Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Finding a San Diego Remodeling Contractor in 2023

The homeowner’s complete guide to finding, interviewing, and hiring the best contractor for your San Diego home remodel 

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Finding the best San Diego contractor to remodel your home, build your new ADU, or complete your home improvement project can be a challenge. Your home is likely your most valuable possession, and it houses your family, certainly your most important consideration. Remodeling is an invasive, lifestyle-altering, intimate, personal experience in so many ways.

It’s really easy to find a remodeling contractor in North County, San Diego. All you have to do is Google “remodeler in [name of your city in North County: Carlsbad, Encinitas, Cardiff, Delmar, Oceanside, Vista, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Carmel Valley, Poway, etc.]”, and Google will bestow upon you a plethora of results.

Finding a GOOD or maybe even a GREAT remodel contractor in San Diego…now that’s another matter entirely!

A search engine can’t determine if the San Diego remodeling websites it’s returning belong to good San Diego remodelers or the not so good kind. A bad remodeler can be just as savvy at search engine optimization as a good one. He can also just as easily list his company in the Yellow Pages, put a flyer on your windshield, or advertise on the radio or in the North County Times.

What a bad contractor can’t do (although there are always exceptions), is get a lot of customers to gush about how great his service, communication, and integrity are. So, the best way to find a high quality remodeling contractor in San Diego North County is to find the online water coolers and see what people have to say about the contractors they’ve actually used.

There are a lot of great websites that provide this service. One of the most reputable is the Better Business Bureau. By putting in your North County zip code, you can either find a BBB-accredited remodeling business in your area or check up on a San Diego remodeling contractor that you’re considering. Any remodeling company in San Diego that’s been in business for a while should have a BBB profile. The BBB also provides records of any complaints that have been lodged against a company, which can be very informative.

There are also consumer review websites like Yelp, Angie’s List (requires paid subscription) and others, where you can search for North County, San Diego remodelers, or follow up on a specific company to see what real customers say about them. Most San Diego remodeling contractors are hyper aware of these websites and actively encourage customers to leave feedback. If you find that a remodeling company is not listed on any of these sites, consider that a red flag.

Considerations for Your Search

It’s important to consider the person or company you are entrusting them to. Indeed, working with the right contractor can make the experience somewhat enjoyable, while working with a not-so-right contractor can rapidly turn your dreams into a nightmare.

In our 30 years of experience, we’ve found that most of our client’s needs are pretty simple: 

  1. They want an honest guy at a fair price that will take care of their home and, by extension, their family.
  2. They would like their project to be completed in a reasonable amount of time on a reasonable budget.
  3. They would like to be informed of what’s happening or not happening and consulted on important decisions.

It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? While we’ve made it our business for 30 years to meet those basic goals for our clients, others might not have the same priorities.

In the interest of helping with your selection process, here are some of the most important things for you to consider when searching for your San Diego general contractor:

  • Workload: How many projects does your contractor perform at one time? How much time will they have to commit to you and your project? Will you be handed off to one of his employees/managers or will they be working with you personally?
  • Efficiency: Will your contractor work on your project continuously or will they peck away at it a little bit here and there? Will they provide you with a projected schedule and timeline along with regular updates for your project completion?
  • Budget: Is your contractor quoting you a fair price in keeping with similar projects in your region or does the price seem too good to be true? Remember, there is no such thing as “cheap, expert tradesmen” or “ quality sub-market-value building materials.” The good guys and materials are worth every penny. The bad ones are not even worth a phone call.
  • Communications: Does your contractor return your calls, messages, and texts in a reasonable amount of time? Do they provide you with the answers you’re looking for? Better yet, do they reach out to you occasionally with updates, questions, and/or reminders?
  • Plans, contracts, and permits: Most of us don’t like paperwork. But as complex as most remodels, custom homes/ADUs, and major renovations are, they’re a necessity. Does your contractor seem to have a handle on being able to produce drawings, scopes of work, details in writing, and all the myriad paperwork needed to make sure everyone is on the same page and the project is properly permitted, scheduled, and managed?
  • Experience: Has your contractor been working in your area for a while? Do they know your type of construction? Have they been in the trades for years and experienced the multitude of issues that come with residential renovations and remodels? Do they know where to find the answers to those tricky issues that seem to occur on every project?

