Construction and Remodeling 101 - The Basics

by Dan Derkum 


How Do I Find Someone I Trust?

Virtually all construction and remodeling projects start by someone coming to your home to meet and review your project with you. How does this work? When I started to write this article, I started with the usual Contractor stuff. But I began to think “why don’t I try a different approach?” I thought “something that has the same level of importance but might be easier to see.” So, let’s use the Babysitter or Caregiver as the comparison to the Contractor.


You decided to start your search for a Babysitter/Caregiver by researching the internet. You want someone who is honest, dependable, very high quality, great with your kids, very experienced, has impeccable references, and has many, many years of hands on experience. You also want someone who actually has children of their own – how else can they truly appreciate both the art and challenges of raising children? After all, this person will be alone in your home for hours at a time, completely unsupervised. You need to trust that your kids will be safely cared for and everything that’s done for them is helpful, correct, and does no harm.

Visiting Your Home - The Interview

The first meeting should be relaxing and informative. It’s the opportunity to ask each other questions, gain a better understanding of what you would like done, how the process works, and learn more about how the Babysitter/Caregiver operates.


The first Babysitter/Caregiver arrives late. They don’t have the appearance that you expected – they don’t really look like a Babysitter/Caregiver. They look more like someone who represents the Babysitter/Caregiver, perhaps a sales person. No matter, they seem nice. They listen to what you have to say, interrupting constantly to tell you how great they are and all the wonderful things they can do for you – at a great price! You sense they’re not really listening or paying attention – but they sure can talk a great story! They don’t have any of the necessary licenses or insurances, offer no real suggestions, tell you what they are going to do or can do (as oppose to what you would like), can’t fully explain the process and answer your questions, and they’re trying really hard to convince you to hire them on the spot. All it takes is a cash deposit of 50% (for materials) and a hand shake – or maybe a simple 1 or 2 page contract. Just sign on the dotted line, give them a key to your house, a bunch of cash, and a world of bliss awaits! Oh, one more thing, they tell you that it’s not necessary or required for someone to oversee their work – you know, someone checking up on them making sure their doing everything correctly and safely.


The second Babysitter/Caregiver arrives on time (actually, a bit early). They called in advance to make sure the meeting day and time was still convenient for you. They’re friendly, look like a Babysitter/Caregiver, can easily communicate with you, carefully listen to what you would like and then offer lots of meaningful suggestions, and their vehicle is clean, well kept, and it’s obvious he or she is meticulous.

The Contractor

Like the Babysitter/Caregiver, the Contractor himself should come to your home personally to meet with you, not a salesperson. The salesperson will not be performing any work on your home and has likely never performed the type of work you’re looking to have done. Their job is to sell you something – they don’t know much if anything about remodeling and building.

The Contractor should always explain the entire process from the first meeting through permitting and project completion, inform you that in the State of California the maximum amount of the down payment is 10% or $1,000 whichever is less, provide you information on their licenses, insurances, references, Contractors State License Board (CSLB), and professional associations (you shouldn’t need to ask for these things). Moreover, they should never ask for a penny during the first meeting. The first meeting is getting to know each other and gaining a better understanding of what it is you would like . . . it should never be about getting money from you or coercing you to sign a contract.


This best Contractor’s physically work everyday on homes performing the type of work you’re looking to have done! They don’t just talk about it or manage those who do, they physically perform the work – they obviously know what their talking about and they’ve been doing this for at least 25 years! They let you know they are there to help and answer all of your questions. They promise to follow-up with you in a few days with a rough estimate (which they actually do), and offer that you can call or e-mail them with any questions.

The Decision

Now, you have a decision to make. Hire the first or the second babysitter. I think the clear choice is babysitter number 2 – wouldn’t you agree? It’s the same when hiring a Contractor. The Contractor, whatever they’re doing in your home, must be someone you trust, is sincere, honest, displays a high degree of integrity, and absolutely knows what they are doing and talking about. Most importantly, they truly care about the health and safety of you and your family and are genuinely interested in helping you – not in selling you.


Try this next time you invite someone out to your home to discuss performing a renovation or remodel for you. Ask them about building permits and inspections. Before they arrive, call the Building Department of your local City and ask if permits are required for what you’re thinking about doing. Make sure you provide them with a good, concise summary of what you’re going to do.


When the Contractor you meet with does not mention permits, ask about them. When they tell you they’re not required and you already know they are, show them the door! Remember, permits and inspections are there to protect the health and safety of you and your family. The Building Inspector comes to your home throughout the project inspecting every phase of the Contractors work; making sure it’s correct and safe. Now consider that the Contractor you just met lied to you! Do you really trust someone with the keys to your house, your children, and the health and safety of you and your family with someone who can look you straight in the face and lie?



About the Author
Dan A. Derkum is the owner of DAD's Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation contractor.