2021 Guide to the Best Los Angeles General Contractors
Everyone knows it’s daunting to begin planning for a home improvement or renovation project. People know the costs will be substantial, there is likely to be a disruption to their life during construction, and a bunch of research is necessary to find and pick the best general contractor or remodeling contractor. Because selecting the right contractor can make the difference between having a terrific remodeling experience and living through a ‘renovation nightmare’, this piece of the puzzle is exceedingly important and this article is meant to provide some guidance.
Finding a good general contractor might seem simple, as there are plenty of online resources listing tons of ‘highly-rated’ Los Angeles general contractors. However, I want to share with you two statistics that might convince you otherwise. First, just in Los Angeles County alone, there are over 20,000 licensed General Contractors, and that doesn’t include plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc. With that many options, it may no longer feel so simple to find the best ones. Second, in a recent survey, over 50% of homeowners who renovated reported having a negative experience with their contractor or remodel. This shocking number confirms the importance of finding the right contractor!
Here at GreatBuildz, we speak with clients every day who are looking for the best contractor for their remodel or construction project. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, pre-screened general contractors, then provides ongoing project support to ensure a stress-free experience. Give us a call at 818.317.3567 or visit our website at www.GreatBuildz.com to learn more and discuss your project.
What Are the Best Ways to Find a Great General Contractor?
The best way to find a great general contractor for your remodel is to ask friends, neighbors, or trusted colleagues if they’ve hired a contractor whom they liked. Make sure to ask for Los Angeles general contractors that do the same kind of work you need. A recommendation to a plumbing contractor isn’t helpful if you need a general contractor to build an ADU or addition. Also, if you ask for recommendations on Facebook or any other online platform, you should only trust suggestions from ‘real-life’ friends. Other contacts you don’t know personally are often biased (their cousin is a contractor, etc).
If you don’t get any quality suggestions from people you personally know and you need to look elsewhere, start with services that do the most intensive contractor screening and offer personalized introductions to reputable contractors (www.GreatBuildz.com or similar). The worst option is just going online and sifting through national contractor listing/review sites. Because there are so many Los Angeles general contractors (over 20,000) and most of them seem to have a great 4-5 star rating, there is really no way to tell the truly good ones from the ones that just seem good because of pretty pictures and potentially fake reviews.
Which Contractors are Best?
Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few remodeling contractors, how can you tell which one is best? Again, this isn’t as simple as one may think. Unfortunately, many people make a hiring decision based on only two factors: the lowest bid and their ‘gut feel’ of the contractor after one meeting. These are a start, but grossly insufficient to tell the good guys from the bad. When you meet a remodeling contractor, they are trying to sell you, so they are on their best behavior.
The price estimate they give you is obviously important but tells you nothing about whether they are reputable and honest. Because these two parameters are insufficient to truly determine which contractors are best, a homeowner should take as many of vetting steps as possible to protect themselves from having a renovation nightmare. At GreatBuildz, we’ve developed a 10-point vetting process to screen for the best general contractors. This is shown in the ‘how it works’ section of our website. I suggest every homeowner perform as many of these steps as possible to protect themselves from having a stressful renovation nightmare, but at least the following five:
- Check their reviews online. Read any negative reviews and determine how bad their behavior seems to you, and feel free to ask the contractor to explain their bad reviews. A significant number of bad reviews (especially in the last 2 years) clearly indicate a pattern and you should think twice about hiring this company.
- Do a contractor license lookup online. In California, you should navigate to https://www.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx. Here, you can confirm the company you’re considering has an active license, check company owner names, see if they have any infractions on their license, and determine how long the company has been licensed.
- Get a copy of their insurance certificate and call their insurance broker. Ask whether they have had any insurance claims in the recent past.
- Call at least 3 references and take a look at pictures of their prior work. If you have the chance to visit one of his past jobs and see the renovation in person, even better!
- Interview the owner (or at least the Project Manager who will be your day-to-day contact during the project). Especially common with larger Los Angeles general contractors, the person at your first meeting is often just a salesperson, probably one of several on their staff.
How do I Vet a Contractor?
While performing this vetting, you’ll be on the lookout for any red flags that give you cause for concern about a remodeling contractor. The more vetting items you perform, the more likely you’ll find a ‘red flag’ that concerns you…and if you find no red flags, you can feel confident you’ve found a quality professional. Some possible red flags to be aware of:
- A contractor who asks for a large deposit to ‘hold’ your job on their schedule.
- A contractor that takes longer than a week to meet with you or respond with an estimate; that contractor is either too busy, disorganized, or poor with follow up.
- A contractor who is pushy, boastful, doesn’t seem to respect your budget & scope or ‘bad-mouths’ other contractors. This is a really bad sign; if he/she cant listen and respect your wishes now, it will only get worse during the project.
