When it’s time to choose a decorative concrete professional, how do you distinguish between an experienced contractor and a corner-cutting swindler? A little research and some educated questions can help you make the right decision–saving you time, money and countless headaches.
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
Planning is the foundation of successful decorative concrete installation. A detailed strategy and careful research enables a qualified decorative concrete professional to:
- Provide the right surface based on your personal taste and needs
- Accurately estimate the cost and length of time required for installation
- Present a quality solution that factors in the condition of your existing surface, the finish that is most durable for your traffic patterns, and the appropriate color schemes for your house and personal taste
This conversation with your contractor should help you evaluate their skill level and gauge the success you can expect in the project.
Do Your Research
Before you invite a contractor to your home, do some Internet research. A qualified contractor appreciates an informed consumer, so educate yourself on the options and expertise required to complete the job.
There are many online photos of work done by contractors in the concrete coatings field. See what appeals to you and your taste. Then decide if that particular look fits in your home environment. See if your selected contractor has a website that will educate you on the process. Their website should showcase a portfolio of completed jobs and company information.
Many general contractors add concrete coatings to their product mix, but have little experience with them. One way to tell if the installer lacks a long-term commitment to the industry or the future maintenance of your job is whether he has a portfolio of jobs and a website. Industry statistics show many of these companies go out of business within a few years, leaving homeowners with expensive maintenance issues down the road.
Choose carefully! Hire a professional with longevity in the coatings industry who is not at risk of disappearing after your job is complete.
Narrow your Search
- Set appointments with at least 2 or 3 decorative concrete contractors.
- Clearly communicate your ideas and questions, and really listen to the responses; effective communication is key in a customer/contractor relationship. This person will be working in your home or business, so comfort is paramount.
- Give each contractor the exact same project information.
- Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each contractor. In the coatings industry, not all skills are equal. The degree of craftsmanship can vary greatly from one contractor to the next. Which contractor has the best follow through on your requests?
Your meeting should feel like an educational conversation, because you’re gathering information about the contractor, not just the end product. This is probably more important in the concrete coating industry than any other contractor situation. The best, most durable products in the world won’t make up for an inexperienced contractor.
Some Questions to Ask
- Get at least two references for the contractor, preferably from customers who had the same type of work done.
- Is the contractor licensed, bonded and insured?
- What insurance coverage do they have? At minimum, decorative concrete contractors should have workman’s compensation, general liability (including property and personal liability), and auto insurance. These policies help protect you and your property from legal problems should an accident occur.
- How long have they been in business? A contractor with at least 3 years’ coatings-specific experience (not general construction) usually has a stable business foundation.
- Have they attended classes or training seminars in the past 2 years? Industry trade shows, seminars, and classes keep decorative concrete contractors current on the latest products, application methods and techniques. Courses centered on business management are also important.
- Do they have a “before and after” picture portfolio?
- Do they have a website with images and information about their company?
Evaluating Work Ethic
To gain insight on a contractor’s work ethic, call all references and ask:
- How did they find out about this contractor?
- How long ago did this contractor work for them?
- What was the quality of the finished project?
- Did the contractor recommend a contract, including a written estimate? If not, did you request a contract? Did the contractor balk at the idea?
- Did the project go over the original estimate? If so, by how much? What changes from the original project did they request? Did the contractor provide a detailed explanation?
- Did the contractor stay on schedule and report to work in a timely manner?
- Did the contractor have a good attitude throughout the project?
- Did anything unusual or unsettling happen during the course of the project?
- How qualified were the workers and installers?
- How accessible was the contractor?
- Was the site clean and safe at all times?
- Would they recommend this contractor to their family and friends?
- Would they use this contractor again?
Checking The Work Site
If possible, visit at least one previous work site, preferably where similar work to your project was done.
Look for the quality of workmanship and detail. For instance: if a new floor is part of a house addition, are the corners and edges detailed, and the cut lines straight and measured? Are there stains on the baseboards and walls? Your eyes are the best reference you have when visiting a former work site, so check things over carefully.
Reviewing and Choosing an Estimate
Once you receive all estimates, take time to compare them. Don’t ever base your decision on price alone. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Be cautious of extremely low bids. Compare all items on the bid. Often low bidders cut corners, dilute products and end up costing you more in the long run. Differences in preparation of existing surfaces, textures, coloring methods, multiple colors, multiple coats of sealants and quality of sealants can affect the price.
- What warranty is being offered? Is the company likely to be around to honor it?
- Check the materials. Some estimates may contain lower quality materials, which reduce the cost of the project. Review any items you do not understand with the contractor.
- Do not sign anything until you understand all aspects of the contract, and keep all project documentation.
A professional decorative concrete contractor should provide a written contract detailing all work to be completed. Having the specifics in writing minimizes problems during and after the work is done. Remember, if it isn’t documented, it never happened. Once you receive the contract, take a few days to review it carefully. Don’t sign until you are completely comfortable with the stipulations included.
Making a Decision
What happens if you pick something out and the price doesn’t fit your budget? Try asking what adjustments to the bid might lower the price. Different color processes, textures, sealants, etc. have different costs. Often slight tweaking to the process will get you to your budget number. For example,
- If you’re asking for three colors, selecting two might meet your budget.
- Did you request stamping? Try asking for hand texture pricing.
- Try choosing a medium broadcast of chips rather than a full broadcast.
Ultimately, when all of your due diligence is done your decision may be made on instinct. Does the contractor have the same vision and ideas as you? Do they represent themselves in a professional manner, and can they create the finish and look you desire? Being informed is empowering, so move forward with the contractor that feels right to you.