Choosing your contractor is an critical step in the construction process. Failure to hire a reputable, experienced and professional contractor can result in inflated prices, a lackadaisical schedule, shoddy workmanship and structural issues that lead to litigation. Nobody wants that. The goal, then, is to hire a contractor with a great reputation, positive references and who is organized at all levels of the construction process, from the initial bid to the construction timeline, to the all the communication required along the way.
The following tips will help you narrow your choices to the right contractor for the job.
- Ask around. Anyone can pay for advertisements, but only good contractors get personal referrals from former clients. While it's a great idea to sift through search engine results or the phone book, ask friends, neighbors, and family members who they recommend and take notes. If you hear a particular contractor's name come up more than once, bump their name toward the top of the list.
- Verify they are licensed, bonded, and insured. While a contractor's license isn't the equivalent of a contractor's stamp of approval, it is a sign of professional competency. Almost every contractor advertises they are "licensed, bonded, and insured" but that doesn't mean it's so. The good news is that you can verify all three things:
- Licensing: You can verify their contractor's and/or trade-specific licenses through your local building department. The number will usually be displayed on a contractor's business card, letter head, or website. If it doesn't, ask the contractor or their receptionist for it.
- Bonding: Ask for the bond number and/or certification. You can use that information to verify it with the bonding agency.
- Insurance. You want a contractor who has liability insurance as well as workman's compensation insurance if he has his own employees. He should be able to provide you with a Certificate of Insurance. Pay attention to the expiration date so you can obtain a new copy if it expires in the middle of your project.
Simply asking for and following through with this information tells contractors you are serious about hiring the right professional for the job, and may be enough to steer the wrong ones in the other direction
- Get an itemized bid. Insist that your contractor provide you with an itemized bid. This means it lists a line-by-line breakdown of the total project costs. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is that it's impossible to compare contractors' bids if one gives you a lump total, one gives you an itemized bid and one gives you a bid broken into a few larger lumps. You want to compare apples with apples, which makes bid itemization a must. Also, you now know exactly how much everything costs, which makes it easier for you to determine which items on your "wish list" can be left out if you find they cost more than you thought.
- Firm or estimate? There are many ways contractors design their bids, from Time & Materials (T&M) to Allowance-based bids for ultra-custom projects. Be very clear on what the final bid price means and what happens if the project goes over budget. Some contractors provide a bid but expect more money to be paid to them if the project costs usurp their original guestimate. Others bid as accurately as they can and then have to eat the difference in cost themselves if it runs over budget. Make sure you know what you're dealing with at the outset so you don't have any surprises down the financial road.
- What is the construction schedule? Many first-time construction clients make the mistake of asking when the project will be finished, which is very different than asking for a construction schedule. You want the latter, which will be a much more comprehensive and detailed account of what will be happening when.
- Find out about their main suppliers. Customer references are important, but they aren't entirely credible. The contractor may have listed all their favorite cousins and bar buddies. Ask them who their main suppliers are, then talk to the suppliers. This is often a very enlightening way to find out how professional, reliable, and timely your contractor really is.
- Communication. Ask your contractor how he prefers to communicate with you, how change orders will be handled, or how he will document any changes or decisions that you have to make. Outlining this from the outset will help things move more fluidly as the project unfolds, and will prevent unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, and expenses.
Don't be intimidated by the construction process, embrace it! These steps will help you hire the best contractor for the job, considerably easing the construction process. Need to find a qualified metal building contractor in your area? Contact Whirlwind Steel.* Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net