We’d like to believe that most contractors are honest guys – and they are. However, just like in any other part of life, not all contractors have the same priorities, experience, sense of urgency, or organizational skills as others. Think about the items that fit your project needs and lifestyle and find the guy that checks off those boxes.

10 Questions You Should Ask

After you’ve done your initial contractor research, you may have narrowed down your list of potential home remodelers to two or three top choices whom you’d like to meet in person. The initial consultation is an important opportunity for you to share your current remodel vision with the contractor, seek advice and feedback and gauge the contractor’s personality and credentials.

The process can be a little nerve-wracking, and if you’re worried about asking the right questions or forgetting the questions you need to ask, let us give you a head start.

1. Can you provide your references in writing?

Any contractor worth his or her salt should have a list of references at hand. The best contractors will provide that information to you before you even have to ask. If there is any sense that the contractor is not ready to willingly provide you these references, pay close attention to the rest of the answers he or she gives.

2. Can you provide proof of your general liability insurance?

In many areas, general liability insurance is not required for contractors – hard to believe, but true. However, just because it isn’t required doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to hire a contractor who doesn’t carry it, no matter how good a reputation and references they may have.

Let’s face it – accidents and unforeseen circumstances occur – that’s why they’re called accidents and unforeseen circumstances. By investing in liability insurance, your potential remodeling contractor is taking that extra step to protect you and your home against these possible mishaps.

3. Can you provide proof of your worker’s compensation insurance?

Once again, this is another protection for you. Many contractors will try to skirt the worker’s compensation laws by claiming that everyone on your jobsite is a subcontractor. If that is the case, ask for the insurance certificates to be provided by all subcontractors as well. The bottom line is this – if a worker is injured while working on your home and is not covered by worker’s compensation insurance, you may end up being liable for that person’s medical care.

4. Can you provide your timeline and work processes for me?

Many of the professional contractors you work with will probably have this information available for you in writing. You will want to know things like:

  • Who will be supervising my project?
  • What are the work hours and days of the week?
  • What is the length of the project from demo to completion?
  • What are the milestones at which payments will be made? (You should have these defined in your home improvement contract)

5. If there are changes to my project, how will they be handled?

Again, this procedure should be addressed in your home improvement contract. All changes should be agreed upon in writing by both the remodel contractor and you, with the total dollar amount of the changes (whether additions or subtractions) clearly stated on the change order, as well as any revision in the completion time of the project.

6. Do you have experience with my type of remodel project?

As this blog is being written after several years of a recession that has severely affected the remodel and construction industries, there are many contractors taking jobs outside of their areas of expertise. Contractors who generally specialize in commercial ground up building are taking residential remodeling jobs just to keep the doors open. On the flip side, some remodelers feeling the pinch are doing commercial tenant improvements. Satisfy yourself that the contractor you decide to hire is competent and well-experienced handling your type of project.

7. Will you pull all required permits?

Pulling permits are required on all but the simplest of projects by most municipalities. They need not be complicated or expensive on the majority of simple remodel projects. Many kitchen, bath and entire home remodels that do not entail major structural changes can often get by with a “combo” permit, which encompasses electrical/ plumbing/HVAC/drywall inspections. While there is some cost and additional time required to accomplish these inspections, you will be able to rest assured that the work your contractor is performing is in compliance with all local building codes.

8. What is your workmanship warranty?

Many states and municipalities may have statutes in place addressing minimum time limits for discovering and reporting defects in construction workmanship. Find out what these are and ensure that, at the least, your general contractor is aware and will honor these. However, your best remodel contractors will usually have the confidence in their work to give you a written warranty exceeding the required minimums. Make sure you get this warranty in writing.

