Commercial Contractors doing Residential Remodeling

I received a question in the forums about commercial contractors doing residential remodeling work. Instead of responding to it in the Forums, I thought it was very important to many people who are looking for a remodeling contractor. It's also important for commercial contractor to fully understand what they are getting themselves into if they want to do residential remodeling. Here's what Gloria Z asked:

"Hello, I saw site and read some of your articles about contractors. We have narrowed the selection to two contractors. One is very easy to talk to but they have only done commercial and apartments projects. The other contractor does residential projects but not of the quality or price range that we are looking for. Do you have any advice on which to choose. Thanks, we are really don't know who to turn to." Gloria Z

Past Performance may dictate Future Performance
Doing commercial construction work is very different from residential home remodeling. Unfortunately, this may be a case where past performance will dictate how a commercial contractor performs on a residential remodeling job. From your post, I think you are talking about a custom remodel and are concerned with finishes. You also appear nervous. That's natural because this is a big expenditure.

Think like a contractor

The best thing you can do is to use your instincts and take a good hard look at the contractor. Can or will the commercial contractor or residential contractor who used to constructing a certain kind of house or structure measure up to your job requirements and expectations.

Certainly a commercial contractor may possess the skills to do residential work, but that's not all that's required. One issue that is also required is a change in behavior that is geared more to dealing with anxious home owners, etc. Unfortunately, commercial contractors are used to getting the job done quickly and are not used to a great deal of oversight. Even the other residential remodeling contractor you mentioned may be used to doing a "spec house". That kind of house gets the least expensive materials and again the contractor may not be used to a lot of oversight or questions from nervous homeowners.

Your contractor candidate with the commercial experience may want to break into the residential market. Nothing wrong with that, but you have to ask yourself whether they are ready to meet your expectations and have the right attitude and are really willing to change what they are used to doing. If they want to just do as they are used to and build what I would call a "spec house", then do not choose them. A commercial contractor will also bring along subcontractors who are used to doing "commercial work" so the problem will not be just restricted to the general contractor. That can spell disaster for both you and the commercial contractor being very unhappy.

Before signing up to them, bring this subject up to them. You will also have to trust your instincts. If the response from the contractors you are interviewing is that they don't like questions or that you should just focus on the end finished product, we suggest that YOU RUN and forget them. The typical behavior of this type of contractor is to ignore the construction drawings and become argumentative when you or your architect insist on following the drawings and materials in the drawing.If the contractors pass the initial test, make sure you tell them that this is not a "spec house" (assuming it is not) and that you will insist that they construct the project per the plan.

As to the other contractor that does residential work. They may be good, but it's the same issue. What they are used to and what you expect of them? Bottom line for these kind of contractors is to provide a lot of oversight if you can or look elsewhere.

Be up Front with your Expectations and put them in Writing
To mitigate  the above, you may want to consult the National Association of The Remodeling Industry (NARI) . At least there is a commitment to residential remodeling by its members. This does not mean that you should not check references and see their work before you sign a contract with them. Just because a contractor belongs to NARI, doesn't mean any NARI contractor is right for you or your job.

To further narrow the gap between your expectations and those of the contractor, make sure you specify finishes and materials in the contractor. The more you do this the better. For example, if you want want plywood instead of Oriented Strand Board aka OSB, than specify it.

Good luck.