Most of us have heard horror stories about "The building
experience gone wrong." Some of the expressions that
we have heard are similar to these: "Our home cost $40,000
more than we expected"; "the contractor finished
half of the job and then left"; "after the house
was finished we've had nothing but problems."
are often given a bad name. This is not wholly undeserved
as some contractors are unqualified, dishonest or both. How
do you find a contractor who is qualified, honest and competitively
priced? Here are some things you can do to weed out the bad
ones. The objective is to find 3-5 qualified contractors to
bid on your project.
Although some states don't have a licensing process, most
do. The process is not difficult, and some people often pass
the exams with little actual building experience. Make a call
to the state licensing board to verify the license.
A license means that a contractor
has met the minimum requirements. There are many licensed
contractors that have never built a complete house. And many
who may be qualified for one type of project but not another.
The objective is to find a contractor who is qualified for
YOUR project. The licensing board also monitors complaints
and legal action brought against contractors. Make sure your
contractor is licensed and in good standing.
Most states require that
a contractor have liability insurance to cover accidental
damage caused by himself or employees. Some states also require
the contractor to be bonded. A performance bond is a guarantee
that a project will be completed. If a contractor fails to
complete the job, the homeowner can make a claim against the
bond to get the job finished. Get evidence of liability insurance
and bonding from the licensing board or the contractor himself.
If the contractor has employees on the payroll, it is imperative
that he carries Workers Compensation insurance. Otherwise
you could be liable for workers injured on your property.
Find a contractor that is recommended by someone you know.
Be aware that the best contractors almost always cost more,
and usually have a longer waiting period. The adage "You
get what you pay for" is often true. Whether the contractor
is recommended or you find him in the Yellow pages, you will
still need to check his references and work. Ask him for phone
numbers of recent customers. Remember that past performance
is a good indicator of future performance. Talk to the owners
about the following items:
- Was the job completed on time?
- Was the job completed on budget?
- How were change orders handled
- Was warranty work completed promptly?
- Was the work performed to an acceptable standard?
- Did the contractor communicate plans, schedules and
- Did they like the contractor personally?
- Was he knowledgeable?
- Did the owner feel that they received "value for
- Would they recommend him to family or friends?
Remember no contractor is going to be outstanding at everything.
However, they should be competent in all areas of construction
management. Arrange to see the contractors work in person.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about the work:
- Is the quality of work acceptable?
- Are there parts that are unfinished?
- Do you like the design?
- Is your project similar in size, style and design?
It is generally best to find a contractor that specializes
in projects that are similar to yours in size, style, design
At this point, you have checked license, insurance and business
status, talked to customers and have seen the contractors
work. The final step is to meet with each contractor individually
to discuss your project. Here are some things that should
- Project duration.
- Possible problems or challenges that your project presents.
- Ask about specific products (i.e. siding, appliances,
roofing systems, exterior structural systems and foundation
- Design considerations and ideas.
- Typical house style and price range that he typically
builds: starter, semi-custom, custom or exclusive.
- When could he start the project?
After you have met with the contractors individually, ask
yourself the following questions about each one.
- Did he inspire confidence? Contractors should be able
to answer building code questions, design questions, structural
questions and most any question relating to products or
systems used in modern residential construction.
- Did he have good ideas for your project? Good contractors
will have money saving ideas, and ideas to make your home
more comfortable and practical which increases resale.
- Was it easy to communicate with him? Did he listen to
your questions and respond appropriately? Most contractors
can build a house. The best ones know how to listen and
how to keep the owners well informed throughout the process.
- Did he make a professional and credible presentation?
A good contractor will be organized. Organization is the
key to building on time and under budget.
- Did you like him? Good contractors are not pushy, arrogant
or demeaning. Look for a contractor that is not in a rush,
who will listen to your ideas and make intelligent suggestions.
Finding a qualified contractor is not easy. But the time spent
up front will save you time, money and major frustrations
later on. Once you have found 3-5 qualified contractors, let
them know that you would like them to bid on your project.
The bidding process will usually take a few weeks. Get an
approximate start time from each one. Our Contractor Questionnaire
is a one page form that you can give to contractors that asks
some of the basic questions that are covered in this article.
It will help you to find the contractors that are qualified
for your project. Good luck. Our Next article will discuss
bidding and final selection.
Questionnaire Form in PDF (one page)
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