9. Are you a full-service general contractor or a specialty firm?

Ensure that your contractor is licensed to perform all the work that you are contracting for in your remodel. Often, when business is slow, you will find specialty contractors like plumbers, electricians and even landscapers and roofers turning to interior remodel to pay the bills. If this is the case and your remodeling project becomes problematic, you may have problems resolving the issues.

10. Do you belong to any trade organizations?

Organizations like NARI (the National Association for the Remodel Industry) demand high professional standards from their membership and provide contractors an opportunity to network with other professionals in their industry. Conscientious remodel contractors often seek out and belong to these types of professional organizations for continued education, staying current on industry trends and regulations and to add credibility to their businesses and reputations.

11. Bonus Questions

By taking the time to sit down and think of some of the questions you may have prior to construction beginning, you may be able to save yourself some heartache. Talking to friends, neighbors and family members who have been through the remodeling process in the San Diego area before will help you see some potential issues that you might want to bring up with your contractor before you sign on the dotted line. Things like:

  • What if I want to change something that doesn’t look right?
  • When should I make payments and for how much?
  • I never see my remodeling contractor/salesman now that the project is underway. Who do I call?
  • What is the process for understanding a change in the scope of my kitchen or bath remodel, and how do we agree on a price?
  • Will my remodeling contractor put the knobs and pulls on my cabinets for me?
  • How come I don’t have any hot water at night?

Remember, a remodeling project, especially in San Diego, is a large investment. You want to make sure you’re fully comfortable with the entire process before signing off.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask these questions. In fact, if you have questions that are not on this list – add them. Remember, you are considering entering into a business relationship with your potential remodel contractor.

By asking these questions, you are establishing the beginnings of a good relationship and a measure of trust with your remodel contractor.

While you may not have a ton of experience doing business at this level, trust me – he or she does, which means that he or she should be used to answering these questions. Any contractor that cannot answer these questions or acts surprised that you are asking them would rate a big red flag.

When to Start Looking for a Contractor

When is the best time to start looking for your remodeling contractor?  Sooner than you might think!

If you’re like most of our clients, you’ve been thinking about your remodel for years or, at least, months.  You may even have just purchased your new home and can’t wait to have it just the way you always dreamed. Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge, you’re, of course, eager to get started and even more eager to see the finished product. So, the question is – when does the timeline on this project officially start?  The answer is, “with the first phone call”.

Let’s break things down a bit:

Finding Your Contractor

Many people call more than one contractor.  You may be shopping for advice, ideas, price, references, reputation, or the right person.  Your ideal contractor probably has a great combination of all of those in addition to just “feeling” like the right person to entrust your home and family to for the duration of a construction project.  Let’s give this portion of the process at least a couple of weeks to a month.

Design and Project Development

Once you’ve selected and engaged with your contractor for initial design and project development, there’s some real work to do.  Your contractor will do field measurements, site walks, start working on your initial designs, perform any engineering, and engage with you on revisions, selections, and all the myriad details it really takes to ensure an accurate project when it comes to construction. 

Your contractor will also be counting on you to turn around revision requests in a timely manner so that they can stick to the project development schedule they provided you.  At the end of this process, we’ll have all the plans, drawings, and specs ready for you as well as a budget based on these items.  We like to call this “building your project on paper”.  Let’s give this part of the process 2-3 months.

Contract, Permits, Purchasing

Now that your project is detailed on paper and has an approved budget, it’s time to sign on the dotted line.  This will engage us as your contractor through the rest of the project.  At this time, we’ll submit your plans for permitting (if needed) and start working with you to pick out the finish items you’ll need for your project while we’re waiting on permits to be issued. This may include plumbing fixtures, cabinets, windows, doors, and flooring among many other items. In the current post-pandemic world, this portion of the process will likely take about 2-4 months.


Once permits are issued and finished items are ordered, the “fun” begins.  Hammers, saws, drills, inspections, deliveries, details, details, details… Small interior remodels such as kitchens and baths will take about 1-2 months to complete while larger builds such as whole-home remodels, additions, and ADUs can take 3-4 months.

