1. Hire a professional contractor who is familiar with the building codes in your area.
Updating work that does not meet code can be extremely expensive and counterproductive.
2. Ask for a list of references.
Ask your contractor for client references. This is your best way to judge a contractor’s experience and professionalism. Don’t simply read the references a contractor gives you. Take time to contact several of their previous clients.
References are not all the same. There are four types of references that should be examined:
• Clients within the past year, or a current job in progress.
• Clients within the past three years.
• Clients beyond three years.
• Also check with the county seat to determine if a contractor has been named in any lawsuits. By contacting all these references you’ll learn not only about the quality of the contractor’s current work, but how well his work and warranty holds up. Additionally, you’ll get a feel for the contractor’s long-term standing with his clients.
Here are questions to ask when calling the contractors references:
• What was the quality of their workmanship?
• Did the contractor stay on budget according to the original estimate?
• Was a change order form used for any changes?
• How timely was the contractor during the course of the job?
• Were you happy with his/her attitude when problems would arise?
• How were the subcontractors/ workers who worked on the job?
• Did they keep the job site clean and safe?
• Was the contractor on the job himself to supervise?
• Would you ever use this contractor again?
3. Communication is important!
When you interview a potential contractor, you should feel comfortable speaking with him.
• Explain your project and your goals.
• Does the contractor give you real solutions?
• Communication is the key to a productive client/contractor relationship. By clearly communicating your creative ideas, asking precise questions, and listening to your contractor’s solutions, you’ll know if he is right for your project.
4. Don’t hire based on lowest price alone.
The basis of a contractor’s price is important. Do not hire simply on the basis of the lowest estimate.
• Examine the estimate and break it down.
• Is the price of materials low compared to other estimates?
• If a contractor’s price is considerably lower than other estimates his standard of workmanship may not be up to par with more qualified contractors. Or the contractor may have made a mistake on the price.
5. How long has the contractor been in business?
It’s recommended that you hire a contractor with five or more years of experience. Research has shown that contractor’s with five or more years of experience are likely to have a solid business foundation, and are therefore more likely to be consistent and reliable.
6. Verify insurance.
It is extremely important that a contractor be properly insured to protect you from possible legal problems. A contractor should have the following types of coverage:
• Workman’s Compensation Insurance – protects you in case a worker is injured on your property.
• General Liability Insurance – covers you in case a contractor damages your property.
• Automobile Insurance – protects you in case a contractor’s vehicle damages a vehicle on your property.
Important! The form in which you receive a contractor’s certificate of insurance is extremely important. To ensure that a certificate of insurance is valid, the certificate should be mailed directly from the insurance agency to you. The certificate should name you and your property as co-insured. It is not adequate to accept a photocopied certificate of insurance from a contractor because you have no guarantee that the certificate is authentic.
7. Look for a contractor who is a member of an applicable trade association.
Membership in a trade association is strong proof that a contractor has taken the initiative to stay current with industry standards and business practices. This is particularly important for states that don’t require licensing.
8. Check to see if the contractor needs a license, and if so, that it is valid.
If a license is required in your state, be sure your contractor’s license is valid and current (check with the state licensing board or local building department). Some states do not require a license. If your state does not require a license, examine the contractor’s length of time in business, membership in trade associations, references, and continuing education as alternatives to a license.
9. A dispute resolution system should be written into your contract.
You should hire a contractor who’s contract clearly explains how disputes will be resolved. A dispute resolution clause should call for mediation or arbitration if a dispute arises between you and your contractor. Mediation and arbitration are quick and inexpensive resolutions to a dispute, particularly when compared to resolving disputes through the legal system.
10. In conclusion: Don’t accept the lowest bid.
If one bid is substantially lower than the others, the candidate may be inexperienced or intends to cut corners. Probe to find out why that bid is low (a common cause is vague specifications). Sometimes if it seems too good to be true, most likely it is.
Beyond the bids, there are still several important considerations that can make or break your project:
1. What is the chemistry between you (your spouse) and the contractor? It’s vital your general contractor is someone who will listen to what you say and will work with you to solve problems. If, during the selection process, misunderstandings repeatedly crop up between you and a contractor candidate, you’re probably better off hiring someone else.
2. How financially solvent is he or she? You can call bank or credit references to find out. If you get the impression that the contractor will be stretching to hold on from one payment to the next, this may predict future problems.
3. Again, be sure the contractor you choose is licensed, insured for worker’s compensation, property damage and public liability.