Tips for Choosing a General Contractor

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There are just so many things out there that require our attention that it makes it hard to focus on it all. We often just want to take the task at hand and pass it off to someone so that they can handle all of the small details, but we find this difficult because we want them to have the same passion for the job as we have ourselves.  We carry out this manor of delegation all of the time, when we take our car to mechanics, send our children to school, and hiring servicemen for our home appliances.  When it comes to selecting a contractor for our  building needs, it can be a little more difficult as the selection is wide, and it can be hard to find a match for your needs.

When it comes to building, whether it’s a new project or a renovation, people know that they need help, but it can be difficult finding a person appropriate to do the job.  That’s why it is good to start with a general contractor.  A general contractor is your overall project manager, they facilitate all of the big and small tasks, while they may not do all of the work themselves, they know the people to use when something needs to be done.  A contractor will work with you on your project from reviewing plans with the architect to hiring all of the sub-contractors (electricians, plumbers, HVAC, etc.).  Because a general contractor works with many different companies within the building industry, a quality contractor is a must for any renovation or new construction.

Unfortunately for consumers and contractors, television has done a good job of creating many contractors appear untrustworthy, cheap, and in some cases, incompetent.  We don’t need to get into the blaming people for this (Mike Holmes), instead we will acknowledge that there are better contractors than others, and you want the best one for your job.  So how do you go about getting them?

The best way to begin your contractor search, get names from people you know who have had work done in the past.  Word of mouth is still the number one way most businesses operate, and when it comes to building, you want people’s personal experiences with a business to get a reliable opinion.  If you don’t have friends, try the yellow pages to start.
Web1557Now you have to initiate contact.  This can be hard nowadays, calling someone you don’t know, vaguely explaining the work you think you want done, and hoping for an understanding response that isn’t filled with construction jargon.  Just be straight forward, tell them what you want to do, you’d like to talk about it with them, and maybe meet with them at your site so they can get a good visualization of the work to be done on your project.  Hint: a good contractor can visualize work from seemingly nothing.

During your visit with the contractor, for as many questions as they have about your project, it is not unreasonable for you to have questions about them.  Try to avoid appearing too inquisitive making you look untrustworthy or like a control freak.  The best contractor/client relationship is a mutual understanding of the project and a trust that you, the client, can hand over all responsibilities of the project.  Good contractors want to handle the entire project and have a good balance of decision-making, and when to approach you for more particular questions.  Remember that a good contractor wants your project, but aren’t going to waste their time if they sense a difficult client.

Some good questions to ask (not all at once) during your meeting are:

How many projects like mine have you done before?  This should be an easy answer, more is better and you can judge by the confidence in the description of their work.

Do you have insurance?  Do you have WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) insurance?  Insurance is a must.

Can you give me some contact of past clients that I can reference?  If they don’t give names right away, it’s probably because not many people ask.  Once you do get a name or two, call them and ask about the work and working with the contractor.

Will you give me a written estimate/quote?  They should.

What happens when costs exceed budget?  Contractor should consult with you on anything that will affect the original contract, and then make alterations to the contract together.

What happens to my budget if I make changes during the project?  Depends on the changes, could save you money, could cost you more.  Know that contractors don’t provide handouts.

Do we sign a contract before we begin the work?  Absolutely yes, this protects both contractor and client, keeps record of agreement that either can use if the relationship goes south.

How do you charge for the work?  In the contract should be a payment schedule, usually done with a down payment, and larger sums when reaching certain levels of completion.

When can you start?  And when do you expect to finish?  Most likely going to be awhile until the start if it’s a busy season like summer.  And the finish depends on the size of the project, but they shouldn’t be leaving your project mid-way through completion to start something else.

In your meeting you can ask these and many more questions, but as I stated earlier, the ideal relationship is built on trust and understanding.  Can the contractor provide you with the confidence that they know what you want, and can you trust them with your home?  This should be the underlying tone of the whole meeting.

It can be difficult passing off something so large to someone you hardly know, but like children, cars, and appliances, we have to place them in the hands of professionals from time to time.