- A contractor with a relatively new license. This person is either inexperienced or had to get a new license because of issues with their previous license.
- If you find a contractor that spends a lot on his/her marketing like glossy full-page mailers, fully-wrapped trucks, expensive ads on social media, etc… these will often be the most expensive pros, so make sure you get multiple bids.
There are many other potential red flags and you’ll know them when you see them (ie. too many bad reviews).
What Should I Prepare to Meet with Contractors?
When you’re getting ready to meet any general contractors, the more preparation you do in advance, the smoother the bidding and hiring process will be. There are a few important things all homeowners should do to prepare before they meet with remodeling contractors. First, you want to have some idea of a budget for your project. This really means understanding what your ‘neighbors’ are paying for a similar project. You can start by researching online but be careful that you’re only getting budgets for local and recent projects. Ideally, ask friends, neighbors, etc. what people have paid recently in your area.
Another important thing to do in advance is to create a scope of the items you want to be included in your project and hand it to every contractor who comes to bid the job. This will ensure that each contractor has the same understanding of your project and you’ll be more likely to get bids that include the same items. Finally, it’s ideal if you have some ideas for the materials you want to use. This will help each general contractor estimate your job more accurately.
Some people refuse to share their budget with their contractors but might be a mistake. You should feel comfortable telling the contractor a range of what you think the project should cost or what you can afford to spend. Your potential contractors have seen many jobs, and they can tell you upfront whether they are going to fit within your budget. Even though they know your budget, they will still need to be competitive on price as long as they are aware that other contractors are competing for the job.
‘Most people don’t think about one important but overlooked aspect of hiring a remodeling contractor: the inherent inequity in the contractor/client relationship. I call this the ‘knowledge imbalance’. The contractor knows a ton about construction while the client usually does not. This disparity can easily allow a dishonest contractor to mislead a client about costs, quality, materials, etc. and the client has no way of knowing it.
Also, there is no simple way for a client to determine several important factors about the contractor before hiring them: Are his workers qualified and detailed? Is he/she responsible & responsive? Does he take pride in his work? Is he/she overbooked with projects right now? The contractor will certainly only tell you about his/her good qualities and not their negatives.
Sadly, most homeowners find out way too late about their contactor’s shortcomings (as evidenced above by the 50% statistic). Once the project is in process, homeowners have no good options for recourse if a general contractor does poor work, overcharges them, doesn’t finish the job, or just acts unethically. Firing a contractor in the middle of a job creates a ton of headaches for the client, including the need to find a new contractor willing to finish the job. Filing a complaint with a bond or a licensing agency is one option, but it’s time-consuming, frustrating, and doesn’t guaranty a positive result. Often, the only real recourse is a lawsuit, which is tremendously costly and stressful.
What Question Should I Ask a General Contractor?
During your meeting, make sure you are prepared with a list of questions and have each remodeling contractor thoroughly answer these to your satisfaction. Some example questions are below:
- What do you estimate would be the duration of the project?
- Will you obtain all permits and ensuring compliance with all regulatory requirements?
- What are your guarantees and warranties on labor and materials?
- Do you prefer to work with clients who already know what they want or are you open to providing ideas and advice?
- Would you assist with the selection of materials such as appliances, paint, flooring, countertops, tile, and other materials? Do you shop with your clients? Do you purchase on their behalf?
- What work hours would your personnel be on-site? How often will the owner be on-site?
- Will there be a foreman or project supervisor on-site at all other times?
- How often would the GC and homeowner meet in person or telephonically, to keep us abreast of project progress and issues as they arise?
- How will changes in project scope work? Written change orders? Verbal approvals?
- When can I expect a proposal? Will it include labor and materials? What won’t it include?
How Do I Compare Contractor Bids?
Now assuming you’ve vetted and found the best contractors, your decision might come down to their price. You’ll have to compare their bids carefully and not just assume the prices are based on the same scope of work and materials. Estimates for the same job can often range wildly, so I wrote a complete blog on why contractor bids can vary, but here are a few general reasons why this occurs.
- A contractor’s desire to win the job. If a contractor is having a slow period, they want more jobs to keep their crews busy.
- A contractor with high overhead & costs will drive an increased price to you.
- Contractor’s perception of the project. Although you know what you want to be remodeled and try to convey that clearly to each prospective contractor, they each have their own ‘understanding’ of what the project will require.
- Some general contractors have their own construction crew on staff while others only hire more expensive sub-contractors to complete each project. The more you know about your remodel scope and budget when you meet a contractor, the more likely you’ll get the most accurate and comparable estimate back.
When it comes to finding the best remodeling contractor for your project – GreatBuildz is simplifying the contractor search. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura or San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened Los Angeles general contractors and provides project support from start to finish. Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next renovation project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com