Guide: How to Hire
The Best Chicago Contractor

Remodeling a home is more than just design and building. You’ll need to consider many specifics, including budgets, permits, licenses, contracts, payment schedules, and timelines, among others. We know the effort it takes to remodel a home, so we’ve compiled this handy guide with all the information you will need to hire the best remodeler for your Chicago home.

In this article, we explain planning, budget estimates, how to choose a contractor, and what a good contract should offer. It’s all the info you’ll need to make a sound decision when hiring your next Chicago remodeler.

HOW TO BEGIN: PLANNING

Timeline Estimate

When planning a timeline, factor in every possible detail that comes to mind. Divide your timeline into sections: design and material selection, material acquisition, and construction.

During your design phase, your designer sees your space and hears your unique needs and style preferences, and then presents you with a design. At that time you’ll contribute to that design to ensure it perfectly matches your expectations. Then material options will be presented to you. Once you finalize material selection, your decision making will largely be complete and your project budget should be set. This phase can take as little as 2 weeks; however, it may take up to one month depending on the amount of feedback you’d like to provide to your designer.

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The material acquisition phase is the time when everything is ordered for the project. Depending on the specific job, materials may be delivered to a local holding warehouse or straight to your residence. This phase could take from 2-3 weeks if you are using readily available materials to a month or more if you are utilizing custom products or cabinetry.

The construction phase includes demolition, electrical and plumbing, framing and drywall, painting, furniture and fixture installations, flooring, trim and finish work, etc. This phase typically runs from a few weeks for a bathroom remodel to 1-2 months if you are remodeling your kitchen or multiple rooms.

Budget Estimate

Knowing your budget will protect you from making financial mistakes. Most homeowners create their budget based on their needs, their expected increased value on the property, and their personal financial position.

It helps to know what you are wanting to spend before you meet with your designer, so that they can help you use your budget wisely. By working with a design-build contractor, you can be confident that the designer has an understanding of construction costs, and we can help you to allocate your budget to the areas that will bring you the greatest improvement in aesthetics and utility.

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Know the Law

Every state has its own set of contracting laws, and it’s always helpful to know how the law works for you locally. This knowledge becomes even more important if you deal with anyone less than the most reputable of remodeling contractors.

We know that most homeowners only have a basic understanding of construction law, so we recommend that you read the short brochure, Home Repair: Know your Consumer Rights, issued by the Illinois General Attorney’s office to gain a better understanding of what a remodeling contract should contain and for tips to protect yourself when remodeling your Chicago home.

HOW TO SHORTLIST A CHICAGO CONTRACTOR

Your designer/contractor must be able to realize your vision, and guide you to a finished project with honesty and efficiency. They should have all the licenses required to carry out their work. Here’s a list of criteria that you can use to check if your Chicago remodeler has all the necessary qualities to remodel your home.

Design-build Approach

Choose a contractor that uses the design-build approach. A unified team ensures superior teamwork, and the single-source responsibility will make it easy for you to communicate with the company and resolve issues. This system reduces production costs, and the work cycle is shorter and tighter as designers, engineers, and builders work together as one party. Remodeling your home involves so many variables and can take a fair amount of time, so when you have the option to save time, increase efficiency, and avoid delays by hiring a general contractor with a design-build approach, take it.

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License and Insurance

A Chicago general contractor or remodeler must have a Home Repair License or General Contractor License. Many contractors have their license number on their business card or website, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is valid. In Chicago, a contractor license needs to be renewed annually, so always run a check on the validity of the contractor’s license. You can check here. (You’ll find us on page 3 — licensed and insured for remodeling projects costing up to $2 million).

When you check on the validity of the remodeler’s license, check their listed address as well. A remodeler with an established office and dedicated staff is always a better choice than a freelancer or novice who works out of their van, as remodeling projects are complex and you’ll want many layers of support including project management, subcontractor coordination, and material management.

Even if you’re working with a highly reputable contractor, issues can arise from time to time on a construction site. If such an incident occurs, your contractor must be insured to deal with any loss. Fortunately, the City of Chicago Contractor List above only includes contractors that are appropriately insured, so don’t even consider a company that is not on that list.

Working without adequate insurance is like playing with fire — don’t do it. Not only is it a high risk, but it also shows that the contractor has poor judgment and is unprofessional.

