I'll spare you advice on what to look for in a contractor. It's been written about before here. But I will say that I was amazed at the number of people that I called but never heard back from. Out of a long list, I ultimately got quotes from four people.
This is time honored advice: Know thyself and look for someone who's a good fit. I am fairly "hands on" with projects like these. I don't have the mad skillz to do my own tiling, but I like a lot of transparency and input into the process, especially around costs and materials. I'm picky. I bargain hunt, and do a lot of shopping on craigslist and ebay to get a good price. I also bite the heads off small puppies.
I kept all of this in mind when thinking about who to hire. Along with the following:
• Price: I did a lot of quote comparison and made sure that I was comparing apples to apples. Contractors all develop their quotes differently. Some are all inclusive, some have allowances for materials and fixtures. Still others just bid for their labor, and you need to know how much you'll spend on above and beyond man power. I tried not to feel guilty, and went back to ask for things to be broken down, just so I knew exactly what I was looking at.
• Communication/Rapport: I knew we wanted someone that was pretty relaxed and willing to put up with our special requests, such as converting a cabinet into a bathroom vanity. And yes, being a lady, I kept an eye out for any patronizing tones. I also nixed someone that kept talking and talking at me about how he wanted to design the backsplash, even after I told him several times that I already had something else in mind.
• Quality of Work: I saw lots of glossy photos of completed work, but only one guy took us to a completed job so we could check it out. Of course, this isn't always possible, but I did like being able to see the work up close.
• Time: This was least important to us. The condo is a vacation home, so I wasn't too worried about a certain time frame. If anything, since this is a long distance project, I was a little concerned about keeping up our end of the bargain and getting materials to the site in time.
We wound up choosing a team of two guys who were recommended to us by our realtor. Both are local. These guys do most of the work themselves, versus hire a series of sub contractors. They bid for labor only and will leave us to buy everything directly (except stuff like drywall, etc...). This keeps the costs down. I like to think of them as a hybrid between contractors and handymen: handytractors if you will.
There will inevitably be cons to our choice in handytractor, namely losing the big picture organization and planning that comes with a more "full service" contractor. I expect more work on my end, which I am comfortable with.
With a contract signed, and condo association approval garnered, we were good to go. Stay tuned for the next part of this gripping story.