Selecting a contractor

Do you think that the advertisements of contractors that you see on newspapers and phone books are the best people to work with? Well, the best contractors do not need to advertise, their very work is enough to promote them. Their customers are the best people to promote them. So, it is always better to ask friends and family who have had worked with them. Top 10 Resources does this after much research through reviews of users, by their own review team and unique rating system. Another place where you can look up for contractors is the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org). Visiting their site can give you contact information of the different associations of local builders in your region. These generally have member directories with the help of which you can find yourself a contractor. Kitchen-and-bath shops or other suppliers may coax you to hire contractors that they usually work with, but it is ultimately your call; you may or may not hire them.

Call the Better Business Bureau or a local consumer-affairs agency for getting compliant histories of the contractors whom you are considering. You can expect to be unhappy with one or two things, but if there are more dis likable aspects, then you need to rethink before making your decision. You also need to check if the contractor that you have decided to hire is an insured or licensed one or not. There are some states and countries which offer licenses to contractors, while there others which offer registrations. While a license is given only when a contractor passes a test which is meant for measuring its competency, a contractor can get registered by paying a fee. If a problem occurs, a government agency may pursue a licensed or registered contractor on your behalf.

Licensing, however, does not guarantee success, but it does indicate a certain degree of professionalism, suggesting that the contractor is dedicated towards his to her job. This is also true for membership in or certification by a group of industries like (NARI) National Association of the Remodelling Industry, the NAHB Remodelling Council or the National Kitchen & Bath Association. If requested, NARI can also resolve any dispute that may crop up between the homeowners and contractors.

When you check the references, make sure that the contractor that you are considering is insured and licensed as well, i.e., if licensing is applicable in the region. This is important because if a person gets hurt or a property of your neighbour gets damaged because of the uninsured and unlicensed contractor that you have hired, it is you who may have to compensate for the loss. Ideally, you should know the various things that your homeowners’ insurance covers, before the work starts.

No matter how you get hold of potential contractors, you should always ask for their list of previous customers, so that you can call them and know about the contractors and their quality of their work. When you call or visit them, ask some penetrating questions like:

  • Were you happy with the work?
  • Given a chance, would you hire the contractors again?
  • Was the contractor easy to talk to?
  • How did the contractor tackle cleanup every day?
  • Did they complete the job on time? If not, why?
  • How did the contractor handle the differences and work changes?

You can also ask the contractor to give you a list of his or her building-material suppliers. Call them to find out if the contractor pays for items on delivery or if the contractor has an account. Most suppliers are ready to extend credit to financially reliable contractors.

Do you require a general contractor?

If your job requires more than three subcontractors, getting a general contractor can be a good idea. With a general contractor, you can be free from burdens like obtaining necessary permits, maintaining a work schedule and resolving disputes that may crop up with suppliers. A general contractor is more apt at handling issues with subcontractors, than you can. A general contractor may get discounts at supply houses and lumberyards. Whether the savings will be passed on to you or retained by the contractor as part of his or her payment should to be decided in the contract.

Evaluating bids

Industry experts say that you should get a written estimate from at least three contractors. In an estimate, there should be details regarding the work that needs to be done, the materials that are needed, the workforce that is required, the time that the job will take to get completed. Getting multiple estimates can be a good idea. With an estimate, a bid can be developed, which is a more detailed figure based on plans with actual dimensions. Getting more than one bid increases your odds of paying less. Once your and the contractor sign a bid, it becomes a contract.

You need to understand that the cheapest bid is not always the best one. If you go for a rock-bottom bid, you may end up being less satisfied than those who have chosen to pay more. You never know, a bidder who has quoted much less may be using a copper tube of smaller-diameter or cheaper tiles. The contractor may also be bidding for exactly what you want, without telling you that your old house may also need new water lines and wiring, which are going to cost extra bucks.

You should make sure that all bidders are bidding on the same job description and specifications. It is absolutely fine if you do not like what the contractor does; take your time to choose fixtures and materials that you like. It won’t be wrong to say that the phrase “comparing apples to oranges” may have been first used during the process of bidding.

Be definite about your plans. It can be very expensive when it comes to changing the specifications of work, after it has already started. Reconsidering your plans adds much to the cost overruns, with alterations resulting in long delays.

Negotiating a fair contract

In a contract, all the terms of work are stated, allowing you and the contractor to minimise wasted effort and misunderstandings which can be caused by poor instructions.

The contract should have the name and address of a contractor, a timetable for beginning and finishing a job, a license number, names of subcontractors, a schedule of payment, and the scope of work that needs to be done.

The other items which should be included in the contract is a list of equipment and materials which are needed, provisions for demolition and clean-up, approximate dates for start and finish, agreement terms, date and room for signature. Be careful about arbitration provisions for binding that restrict your right to sue in case of a dispute.

Another great thing that can be included in the contract is the list of things that the contractor won’t be providing. This should include all the assumptions that the contractor has made about your job, like the plumbing and wiring lines are adequate, the homeowner is going to pay for the trash removal, the existing window trim and baseboards are usable, the subflooring is sound, and so on.

You should specifically mention all the materials and the brand names of the appliances, products and fixtures which are to be used. The contract should also state that the responsibility of obtaining all the building permits lies with the contractor. Municipalities generally have a building code; the person who gets the permit is generally liable if the work does not come up to code.

It is very common to pay for a project in various stages over the process of work, particularly key materials and supplies are delivered. You should limit the down payment to 10% or less than that. Contractors who ask for a good amount of down payment may be intending to use the money for getting help to finish their pervious work, leaving you to wait for days for your project to begin. Asking for large down payments is illegal in many states. However, there are projects that do require good amount of deposits on components that have to be made for the purpose of ordering kitchen cabinets and the likes. If your project happens to have such expenses, then you need to make higher down payment.

Make sure that the contractor agrees to resolve problems which may crop up during the on-going process of work rather than afterward. They can fix leaky roof and sloppy plastering quite readily as it has been pointed out, but they can be less willing to do the same work later. That is a good reason for holding back a part of the final payment until and unless the job is done completely. You can negotiate such terms and include those in your contract. It is not at all unreasonable to hold back the last five to ten percent of your money for thirty days.

You should never make the final payment, until and unless you have got signed mechanic’s-lien releases and waivers from suppliers and subcontractors. These are nothing but receipts that acknowledge the payment for goods and services. They set you free from all third-party claims regarding your property in case you pay the contractor; however, he or she does not pay suppliers or subcontractors.

How to spot a questionable contractor

You should be wary if you happen to encounter any of the following:

  • A contractor who is into making unsolicited visits and phone calls. You should be particularly careful of people who offer a bargain price, claiming that they are engaged in a job in a near by place and have leftover materials.
  • A contractor whose address is shady and cannot be verified. A person who uses only a post office box, or has only an answering service and no identity in the telephone directory should be avoided at all cost.
  • His or her insurance or license information cannot be verified.
  • A contractor who cannot or will not provide any references for similar jobs in your area.
  • The contractor has promised a huge discount if you allow him or her to use your home as a “demo”.
  • The contractor has promised an attractive discount but has not mentioned the total cost of the job.
  • Threat of cancelling a special price if you do not agree to sign on a particular spot.
  • The contractor threatens you into singing a contract by saying that your house may pose a great threat to you.