General Contractors

Tips and tricks for finding the right one

Congratulations! You've committed yourself to a construction project. It might be a new house, a garage or a remodeling job. You've researched enough to know how much it is going to cost you, and you've either got the money or made the financial arrangements for a loan. You've even gotten as far as getting blueprints drawn up.

Now comes the hard part: You've got to pick a general contractor.

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Here are the top ten tips for choosing a general contractor:

  1. You need to get at least three different bids from contractors. The second bid is to gauge whether or not the first bid was in line, and the third bid is to keep the first two honest.
  2. Yellow pages are good, up to a point. Look for a local chapter of the National Association of Home Builders or the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for vetted, qualified and educated contractors.
  3. Try to find friends or family members who have had some construction done recently, and ask them if they were happy with the results. The best or worst advertising any general contractor can get is word of mouth. Your friends or family members will certainly tell you if there were problems on the job, and if so, don't even bother getting a bid from their contractor.
  4. If none of your friends or family members have had construction done, ask for references from the contractors you get bids from - and follow up on them. Call their previous clients and ask these important questions:
    1. Was the job done in the time frame promised?
    2. Was the job done as spelled out in the contract?
    3. Did problems arise, and how did the contractor resolve them if they did?
    4. Was the job site kept clean on a daily basis, and was the construction debris disposed of properly at the end of the job?
    5. Were there any cost overages? If so, by how much?
    6. If the client had it to do over again, would they hire the same contractor?
    7. Can you visit and see the contractor's work in person?

  5. Ask for professional references: Find out where the contractor purchases materials - lumber, plumbing, electrical, etc.; visit these vendors and inquire about the contractor's professional reputation. Ask the salespeople there if they would hire the contractor to do work for them - their answers will tell you volumes. Ask for a list of subcontractors and find out how they view the general contractor.
  6. Be sure the contractor is licensed (if required by state and local codes); this gives you certain rights of redress should problems occur.
  7. Be sure the contractor carries all of the appropriate insurances, such as Workman's Comp and General Liability. Workman's Comp protects the contractor's crew in case of injury. If there is no Workman's Comp and a worker falls off of a ladder on your property, there is a chance that your own insurance will take a hit and you could be liable for even more damages. Liability protects the contractor in case there is an accident other than to his workers - Say they drop a beam on your car, for example.
  8. DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING in regards to the contract. No matter what the contractor promises you, if it is not written in the contract, they are not bound to do it or provide it.
  9. DO NOT hire friends or family to do the job for you. Murphy's Law states that anything that can go wrong will, at the worst possible moment. The Kling family's correlation to Murphy's Law is that "When hiring friends or family for a big job like fixing a house or a car, you will lose the house or the car AND the friend."
  10. Remember to factor in a 20 percent "OOPS!" factor for the cost of materials and / or labor. Inevitably, something will go wrong, and you will need this extra money.

By Chris Kling

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