Choosing the right contractor to embark on this 6-12 month journey with, is arguably the most important part of a successful remodel. And it always starts with the first phone call. Keep in mind that the best builders and contractors are busy all the time.  For us, over 30 years, we’ve survived recessions, market adjustments, pandemics, and more.

We project forward 6-12 months to understand the upcoming needs of our future and current remodel clients, we dedicate ourselves wholly to the successful projects of the clients that make the decision to work with us and we are always working to ensure that our processes and trade knowledge reflect the most current standards of residential construction.  Then we try to go a notch above.

The Right Contractor Can Save You Money

If you’re beginning the process of looking for a contractor for your home remodeling project, you know that there are a lot of options out there, and sometimes it can be difficult to choose one. You may be inclined to get a number of bids and go with the least expensive one to save money.

However, the cheapest work upfront doesn’t always mean the least costly. Here are a few reasons choosing the best contractor, rather than the cheapest one, can save you money in the long run.

Quality Materials

One of the most important things about finding the best San Diego remodeling services contractor is getting high-quality materials. Great contractors will always use outstanding materials for their work, and it’s part of the reason they aren’t the cheapest bid. 

Better materials mean fewer repairs and upkeep, not to mention your remodel will look and feel better in the end. Installing a great remodel can increase the value of your home and give it an attractive design. Your house will likely be worth more and you’ll thoroughly enjoy living in it.


During a remodel, you’re paying for labor and material cost. It’s pretty clear that using better materials will cost more, but people sometimes overlook the higher value of labor for a great job done.

If one company’s bid is slightly higher than the competition, many times that expense is going to pay for higher labor costs of very efficient, talented employees. A job that is done efficiently and with a high level of skill will last much longer than a mediocre job.

Knowing that your remodel is done with the highest level of craftsmanship will give you the peace of mind that it’s sturdy and long-lasting.

Imagine getting a new set of kitchen cabinets installed by a low-bidding contractor and having a door come off the hinges just a few months after the installation. Not only is it a nuisance and costs money to repair, but it can also create worry and anticipation about when the next door or drawer might come loose.


When choosing the best San Diego remodeling contractor, rather than just going with the cheapest bid, you’re paying for a higher level of industry experience, knowledge, and professionalism. Any unlicensed contractor working under the table could out-bid most licensed businesses, but there’s a cost to doing business that way.

Not only are you protected from things like injury lawsuits when you have a professional crew working on your project, but you’re also paying for experience and knowledge. You can be confident going into the project that the outcome will meet or exceed your expectations, and that the price will match what you agreed on in the beginning.

A professional remodeler with years of experience will know how to do the job efficiently and be able to quickly handle any issues that come up during the remodel. This translates into them producing the job within the time frame and without any surprise costs.

As attractive as it may be to go with the least expensive option for contractors, the cheapest work doesn’t always mean saving money in the long run.

Location, Location, Location

Many homeowners think that they need to find a remodeler who is located in their city. If they live in Escondido, they think they need a remodel contractor in Escondido. If they live in Carlsbad, they think they need a General Contractor in Carlsbad. If they live in San Marcos…okay, you get the picture.

Here’s the thing, though… San Diego Remodeling Contractors have trucks. Trucks that take us places, like over city lines. Specialty Home Improvement is located in Escondido, but we’ve remodeled kitchens and baths in San Diego, Poway, Rancho Santa Fe, La Jolla, Solana Beach, Delmar, Ramona – you name a city in San Diego County, and there’s probably a remodeled kitchen with Specialty Home Improvement written all over it.

We San Diego kitchen remodelers (or bathroom remodelers) don’t mind traveling. In fact, we expect it. If we were to limit ourselves to only remodeling in our own city, then we’d be cutting off a huge reservoir of potential customers.

