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Choosing a renovation company for your kitchen or bathroom

The prospect of getting a new kitchen or bathroom is thrilling, especially if you’ve been putting up with tired, outdated cabinetry and fixtures that are well past their best-before date.

But there’s always an element of risk when it comes to choosing your contractor. Will they do the job properly? Will they blow your budget sky high? And will you have to put up with weeks of disruption while the work is going on?

What you need is a trusted supplier who can project manage the renovation end-to-end, do a cracking good job and stay within the original quote. As with anything that could impact the value of your home and your family’s financial health, a certain amount of due diligence is required (aka asking questions and getting clear answers).

Here are some questions to ask kitchen and bathroom contractors before you make your choice:

Can you show me some examples of recent projects?

Any half-way decent renovation company will take before and after pictures of their projects; they might even have case studies on their website. Ask to see projects that are similar to yours. Also enquire about how much they cost.

When you’re drawing up a shortlist of contenders, you want evidence that they’ve done your sort of project before with a budget that’s similar to yours. There’s no point considering a renovation company that specialises in luxury designer kitchens or Las Vegas bathrooms if you’re looking for a cost-effective, no-frills renovation.

Likewise, if you’re pulling out all the stops to get the bathroom or kitchen of your dreams, you should avoid companies who pitch themselves at the inexpensive end of the spectrum. For a premium renovation, you should be talking to a company that offers design services as well as building and installation.

Are you qualified?

While there are some fantastic unqualified builders and handymen in New Zealand, if your project involves structural changes or a substantial amount of carpentry you should look for a qualified builder. Even better, try to find a registered Master Builder.

For other aspects of your reno, qualifications will be not-negotiable. Electricians and plumbers, for example, need to be the real deal.

Can I talk to a couple of your past customers?

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for references before you give someone a major renovation project. Written references are OK, but they’re not as reliable as a quick phone call. If a contractor starts making excuses about why this can’t happen, be suspicious. It’s possible they may not have happy customers, which would be a big worry.

When a contractor does supply you with a couple of names and phone numbers, be sure to make the calls. Most people have no problem providing an endorsement for trades people they trust. Ask about work quality, quote adherence and whether the contractor delivered the goods in the hoped-for timeframe.

Can you give me an itemised fixed price?

Once you have a shortlist of contractors who have passed the reference test, you can request an itemised quote for your job. You need to be able to compare one costing with another, so the quotes should have similar content.

While it might be tempting to choose the cheapest contractor, consider other factors when making the decision. What did their customers say to you? What’s your gut instinct telling you?

What do you do if an extra cost turns up?

You need to be prepared for something beyond the scope of the quote because renovating older houses can involve nasty surprises, like rotten timber and rodent damage. Ask your contractor how they manage unforeseen additional costs.

When do you need payment?

It’s not smart to pay for the entire job up front. Usually you’ll need to pay a percentage of the total cost to secure the contractor, and then staged payments until the job is complete. An invoice should be generated for each payment.

What sort of insurance do you carry?

Builders and other types of tradies should carry insurance which covers them for accidental injury to a person and damage to other people’s property while they’re working on a project.

On the topic of insurance, you also need to have appropriate cover in place while your renovation is underway. Talk to your insurance company to find out if you need a contract works policy.

When can you start?

A respected kitchen or bathroom renovation company will be in demand, so you will probably have to wait until they’re available. Tie your contractor down to a start date and circle it on your calendar. Then you can start thinking about those new towels or what oven you want installed…exciting!

Don't forget to review your home insurance throughout and after the reno as you may need to update your home sum insured. Not sure where to start? Check out our site for more information.