So let’s be honest. Construction contractors have a bit of a bad rep. Everyone has a story or knows someone who has a story of getting taken for a ride, and ending up losing thousands of dollars on a construction project gone wrong.
So when the time comes to get work done on your home, people get understandably nervous. But choosing a contractor to work on your home does not have to be a crap shoot. Over the next few articles we will discuss how to select the right contractor for your project and how to protect your interests during the building process to ensure a successful project that you will be glad you undertook instead of a nightmare you regret for years to come.
The first step in choosing a contractor for your project is to solicit bids. But who should you contact for these bids? And how many should you get before selecting a contractor?
You should solicit a minimum of two, and preferably three or four, bids before determining who you will use. (As a side note, if anyone who provides you a bid tries to “hard close” you to buy the same day they provide you the bid, that is a sign you should steer clear. There is nothing wrong with signing a building agreement the same day you get the bid if you are sure you are ready. But if a contractor tries to push you to sign on the spot, give someone else your business.)
To determine who you will request bids from, the first thing you should do is ask around. If any of your friends or family have had a positive experience with a contractor, that is a good indication that you will as well. But many people don’t have that to rely on, so end up doing a Google search.
And chances are when you do so, you will find pages and pages of contractors advertising in your area. So how do you whittle them down? Here are the questions you should ask every potential contractor you talk to:
1. How long have you been in the building trades? Every contractor has to start somewhere, so there is not anything wrong with hiring someone who has just started his own business. But if your potential contractor has been in business less than a year, it is important to verify that he has gained experience working in the field for another contractor for at least a few years prior to starting his own business, and preferably at least a decade.
2. Are you licensed and insured? Especially for relatively small projects like roofing and siding replacement, there are lots of fly-by-night operations out there that do not provide their customers with the protection of carrying their own liability or workman’s compensation insurance, and are not licensed in your area to do business. As these guys typically work cheap, you may be tempted to look the other way and hire one anyway. But this is probably a bad idea. An unlicensed and uninsured contractor may very well cut corners on your project, and definitely will not stand behind their work if, God forbid, something goes really wrong that ends up creating an expensive repair. Do you really want to risk serious damage to your home that will not be covered by your insurance to save a few hundred bucks on the bid? Every qualified contractor will be happy to provide you with proof of his license and insurance upon request.
3. Do you perform the work with your own employees or dedicated crews? In this industry, virtually every contractor sometimes has to use sub-contractors to help perform projects from time to time. Especially on a larger project, almost all general contractors will hire subs for such tasks as plumbing, HVAC, and electrical, as those jobs require specialized licensing. But if your contractor subs out 100% of all the work and has no dedicated crews of his own, that is a red flag that you are talking to a “paper contractor” who will not be readily able to service any small quality control or warranty issues that may crop up after the fact.
4. Do you have examples of similar jobs in the area I can look at? Honestly, the answer to this question is more important than physically going to see the jobs. Obviously no contractor is going to send you to see jobs that turned out poorly. But if he is able to readily answer the question with a list of at least two or three jobs similar to yours that he performed in your local area, that is a good sign that he is an established and experienced tradesman. And of course, if you have any doubts, you can definitely take the time to drive by and check them out yourself.
After you have selected your top two to four contractors who you feel you would be comfortable working with, ask them to come out to meet with you and give you a bid in person. Depending on the type of project you are considering, a potential contractor may be able to give you a bid “site unseen”. But there will always be too many variables to be able to sign a contract until he has actually seen the site.
As a final test, make sure you tell each contractor how many bids you are soliciting and that you don’t intend to buy until you have had a chance to evaluate all the bids. If a contractor is unwilling to give you a quote under those terms, then you don’t want to do business with him anyway.
If you follow this process, you will successfully be able to receive valid bids from a few reliable contractors in your local area. But now how do you go about deciding which one to choose?
Evaluating your bids is the topic of our next post!