Hiring A Contractor

May 24th, 2009

This article could save you tens of thousands of dollars. Not taking the time to screen and hire the right contractor for the job will almost certainly send your project over budget. If you’ve never dealt with a home construction or major renovation, there are issues that you would never stop to consider.

Use this checklist as a guide when you begin interviewing, but don’t forget about gut feelings. A person may look great on paper, but if you can’t shake a nagging feeling that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Give yourself plenty of time, some of the worst decisions are made when you’re down to the wire and short on time.

Make a Short List: Create a list of about five hopefuls using a combination of referrals from friends, or other people in your area who have had work done. A call to your local home builder’s assocation may also provide you with names of local contractors.

Set Up a Meeting: Have an initial meeting to check out the candidates. Look for things such as communication skills, was he prepared, and did he take notes? If this is for a renovation, did he bring a camera, and did he do a thorough job of assessing your needs and answering your questions.

A good contractor will bring up areas of concern or possible problems. Remember, right now you are seeing this person at their best, and although they may be sporting a charming, friendly demeanor, you have to see through this. Here are a few questions that will help you see if he knows his stuff.

How is your labour pool set up?

If he is a one-man company, you want to ensure he is qualified to do all the work that is required. If he represents a larger company, find out who you will be dealing with on a daily basis, and ensure they will be accessible.

Do you have preferred trades that you work with? If so, are they available and find out if there are any other jobs in your area he has used them on.

What permits will be required to complete the job? Depending on the job, you may be able to apply for any necessary permits, otherwise this may be the contractor’s responsibility. Ensure the cost of permits is built into the project. If he says a permit is not required for the job, double check. You will be liable if the city finds out you’ve renovated without getting permission.

What is the timeline for the project? Many builders quote a time based on when the building actually commences, but the time taken to apply for permits or tear down existing structures to begin work, is not considered.

Do they keep a clean jobsite? Nothing is worse than a builder who does not clean up after themselves and leaves debris in their wake.

How does their fee structure work? It’s very common these days to work on a cost-plus contract. The homeowner is billed for the cost of material plus a 10 or 15% contracting fee. They will emphasize how much money you can save because it allows you to look for deals on material and have more say on the cost of goods. This may be true, but builders prefer it because it allows for any unknown costs which may crop up, and they definitely will.

What sort of deposit does he require and how does he want payment?

How do you handle changes along the way? Your builder should have a system for dealing with changes in construction, costs, design or options. Generally a change-work order is issued, outlining the materials and labour required for the change and what any extra cost will result.

What is your maximum liability for insurance? The contractor should be able to provide you with a copy of their insurance policy documents and a rundown of their liability responsibility on the jobsite. There should be enough to cover the cost of the home in the event of an accident.

May I have three recent references? Get them and call all of them – it will be time well spent. Ask them if their overall experience working with the contractor was a positive one and given the chance, would they hire him again.

Once you’ve narrowed it dow, request a written proposal for the job. This should be a thorough document that itemizes labour and material, if more information is required and most importantly, what costs are NOT included in the price. He should identify a cap on the final cost and advise you of your progress to avoid going over budget.

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