Hiring a Building Contractor: Eight Tips for Getting It Right
If you've decided to hire a contractor to help you turn your dream into reality, you will want to manage the process to make sure the end product matches your pre-construction vision. So, it's important to take the time before the construction begins to ensure a well-run construction job. Attention to detail during the pre-construction phase can eliminate construction surprises and help you hire a "best fit" construction company for your residential or commercial building project.
Use this list of tips to manage your construction project and your ongoing relationship with your builder:
1. Search for a qualified building contractor or general contractor.
Often the best resource for a qualified construction contractor is a friend or business colleague who has recently completed a building project. Ask to see the completed project and/or drive by the construction site to see if what the builder has done appeals to you. Pay attention to all construction sites in your area as well. If you see a project that you like, write down the builder information so you can call and discuss your project with company owner.
You can also find independent contractors' advertisements in your local Yellow Pages listings or in ads posted in your local newspapers.
2. Develop a list of potential home building contractors for your project and check their references.
To make sure you are evaluating the contractors by the same criteria, make a list of standard questions to ask each of the builders' references to help you narrow your list of options (e.g., was the project completed on time, were there unexpected cost overruns, did the contractor solve problems as they arose, was the contractor responsive to your questions and requests for changes).
3. Verify the construction license for each residential building contractor.
Make sure the builder has a construction license that is registered with the State and that the contractor carries appropriate insurance (i.e., building contractor general liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance). Use http://www.contractors-license.org for verification. All subcontractors should also be licensed and have insurance.
4. Get a written quote from contractors.
Once you've narrowed the list of potential home building experts, ask for written job quotes. Sometimes one builder seems to be the "best fit" for you. In this case, you might want to get a quote and if the quoted price fits your budget and expectations you can move quickly to write a contract and begin the construction or remodeling.
If, however, you don't have a favorite builder, ask two or three of the potential contractors to submit project bids. Review the bids, ask clarifying questions and make a choice. Pay careful attention to the distinctions between the components of each builder's proposal and negotiate for cost savings and add elements that might be missing.
5. Obtain a signed contract before the construction begins.
Once you've decided to hire a contractor, make sure you get a formal contract that outlines all of the components you discussed when reviewing the informal bids. Insist on enough detail to protect your interests. At a minimum, each contract should include: (1) start and end dates for the construction project; (2) a schedule for payment based on work completed and supplies used (e.g., most contractors require a pre-construction payment of one-third to one-fourth of the total cost of the project); (3) a detailed list of materials included; (4) a clear explanation of "allowances;" (5) an explanation of responsibilities of general contractor (as appropriate); and, (6) a detailed description of the scope of work to be performed.
It's best to expect construction delays due to inclement weather, material shortages, or a change in scope of work. If you do experience delays — especially in the project timeline or scope of work — insist on the use of a written change order or approval to clarify expectations and control cost overrides.
6. Get the proper permits.
Talk to your contractor about the permits that he will get before he starts the project to avoid any fines. Verify that the permits have been obtained before the start of the project.
7. Stay informed during the construction process.
To ensure the project meets your expectations requires your involvement. Visit the construction site, ask questions, and demand changes if the quality and/or design do not meet your standards. Sharing your concerns during the process allows the builder to make changes without major implications for the project.
8. Be prepared for challenges during the building process.
Recognize that every project has problems that crop up during the construction phase. Establishing good communication and clear expectations before you break ground will ensure a professional resolution of all challenges that emerge.