How to Prepare for a Renovation Site Visit with a General Contractor
How to prepare for a general contractor meeting with the right questions and paperwork
Moving forward with top contractor choices
At Sweeten, we know a lot about general contractors. One frequent question from homeowners involves how to prepare for a general contractor meeting. Site visits assess if a pro will be a good fit and to also secure the most precise estimate possible for the project.
- reviewing three expert profiles that Sweeten matches you with
- having at least three phone calls and site visits with the matches
- requesting three estimates so you can make an informed decision
A phone call to discuss the project before the site visit may save you valuable time. It’s a good first introduction and gauges whether you’re both on the same page.
Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and secure deposits—for free.
Why it’s important to meet general contractors on-site
Site visits are one of the first steps in a renovation. The meeting lasts 60–90 minutes on average and gives you a chance to interview experts who will help you get the job done. More importantly, it checks whether there’s chemistry and good communication between you and the contractor.
While Sweeten simplifies the search by matching vetted and licensed professionals to your project, you’ll still want to make an informed decision by having an in-person meeting. The visits should be with one contractor at a time. As you begin to schedule visits and solicit bids, here are a few ways you can prepare for a successful meeting with potential general contractors. Click here for more on how to work with a contractor.
Preparing the details for a remodel
To prepare for your site visit, keep the following on hand for easy reference:
Anticipated start date: Include information about any flexibility, as well as variables that might affect/change the date.
Renovation goals: Be prepared to discuss your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” items. You may request that bids include ways to remove items from the latter category if the budget is going over. Be specific about how you plan to use the new space, and how the old space falls short. If you need more storage, be specific about what you want to store there. Sharing this information with your contractor will help them create tailored solutions for you. If you are unsure of your end goals, let the contractor know. This will establish that you are looking for guidance, and the contractor can advise accordingly or suggest a designer or other expert to work in tandem with you.
Budget: Reiterate your budget so that the contractor can keep it in mind while discussing options. For example, this will affect whether they suggest custom or stock cabinets. You can also specify a labor versus material budget. If you plan to apply for a loan to finance your project, mention this upfront since it’ll add time to your project. At the end of your meeting, ask when you can expect an estimate.
Inspiration photos: One of the best ways for a contractor to get a sense of your vision is to provide a Pinterest page, photos on your phone, or magazine tearsheets.
Plans and sketches: If you have these, provide them. Even if it’s a rough sketch you did by hand on scrap paper, it can help the contractor understand your vision. If you did them in SketchUp or had an architect draw renderings already, have them ready.
Division of labor: Who will do what? If you plan to source the materials yourself, make that clear so that the expert does not include those estimates in the bid. Should you need a designer, an expediter, a project manager, or custom millwork, discuss who will be responsible for securing those services and whether they will be included. If you don’t yet know, make a point to discuss these options with the contractor.
House rules and alteration agreement: If you live in a condo or a co-op building, ask your management company for these documents. Review them with or prior to meeting the contractor. Restrictions on working hours and building requirements can often affect the budget. Some co-op boards will not work with specific insurance carriers so check with your board. Share this with the contractor prior to the site visit. You want to be sure that your top contractor choices can work in your building.
How to prepare for a general contractor meeting
Questions for a general contractor
Keep in mind that many factors go into a smooth working relationship. Understanding as much as you can about the contractor’s experience, and how they work, is crucial. Try to have all decision makers present during the site visit. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page. The following are examples of questions to ask:
- How often will they be on-site? Who will oversee the work on a daily basis?
- Does the contractor take clients shopping for materials or provide shopping resources?
- How often do they meet with clients to discuss the project’s progress?
- Will the contractor send progress reports via email or by phone, and how often? If you have a preference, let them know this.
- How do they approach problems during an emergency? If a pipe should burst, what is the protocol?
- What is the best way to reach them?
- Ask for an estimate. The length of time to receive it depends on the size of the scope. Ask them what the ETA is for the estimate. An estimate for a one-room project that’s straightforward should take one week, while a gut renovation of a townhouse may take a month.
- Ask for references or read contractors’ reviews on our site. For bigger projects, a contractor may take you on a walk-through of a project they completed for a past client.
Other topics to bring up:
- Discuss with the contractor if you and your family plan on living/working in the space during the renovation. What will this arrangement look like?
- Share any important dates that affect the completion date, such as family coming to visit. Will the project be completed by then? If not, what is the plan?
- Inquire how the contractor’s company is set up. Do they have more than one project happening at once?
Communication is key
Like all great matches, there is a lot that can’t be determined on paper. Face-to-face meetings are not only an opportunity for the contractors to get a sense of the scope of your project and the actual site conditions but also for you to get to know them.
The two of you will be working closely together for the duration of the project. It’s important that you feel the contractor understands where you are coming from and the vision you want to execute. Having a contractor who’s had similar experiences in handling the scope you are presenting is more important than whether they’ve done work in your neighborhood. How to prepare for a general contractor meeting also includes listening to your “gut feeling.”
Your site visit is a chance to interview an individual who will become a key part of your life for the next few weeks to months. You will rely on them to make decisions when you’re not available, but also to know when a discussion is necessary before taking action. So consider these questions as you’re getting to know the contractor during the site visit:
- Does this person communicate clearly and effectively?
- Do they have a clear understanding of what I need, and can they provide it?
- Do I feel supported in my decision-making?
- Does it seem like the contractor will be responsive and organized throughout the process?
Schedule a bid-leveling call
After the walk-through, take the time to sit down and debrief. If you go over the full scope of the work and ask for the contractor’s feedback on your ideas, this will create a firm foundation for working together.
When all estimates are in hand, schedule a one-on-one bid leveling call with Sweeten to help compare them. Estimates are not universal and can differ in terminology, organization, and basic assumptions.
If you’re ready to get started on your home remodel, work with Sweeten to renovate with the best contractors.
Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.