How to hire the right general contractor?

Good general contractors are rare. It is not easy to find one and when you do, chances are slim that the entire project goes seamlessly. There are so many issues that makes it difficult to trust the contractor. A lot of times they are due to-

  • Scheduling (time, payment, etc.)
  • Customer service and handling
  • Poor communication
  • Scams and below average service quality

The problem is not one-sided here, even clients are to be blamed. They need to be more vigilant and responsible. Slight negligence leads to bigger blunders which can be avoided by following these steps-

  1. Do thorough research

Before you plan on choosing the right contractor for yourself you should firstly jot down the type of projects that you want to get done. From small projects like cabinetry or changing the window panel to bigger projects which includes major structural changes, list them down and find good contractors that either specializes in your project or experts in all types of projects.

Once you have determined your requirements and type of contractor, begin your research. Before you Google your requirements, it is best that you ask your family, friends and colleagues at work for any recommendations for a good general contractor. If you happen to know any good real estate agent, they definitely might have a list of great general contractors.  You might find experienced contractors online but there are a lot of risks involved. Find contractors from verified websites based on their ratings and reviews. Check for any scams or “rip-off” reviews before determining the right contractor.

  • Telephonic Interview

Once you have the list of contractors ready to be contacted, make sure you are done with your initial research. These contractors should be the best in town, choosing one should be solely on the basis of how the conversation and future visit goes. If you have say, 10 contractors that you would be calling, at least shortlist half of them for a visit. Do not focus on selecting one on the basis of phone conversation.

Here are some tips you can make a note of while conversing them, on the basis of which they can be evaluated and consequently shortlisted-

  • Focus on their mannerism while speaking, are they answering the phone professionally? Are they treating you respectfully? Does your project seem interesting to them?
  • Check if they are licensed. According to your state’s requirements and laws on licensing, enquire about their license. Of course a simple yes or no would suffice over the call. Cross check the documents later.
  • Ask if they provide insurance and the kinds of coverage they offer.
  • Do they have experience in similar projects to yours? Make sure you have the details of your project ready when they have queries and questions.
  • A good contractor have a list of satisfied customers and suppliers that he has worked with and for.  He would be happy to share them as references (for you to contact) so that you are assured of his efficiency.
  • The most important question- when are they available? Good contractors are mostly occupied. Make sure they are able to fit your projects in their schedule.
  • Don’t forget to ask if they will provide you with a contract once you have discussed the terms of the project with them.

The above questions will help you compare and assess the contractors. You must have these questions written on a paper and every response must be recorded. Along with their response, your impression also must be noted. There might be 4-5 contractors that must have stood out from the list. Finalize the list and schedule a meeting with them.

  • Meet the contractors

Make sure you are able to wrap all the meetings with the contractors in two days. This way, you will be able to select the right contractor much faster.It is really important that you screen them well as contractors might be at their best behavior before they are officially hired. Contractors who are not quite good at their job can get act friendly and courteous, be careful of that. Just like you screened them over the telephone, assess them personally by asking the following questions (Again, have a pen and paper ready to note their response and your impression.)

  • Since how long has their business been in the running?
  • Some contractor work from home as well and this should not concern you. Having said that, do ask them about their official business address.
  • Ask them again about their license permits. Check the documents.
  • If they are insured, do ask for a proof.
  • What kinds of permits does your project require?
  • Are they familiar with your project and its requirements? How many have they completed in the past year?
  • Ask for the price and the valid reasoning for the quote. The standard price would generally be asked by all the contractors.Do not fall for the low prices offered by the contractor, this simply means low quality work or a scam.
  • Are they flexible with payment schedules fixed according to you?
  • Will they be able to show you a project that they are working on currently? If yes, check their organization skills.

After you are done meeting all the contractors, review your impressions and notes. Based on that, select the contractor you would like to meet again for cross-checking and verifying their documents. Remember, this is also a good chance for you to ask the questions that you might have forgotten before. This is the time when you can discuss your project at length.

  • Discuss payment schedule

Now that you have decided on a contractor, you must discuss the payment procedure and negotiate the price.  Although do not expect an absolute drop in the price but you can always hope for a wiggle room on the price, make him clear about your budget and payment plans.

Payment plans can be discussed as there are no industry standards for that and therefore every contractor has different plans. However, there are some basic options which have their pros and cons:

  • Cost plus flat fee: There will be a management and coordination fee that is usually 15%-20% of the entire cost which will be charged along with the actual cost of the project.The estimated costs would be mentioned in the contract at each stage. The contractor would provide you with all the bills and receipts for every purchase made. This option though has tons of flexibility, but it gets difficult to have an estimate of the total cost.
  • Bid basis: In this option, a budget can be drawn for the project by you and your contractor. This needs to be included in the contract so you both must agree upon one payment schedule. This is best suited for those who have a budget decided for the project.

By the end of this step you should be knowing the estimate of the total cost. Not only from the selected contractor but also from the all the preferred contractors you interviewed before. There is no way the chosen contractor would dupe you. If the average quote of your project is say $15,000 (according to most of the contractors) then unless there are some last minute purchases, not a dime above the standard rate should be quoted.Along with that, keep in mind the selected contractor should be able to finish the project within time and efficiently. It is alright to pay the contractor for the materials and labor but do not pay them the entire amount in advance. Payment should be made only after the project is completed.

As for the down payment, every contractor has different prices expected. In some states, there are laws that limits the amount of down payment to be paid to the contractor. Do your research before you make the down payment.Make the rest of the payments in bits and pieces as the work gets completed. This will help in quality work delivered.

Some key things to remember is to never pay the contractor in cash. It is probably a scam if he requests you to pay in cash. Credit Cards or cash used for making payments for smaller projects is safe.

  • Draw a contract.

This is an incredibly important step.Every agenda that was discussed and agreed upon should be included in the contract. Every tiny detail should be mentioned in the contract as once the contract is drawn and signed, you are no longer entitled to any other benefit except for the ones mentioned in the contract. If things go haywire, this contract would help you if you choose to take legal action against the contractor. The following are some of the details that you must include in your contract

  • Contact information and office address of the general contractor.
  • The start and end date of the project.
  • The entire payment schedule.
  • The detailed schedule of the stages of the entire project.
  • List of all the requirements which includes the permits.

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