quotes. If you are looking to demo a space, have all your contractors give you two quotes, one with demo and one without (if they do demo, some contractors specialize in installation only). You may get lucky and find someone who will demo for next to nothing and has great install prices, but you also want to know if they are willing to only do the demo while another contractor installs. This way you can conceivably go with whomever you feel will be the best fit for both aspects of the project. More often than not you will get a better price on demo if they will be preforming the install, but it may not be better overall compared to another company, so just get the numbers and decide later.

9. Negotiate. There’s no harm in trying to get a better price, or more service for the same price. You may find that the contractor you prefer is not only better, but twice the price as the next in line. Be honest and you may find some wiggle room. Maybe they’ll throw in sealing or baseboard labor for free, or perhaps they’ll come down a bit on price.

10. Make a choice or revisit your list. After all the quotes are in, review each and determine first which need to go, if any. If there are any glaring outliers based on price, or knowledge base, adjust your list accordingly, if there is an obvious “winner” of course you’ll want to give them a call as soon as you can and get them booked before their schedule fills up or they take on a huge job that ties them up for a substantial amount of time. If after reviewing the official quotes you are not satisfied with any of the contractors you shortlisted, revisit your original list and make a few more calls. There’s no harm in spending a little more time on the front end, it could save you time, money and headache in the long run.

11. In the end, go with your gut. If you don’t feel “right” about a contractor, even if their price is really good… perhaps ESPECIALLY if the price is really good, don’t invite them to spend a week or so with you on a project. We made the mistake of having a vendor visit the house to give us an official quote after we talked to him on the phone and determined him to be “a bit off” as my husband put it. Once meeting the guy and his anklet-wearing associate, we decided he was definitely more than “a bit” off.  His pricing was nearly half of any others quoted, but as I asked him questions about the project, it become even more evident he had no idea what he was doing, despite being “licensed and bonded.” After probing a bit more, they had only done small tiling jobs and their primary work had been in demo and project clean-up. So even though they didn’t have any knocks on their business record YET, I wasn’t about to be their guinea pig as they branched out.

12. Involve your contractor in the product purchasing process. If you have the choice, select your contractor before purchasing your materials so you can be sure to get exactly what your contractor needs. Some contractors figure pickup and delivery of materials as part of their install price, as well, so be sure to discuss that before paying for services elsewhere.

With any luck, you will be enjoying your new floors with out too much hassle in no time!


-The Naptime Gnome <;’)

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