In other words, you don’t need to use a remodeler in Oceanside just because you live in Oceanside. Expand your search and look for a remodeling company with a great portfolio, a positive Better Business Bureau profile, great reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List, and/or GuildQuality, and an owner/project manager that you feel “gets” your project.

In most cases, if you’re within an hour’s drive of any San Diego remodeling contractor’s home base, they’ll be happy to take on your project. If you’re not sure, then give us a call at (760) 738-6270. Or contact us to find out more about our award winning service and design/build remodeling services.

Narrowing Your Selection

You’re considering investing a large sum of your money into improving your home by renovating, whether it be remodeling a kitchen or master bathroom or a complete home makeover.

Because there is little consistency in pricing benchmarks, business models and personalities when it comes to the millions of remodeling contractors wanting to work on your project, weeding through the information to make the right selection can be daunting, to say the least.

Here are a few things you may want to consider about the contractor you’ve finally decided on:

Consider That Gut Feeling

There is light at the end of the tunnel. While you might not have experience in reading a remodel proposal or an understanding of how to compare two or three very different looking proposals, you do have experience in knowing what kind of people you like having in your home.

While we’re not suggesting that you choose a contractor strictly on whether you like them, it’s as good a starting point as any other. Figure out who you had the best feeling about during the interview process and then carefully analyze that bid. Find the things you like about that bid and the things you don’t. See if it includes everything you asked for. Then, use this as your benchmark.

Analyze Your Proposals…Closely

Analyze the other bids you received for your renovation on their own merits as well. If one of those jumps out at you as a clear favorite, that’s a good thing. But, if you find you’re having a hard time comparing, use your benchmark proposal to see what the differences might be.

Call and Talk to Your Contractor

Don’t be afraid to call one or all of the contractors who submitted and ask them questions about their proposals. If you think you’ve identified a favorite, call him and see if he’d be willing to spend some time with you comparing the proposals. His willingness (or unwillingness) to be helpful might be another factor in your decision.

Above all, keep in mind that the best value in your remodel will be a well-executed, efficiently run, on a budget project with clear and consistent communication from your contractor. If all of these things come together, you can count on enjoying your newly refurbished home for years to come.


As in every relationship, the most important factor in a San Diego Remodeling project is trust. And it is not just that the client should trust the contractor…the trust needs to be a two-way street. Both the client and the San Diego remodel contractor should start forming the basis for a trusting relationship very early in the process of planning the project.

By checking references and licensing, the client can ensure that they are working with a contractor that has a reputation of performing and completing his projects in a manner that meets their expectations.

Many San Diego remodeling contractors we know also take care to check out their potential clients. From Google search to websites like Linkedin and Facebook, there is a wealth of information available now about the people who we will be doing business with.

Why is it important that this strong sense of trust be developed?

Too often, while riding the emotional roller coaster that remodeling a home can be, if a firm basis of trust was not established, then the project can fall apart. Accusations of misdeeds can fly from both sides as well as bad feelings being fermented.

A remodeling project is tough enough when everyone is on the same page and getting along…walls torn down, pipes and cables hanging, holes in the floor and a crew showing up at 7:00 AM, every morning to make more noise and dust – without a firm sense of trust established, this can be a recipe for disaster.

Each day of a remodeling project, whether it be a kitchen remodel, bathroom remodel or a room addition, can bring to light new unanticipated issues that need to be discussed and figured out and this can only be achieved with a clear and stable line of communication. Check out your San Diego remodeling contractor, make sure upfront they are the right person for your project and try to remember that at 4:00 AM when you’re in the middle of creating your dream remodel!

Specialty Home Improvement is a family-owned Design-Build remodel contractor that has been improving homes and property in San Diego County for almost 30 years. Our bespoke process of developing full-color, realistic designs for each project and working one on one with each client to ensure their visions and ideas are fully implemented into the final build means we can only work with a limited number of clients at a time.  Give us a call soon for a consultation on your new project.

We will lose sleep so you don’t have to – receive award-winning customer service on your custom San Diego remodel project by contacting us today!