How To Hire A Contractor

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Written by: Gillian Lazanik, Houzz Contributor

Do your due diligence before hiring your contractor. Price should not be the only factor when making the final decision on who will build your dream home. Your home is where you spend most of your time, and you don’t want poor quality construction details staring you in the face, day after day. Make sure you take the proper steps before choosing a contractor.

1. Start with a detailed plan. This is the most important item before you even approach a contractor. Work with a professional designer or architect who can come up with a comprehensive plan to show your contractor so that he knows exactly what you have planned for your space. Walking your contractor through your space without a detailed plan in hand will allow the contractor to change his pricing as he goes, since the specifics were never discussed from the beginning.

Please bear in mind that permit drawings are not complete plans and contain limited information about the final design of your space. They provide information about the general layout and structure but have limited or no information pertaining to finishes, interior architecture, custom millwork, lighting and electrical features. This is the information that your contractor will need to give you accurate pricing before you start construction.

2. Provide a list of specifications ahead of time. When it comes to your finishes, fixtures, appliances and accessories, this is your bible. The price to renovate even a small bathroom can vary by tens of thousands of dollars depending on its fittings and finishes. If you can choose your plumbing fixtures, finishes and accessories ahead of time, you will save yourself and your contractor a lot of grief during the construction process by having the items on hand when he needs them and by knowing all the associated costs to install your specified items.

3. Price out your project. If you have been working with a designer or architect and you have a complete set of drawings and complete specifications, ask that professional to recommend a few builders to whom you can send your plans for pricing. Also, ask your friends whether they have a contractor they have been happy with and send them your construction package to bid on as well.

If you have the detailed set of plans and the specs that I mentioned previously, you will get “apples to apples” pricing from the contractors bidding on the job. And the contractors will have to stick to their provided pricing because they had all the information in their hands.

4. Ensure your contractor is insured. I’m sure you’ve all heard horror stories about what can happen on a construction site. Unfortunately, accidents are part of the norm in this industry. A contractor has to manage a significant crew to make your project come together, and it’s not an easy task. Think of your contractor as a composer bringing all the parts of an orchestra together to create a masterpiece. There are bound to be mishaps occasionally, so please make sure your contractor is set up to deal with them properly.

5. Check out your contractor’s work. Once you’ve bid out your project and have a contractor in mind, ask to see some of his previous jobs. Even though the contractor may be referred to you by a friend or your architect, it doesn’t hurt to get a look at his work. If you like what you see, and the owner of the other house is happy with how things turned out, there’s a good chance that you will be happy too.

6. Interview your contractor. You will have to get quite close to your general contractor over the period of your project. Make sure you pick someone you trust and can communicate with. During initial meetings, ask how unexpected issues or differences might be handled. This can include change orders that will be issued by you or your designer in writing.

7. Dealing with the extras. Keep in mind that your contractor may not have priced some items for your renovation, such as closet organizers and bathroom accessories. Ask your contractor how he deals with extras. Some contractors use extras as an opportunity to make as much money as possible during a renovation because you are already committed to them.

8. Ask about timelines. Ask your contractor how long he believes it will take to complete your job and then add an extra eight weeks to help manage your expectations. I’m not saying that contractors can’t finish on time, but there are so many unforeseen incidents that can happen on a construction site that the possibility of your job ending right on time is pretty slim.

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