Avoiding home remodeling disasters requires research before the Remodeler is chosen. Homeowners are advised to call the previous customers of the contractors they’re considering—the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for 51 years, has always suggested this. But what are the most important questions to ask to make sure the contractor is trustworthy and right for the job?
Scott Cline, owner of J&B Construction Company in Germantown and a former Milwaukee/NARI President, said that sales people at unreliable companies could “give a certain portrayal of how a job will evolve,” trying to close the deal by painting a picture that may not be accurate. In observance of National Home Improvement Month in May, Milwaukee/NARI members combined their expertise to create a list of the 10 critical questions homeowners should ask previous customers in order to get a realistic idea of the project ahead of them:
1) Were you able to communicate with the Remodeler, and did the Remodeler stay in touch with you throughout the project?
2) Were you pleased with the quality of the work?
3) Were you happy with the Remodeler’s business practices?
4) Did you run into any problems on the project, and were they resolved well and in a timely manner?
5) Did the crew show up on time, and were you comfortable with the tradespeople that were subcontracted?
6) Was the project completed on schedule, and were the final details finished in a timely manner?
7) Did the Remodeler fulfill the terms of the contract?
8) Did your project get done within budget, or were there any hidden charges?
9) Would you use the Remodeler again without hesitation?
10) Was the Remodeler ______ (fill in the blank with the most important trait to you, i.e. creative, clean, fast, or detailed)?
The usefulness of the answers can depend on the customer list that the contractor provides. Cline said that an old referral list doesn’t mean as much as speaking with someone who just had a project done. “Talk to someone current, who went through the same experience that you will be going through,” he said. In addition to being recent, the project should be comparable. “A lot of contractors do several types of projects. Call another customer who had a similar type of work done.”
Tom Weiher, MCR, CKBR, owner of Carmel Builders in Menomonee Falls and another former Milwaukee/NARI President, said that he gives homeowners a list of eight-to-ten recent customers, and that at least half of them had the same type of project done. “We pair you up with like projects so you get answers that are relevant to what you’re looking to do,” he said. “You can ask all the questions on this list or just the ones that matter most to you.”
Tony Rink, CR, of Renovations Group in Elm Grove who previously served as an Officer for the association, agreed that having a focus when calling strangers is best. “You don’t want to make the past client feel like they are being interrogated,” he said. He recommended finding out if the client, overall, was satisfied with the experience. “Ask what their least favorite part of the project was.”
Cline explained that homeowners focus on different things, depending on their personalities, situations, and homes. He said, “For one person, how quickly the job was done matters most. For another, how neat and clean the contractors were will matter instead. What matters most can also depend on the type of project—when talking to design companies, you’ll be drawn to the designer who shares your vision. When looking at roofers, the install is probably what will matter most.”
It may seem like a lot of work, calling several past customers for every Remodeler that is being considered. When is it time to make a decision? “Interview as many contractors and references as it takes to find the one you feel comfortable with, the one you have the most confidence in,” Cline said. He added, “If there’s controversy over what different contractors are saying about things like installation, I like to refer homeowners back to the manufacturer’s representative for the answer.”
Milwaukee/NARI protects consumers by accepting for membership only the companies that meet certain criteria and by providing grievance procedures to homeowners.
The Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council was chartered in July 1961, as a Chapter of the National Home Improvement Council. In May of 1982, the National Home Improvement Council merged with the National Remodelers Association to form NARI—the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
The Council’s goals of encouraging ethical conduct, professionalism, and sound business practices in the remodeling industry have led to the remodeling industry’s growth and made NARI a recognized authority in that industry. With over 750 members, the Milwaukee Chapter is the nation’s largest.
For more information or to receive a free copy of an annual membership roster listing all members alphabetically and by category, and the booklet “Milwaukee/NARI's Remodeling Guide,” call 414- 771-4071 or visit the Council’s website at www.milwaukeenari.org.
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