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References and Reviews

Read what other customers are saying about your potential remodeler, but don’t believe everything you read. At times, companies may ask friends and others who are not their customers to write positive reviews and give them five-star ratings. A sound practice is only to consider companies that have more than 30 reviews. Give more weight to reviews by active reviewers (showing normal posting patterns) instead of one-timers, as the former are more likely to be legit. Houzz, Yelp, and Google directory are popular online sources.

If you see a poor review, read it carefully. Many negative online reviews are pre-sales complaints, and they don’t reflect the quality of service delivered to paying customers.

If you see a negative review on Yelp or Google, click over to the reviewer’s profile and see if they are just a chronic complainer. Don’t take every review seriously — the good or the bad. Instead, look at the big picture that the majority of the reviews tell. Your goal is not to find a company that fulfills everyone’s expectations (which is impossible). Instead, you should seek to find a company that honors its commitments. Expectations can fluctuate as fast as thoughts change, whereas commitments are grounded in contracts and integrity.

If you prefer the old-school approach and want a more human touch, ask your potential remodeler to give you direct references from past clients.

HAPPY CLIENTS

A Story About Dedication & Trust

Speaking with a company’s former customers will give you a good idea on what to expect. Important questions you should ask them:

  • Did the remodeler deliver the project on time and within budget?
  • Was the client happy with the working style/system of the remodeler?
  • Did the remodeler respect the client’s vision and stick to the design plan?
  • Were there any problems, and if yes, did the remodeler find appropriate solutions?
  • Was there open and honest communication between the client and the remodeler?
  • Did the remodeler acquire all the required permits, licenses, etc., before starting the work?
  • Were all the subcontractors paid?

HOW TO CREATE THE IDEAL CONTRACT

Once you’ve found a Chicago remodeler you want to work with, you will sign a contract to seal the deal. Do not sign any contract without reading it thoroughly and understanding every word and implication. If you do not agree with a point or are unclear on anything within the contract, don’t hesitate to amend it or get the opinion of a lawyer. Every detail and specification of your Chicago home remodeling project should be in your Chicago remodeler’s contract.

Ask Questions

Technical jargon can be intimidating, and people often hesitate to ask questions for fear of sounding foolish. Do not be afraid to ask your Chicago remodeler any number of questions; there are no foolish questions when it comes to your remodel. You must agree with all the plans, specifications, timelines, and payment systems before you sign the contract.

Once signed, the contract legally binds you and the contractor to the project. It is assumed that you agree to all the terms and conditions stated in the contract, so make sure you understand all the content of what you are signing.

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Keep a Copy

The Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act requires that all contractors present a written contract with their client that states every detail about the project. Do not sign a blank or partially blank contract. Always get a copy of the contract as soon as you sign it and keep it for your records.

CONTRACT DETAILS

Listed below are important points to consider before you sign a contract with your Chicago remodeler.

Job Description

The contract should state the exact nature of work that will be carried out. It should describe which part/parts of the house are being remodeled. It should also state, the materials to be sourced and used, and the entire duration of the project including start and finish date. Keep in mind that the material selection process will typically happen after the contract is signed, so it will be added on as an addendum.

If you find any generic descriptions, ask your contractor to be more specific. For example: descriptions like, “paint the wall,” or “provide ample kitchen storage,” don’t give you specific details, so ask your contractor to change this to more detailed descriptions like, “use blue paint by xx brand on kitchen wall,” “install modern, single-door, beige cabinets for kitchen storage.” The latter leaves less room for error as both parties know what style, color, brand, and quantity of materials will be used.

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If you don’t want the contractors to access certain areas of the house with children or pets, mention this in the contract as well.

At times, regardless of how detailed your contract is, once the work starts, you or the designer/remodeler might want to change a few things. If this is the case, state the changes in writing and have both parties sign and get a copy of it.

Timelines

The start date of the project must be clearly mentioned in the contract. Contractors will typically not commit to a fixed end date of the project because there are too many variables outside of their control including any delays on your part in making decisions and encountering a backorder on your must-have appliances. Check with the contractor in advance if they feel work might be delayed on specific aspects of the project.

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Payment Schedule

The contract should clearly specify the payment schedule for the entire project. Many Chicago remodelers offer a free consultation followed by a preliminary design and estimate. Once this is agreed upon, the client often pays 25% of the original amount due for labor and rough materials. The contractor will then arrange for materials (source, order, consolidate, and deliver), and an initial construction meeting is held at the site. Another 25% of the original amount is often paid to the contractor on the first day of work. The next stage of payment often happens when framing work is done, and at this point, a further 20% of the original amount due is paid. The client will pay the next 20% after the completion of rough-in work like electricity, plumbing, the closing of the walls, etc. The final 10% is paid before completion of the project.

