How To Find A Contractor

Finding a contractor can be a daunting, and sometimes scary task, especially if you have never had to hire a contractor before. Below is a list of things to help homeowners get off to a good start:

General

  • Begin the process of finding a contractor early enough to check on the contractor/company, and check with references.
  • Check with family, friends, and neighbors who have had work done, for recommendations of good contractors.
  • Read and understand your contract fully, before signing the contract.
  • Has this contractor handled a project of this scale before?
  • Does this contractor have other projects going at the same time, that may pull resources and manpower away from your job, or does he/she have a dedicated crew set for your project.
    o Who will be overseeing your job on a daily basis?
    o If the person overseeing the job is not the contractor, will they be authorized to make decisions when the contractor is not there?
  • Does this contractor use sub-contractors, or do they do all the work themselves?
    o If yes, how long have they worked with the sub-contractors, they have lined up to work on your project?
  • Get multiple bids on your project, and get them in writing.
  • The best contractors tend to be the busiest ones, build your schedule around when a quality contractor is available. It’s worth the wait!

References

  • Ask for references, and actually look at their past work. Talk to homeowners if possible.
  • Ask the references:
    o Would they hire this contractor again, without hesitation?
    o Did the contractor stick to the schedule outlined in the contract?
    o Were there any big cost overruns, or schedule delays? (if yes, why?)
    o Were there any changes to materials specified in the contract? (if yes, why?)
    o What were the contractors work habits?
    + Did they arrive at the same time every day?
    + Did they work all day, or stay for a few hours and leave?
    + Did they provide temporary safety barriers for areas like open stairwells, exterior ?door openings, and large window openings, during construction?
    + Did they clean up the job site at the end of the day?
    + Did they protect existing work from construction damage during the project?
    o Did the project stay on schedule and close to budget?
    o Did anything go wrong? (if yes, how was the situation resolved?)
    o Were the final details finished in a timely manner?

Insurance

  • Ask for proof of current insurance, both General Liability and Worker’s Compensation
    o If the contractor is not insured. Homeowners ┬ámay be held responsible for any personal injury to the contractor’s employees while on your property
    o Any sub-contractors should also provide proof of current insurances
  • You may want to talk to your insurance agent about upgrading your coverage, so that your project is covered for the duration of construction.

Warning Flags

  • The contractor who is uninsured, or unwilling to provide proof of insurance and/or licenses
    o Certificates of insurance should include general liability and worker’s compensation for himself/herself, as well as any subcontractors.
  • Use of high pressure sales/scare tactics, to get you to go for extras/upgrades. Your walls won’t fall apart because you didn’t go for some very expensive siding, or your roof won’t cave in because you didn’t buy the ultra premium multi-layered reinforced roof shingle.
  • The contractor who will not, cannot, or refuses to give references for past work.
  • References that voice reservations.
  • A contractor who has appeared out of nowhere, whose name, business address, phone number and credentials cannot be verified.
  • An unusually low bid.
  • A request for a large deposit, or paid in full in advance.
  • A contractor that asks you to pay for work that has not been performed yet, or material that has not yet been delivered.
  • A contractor that offers a low bargain price in exchange for using your home as an example of his/her work (not the same as being asked to be used as a reference, after the job is completed).
  • A contractor that offers a low bargain price, but only if you sign on that day.
  • A contractor that tries to sell you stuff that you already have, that you are already satisfied with, like an HVAC unit, or boiler.
  • A contractor that is so eager to get things started that technicalities get brushed aside, like signing a contract, but not his/her fee.

Contracts

  • A contract is required for all work, labor, services and materials supplied by the contractor in excess of $500.00
  • Line items that should be included in your contract:
    o Name, address, and phone number of the contractor, and any license numbers if applicable
    o The contract must be legible, and written in plain English
    o Approximate start and end dates
    o A statement of contingencies that could change the completion date, and repercussions if those dates are not met
    o Statement of whether or not time is of the essence in this project
    o Summary description of the work to be performed, and materials to be provided, including but not limited to make, model, color, and any other identifying information
    o Clear descriptions of any other documents incorporated into the contract
    o Signature of the contractor and of the owner
    o Any amendments to the contract, i.e. change orders, must be in writing and signed by both parties, including the scope of the changed work and additional costs
    + Avoid the “while you’re at it..” scenario, add ons that you come up with off the cuff, can add up quickly and really mess up a project budget.
    + Think them through thoroughly first, then have a discussion with your contractor, and get a price for the add on before authorizing the work.
    o A requirement that the contractor obtain any lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers
    o Specifics of any warranty, and length of warranty period, whether full or limited
    o Confirmation of homeowners right to cancel the contract, with no penalties, usually limited to three days following the signing of the contract
    o Payment schedule details, including having spelled out what is to be completed at each payment stage
    o If the contractor is using an “authorized agent” to negotiate all or parts of the contract, the primary contractor should sign off on this detail or clause, also any limitations in the “authorized agent” negotiating power should also be noted, (i.e. “authorized agent” will only negotiate all phases of the “kitchen” portion of the contract including flooring, wall finishes, cabinets, countertops, appliances, hardware, and lighting)
  • Also note who is responsible for obtaining any and all necessary permits as required by your local jurisdiction.
  • A binding arbitration clause may help resolve disputes without costly litigation.
  • Read and fully understand your contract before signing. If you do not fully understand something in the contract, get it clarified before signing.

Design Elements

  • A remodel should incorporate and match design elements in your existing house, so that the addition doesn’t look like an afterthought.
  • Hiring an architect for bigger projects, can be a way for homeowners to see the overall picture of your project up front, and a way to save money in the long run, by working through details, flow patterns, ties ins with the existing structure(s), etc.
  • On a major remodel or addition project, with established mature plants, trees and shrubs, it may be worth hiring or consulting with a landscaper or landscaping firm, to aid in protecting the established plantings, identifying which plants are worth saving, and moving them if necessary for reuse after the construction has been completed.
  • Sometimes a 3D mock up can aid in the design process, such as in kitchens or bathrooms, using some 2×4’s, plywood, and poly sheeting. A mock up can give you a real sense of how things are going to work, space wise and flow pattern wise, before the framing goes into place, at a very minimal cost.
  • While the framing is exposed, think of insulation, not only exterior walls, but floors, pipes, ducts, and interior walls. Not only will added insulation save on fuel bills, but will help in noise reduction between floors, bedroom walls, bathroom walls, home offices, mechanical rooms, laundry rooms, plumbing chases etc.
  • Think of the construction process from the outside in. Get the outside shell weather tight early, then the interior work can progress without any potential damage, like water from from leaking roofing that hasn’t been shingled yet.
  • Take lots of pictures and notes during the construction process (and make notes on your copy of the blue prints). Save the pictures to a disk. Take pictures of rough framing, walls, ceilings, wiring, plumbing locations, etc. This way, down the road when you want to run a wire for a new fixture, or move a water line, you can look at your print and pictures to remember that where you want to put that wire or pipe isn’t where your HVAC ductwork is, or your 4″ drain line for your upstairs bathroom.
  • Don’t leave design detail decisions, like molding profiles, tile color, grout colors, hardware finishes, switch and outlet locations to your contractor. These decisions can make a big impact on the overall finished appearance and functionality of your finished project. Plus even small changes after work is done can cost time and money.
  • Homeowners ┬ádoing most of the work you themselves should know their limitations, and when it’s time to call in a professional. For example, if you are remodeling a bedroom closet, you can do the drywall yourself, but if you are doing an addition that doubles the size of your house, a drywall contractor will have the sheet rock, hung, taped and finished, ready for primer and paint, faster and cheaper than you can do it yourself.