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How I Selected my Basement Finishing Contractor

After several years of deliberation, I decided it’s time for me to finish my basement in 2009. However, I could not work on it myself even though I would like to. I would select a remodeling contractor.

I asked my friends for recommendations. Two of the recommended companies came to see my basement. The first company told me that they would move this wall or that wall, put lights here and there… Quickly, I realized that I did not know what they talked about not to mention offering suggestions or rebut their claims. I was not in the construction business at all. I should learn more about the remolding business.

I borrowed Home Improvement for Dummies from my local library.  This book covered mostly on how to hire contractors and some building basic. It stated that you should spend 6 to 10 times of your estimated project time in planning. I fully agreed that I should have spent more time on planning. However, it was too late for me.

According to the Dummy book, the basement wall and floor should be water proofed. The book aslo stressed that going through the building permit process was good for the home owner. It would protect the home owner from un-safe building practices. On the other hand, if the govenment found out the home was not inspected during remodeling, it could demand the owner expose framing, electrical wiring, ceiling and other feature for inspections. That would cost a lot of money to restore the building. After reading these, I decided that I would apply for a building permit.

When I contacted the first company regarding the building permit, they said that they would not work on any project my size which required permit. The inspection process would put extra days or weeks into the project. They had a tight order queue.

I contacted six more companies, one from friend’s recommendation, two from reference sites, three from yellow pages. One of the contacted companies did not return my call. Other five companies showed up. One of them told me that he was a handyman and would not take any project as big as finishing my basement. The other four companies all came back with price quotations. One company provided details quotations. Two companies provided brief quotations. The fourth company provided oral quotation. When I requested detail cost break down, all three companies said they would talk to me after I decided on them.

With five quotations on my hand and my newly gained knowledge from research and reading, I compared these quotations. It was amazing to see that the highest quotation was almost 2.5 times of the lowest quotation with the second lowest quot 150% higher than the lowest one. Naturally, I tossed out the highest priced one. Tossing out the lowest cost one was hard. It was very tempting to use them. However, I thought they under quoted me. They would either ask for more money later or just provide low quality work. I selected the second lowest cost company because its price was in line with the 3rd and 4th lowest cost quotations.  In addition to price, I like the owner of the company who estimated the project. He told me that he normally worked on commercial projects. But due to the recession in 2008 ~ 2009, he had to find some smaller projects to fill project gap. He told me that he would use real hardwood floor with pressure treated sub-floor. He would use anchor bolts for the sub-floor and nails for hardwood plank instead of glue. Nobody had complained on his material and workmanship in his 20+ years of work. I felt he really knew his trade and seemed honest.

I called the selected company for references. The owner said he would take me to see one of his former commercial customers. We visited the restaurant. It seem well furnished. Material and workman ship looked excellent after 2 years of usage. Unfortunately, the restaurant owner was not in. I could not ask the reference some questions I normally asked.

Any way, based on my gut feeling, I selected that company as my basement finishing contractor. I asked for detail break down on the project. He said just trust him. That was not good enough to me. Since he would not provide a detail break down, I typed up a breakdown based on our conversation. We modified the breakdown during the final negotiation before we both signed it.

The contract would be a mutual protection for both sides. However, I did not specified to material brand, type and model level – I just did not have the knowledge and time to figure to that detail level. I also felt giving the contractor some decision room would be good to lower the overall cost and improve project quality. The contractor assured me that he would performed as industrial norm required.

After I signed the contract, I gave him a copy, put a copy (less pricing information) in the basement for instant reference and kept a copy myself. I crossed my figure and hoped that I had selected a good company.

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