Never pay 100% of the payment in advance. Responsible contractors will have payment milestones that reasonably minimize risk on both sides. Expect to pre-pay for each step of the process as the contractor needs the confidence to buy materials and employ labor without running the risk of non-payment. Do not sign a completion certificate until all the work is done, and all building inspections have been carried out by the concerned authorities.

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Keep It Safe

In Chicago, if a general contractor hires subcontractors for specialty work and does not pay the subcontractors, the homeowners become responsible for this payment, and the subcontractor can issue a lien against the homeowner. You will not be able to sell or refinance your property until all dues are paid.

Fortunately, the Illinois Mechanics Lien Act states that all contractors have to submit a sworn list of persons furnishing labor, services, materials, fixtures, apparatus, or machinery to the client before the client makes the final payment. In addition, all subcontractors hired by the general contractor must inform you if your contractor is using their goods or services.

File and Record Everything

Keep a file of all the paperwork used during the project: a copy of the contract, copies of any permits or licenses, copies of checks issued for payments, copies of canceled checks, and a record of bills/invoices for all materials used. If you want to be extra vigilant, keep a weekly journal to record the progress of the work being carried out along with photos of the project. The file should also have a list of all subcontractors along with what materials or services that have been sourced from them.

Note that the more reputable your remodeling company is, the less the risk you are taking. So, invest in a good one and you won’t need to use all of these papers later. This is one of the many reasons that top companies, such as ours, are in such demand.

LICENSING AND PERMITS

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Remodeling companies give the customer the choice of getting city permits. They are not responsible for the repercussions of not getting a permit- the homeowner is. So, beware of any remodeler that tries to encourage you not to get the proper permit. They should explain the pros and cons, and then let you make the decision.

To ensure that all the work is being carried out in accordance with the Chicago Building Code, get your contractor to get all the requisite permits, licenses, etc., before the work starts. Do not try to do this yourself. It is always the contractor’s responsibility to apply for and get the permits, licenses, etc. The person whose name is on the permit becomes responsible for the job, the contractor must bear that responsibility. This also helps because contractors know more about remodeling than the homeowners and will be better equipped to talk to an electrical or plumbing inspector when checks are being conducted.

Hiring a reputable contractor will work in your favor because an inspector may have already seen several projects by the contractor and trust their quality of work. Hiring a reputable contractor minimizes the chance of needing to get additional work done to meet compliance standards.

If the contractor charges extra for processing the city permits, it probably means that their preparation is not up to city specifications. You’ll want to have your remodeler prepare the same whether they seek permits or not, as it is the best way to ensure a quality job. Only hiring a contractor that offers free city permit processing is a shortcut to seeing which remodeler always plans precisely.

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7 TIPS FOR HIRING THE BEST CHICAGO REMODELER

  1. Use a design-build company, not separate designers and general contractors.
  2. Hire a licensed, insured remodeling company with strong online reviews.
  3. Only work under the protection of a contract that is fully understood and detailed.
  4. Work with a remodeling company that does permit compliant work — even if you choose not to apply for a permit.
  5. Make sure the contractor takes responsibility for getting all requires or selected permits, licenses, etc.
  6. Pay in installments based on project milestones.
  7. Record and document everything.

ABOUT CHI RENOVATION & DESIGN

Our remodeling company meets all of the above criteria.

Chi Renovation & Design is a full service, licensed, and bonded design-build company. Our expertise includes everything from bathrooms, kitchens, and basements to full home renovations. We provide full-service- from conceptual design through completion of construction.

We pride ourselves on our high-end designs, quality of construction, and most importantly, our client satisfaction. We understand that a home renovation can be a stressful process, and that is why we are committed to providing the best customer experience in the industry. We treat every client’s needs uniquely, and our workers respect their home as they would their own.

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During this transitional time, Chi Renovation and Design continues to provide our premier design and build services. For those that prefer it, we are now offering video consultations in addition to traditional in-person consultations - just be sure to mention which method you prefer during your initial call. Our top priority is to provide you with our high standard of expertise while ensuring your safety. 

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