Tips for Hiring Quality Contractors
Avoid Being on Dateline
Have you seen the prime time documentaries where the contractor takes advantage of the homeowner? Whether you're hiring a company to install the wiring in your new home or you are looking for a roofer to replace your old shingles, locating good companies can be a challenge. You want the work to be of the highest quality, on time, and per your budget. Here we will share with you some professional builder tips for hiring the best while avoiding the worst.
Finding Good Quality Companies
The first step in hiring the best is locating a pool of good companies to choose from. As always, you want to bid your project out to a minimum of three contractors in order to get the best price. So how do you find good quality candidates for the work you need to have done?
- Friends - Your friends and family can be a great place to start. Ask if they have had any good experiences for the work you are looking to have done.
- Building Departments - Building inspectors work with local trade companies on a daily basis. Plumbers, electricians, HVAC contractors...etc. are constantly calling your local building department to have their work inspected. So your local inspectors should be able to tell you who does quality work.
- Local Suppliers - If you are looking for a rough carpenter to frame your new home, a good place to start is with your local lumber company. They supply lumber to carpenters so they know who is easiest to work with.
- Home Builders - Have you ever driven through a new housing development? There are trucks parked all over the place with logos and phone numbers painted on them. This can be a great place to look for affordable, dependable contractors. You may also want to ask the local superintendent or project manager their thoughts.
- Angie's List - I personally have never tried this but it may be an option. Because the contractors don't pay to be on the list, there is less possibility for bias.
What are your experiences with Angie's List?
Bidding Out Work
As mentioned above, you always want to get a minimum of three bids for the work. This helps keep people honest. I have seen bids more than 50% apart for the same exact work. So what's the best way to bid out your project?
- Put a Scope of Work and Specification together. Every owner builder needs a detailed scope of work and specification for each building activity. This should include how you want the work to be done. Do you want a back hoe digging the trench through your yard or do you want it done by hand? You also need to define the work. Meaning, what do you want it to look like when done? If you are installing a concrete patio, how big is it and how thick? What kind of finish do you want? Do you want stone underneath? How about rebar? You also want to include in your Scopes of Work and Specifications the product specifications. For the patio example, what type of concrete do you want the contractor to use?
- Bid Sheet - Another term for this is bid form. This tells the company how you want their bid to come back. Professional builders have companies submitting bids for work break down the price as far as possible. This makes comparison from contractor to contractor easier. It's also a good idea to have them break down the price into a unit price (i.e. dollars per lineal foot or square foot...etc.) and quantity of work (i.e. the number of square feet of concrete to install). This bid sheet forces the company submitting the bid to break everything down so you can easily compare companies.
- Plan - If your project is complicated, be sure to include a detailed plan. This would be for a finished basement, garage, new home, home addition...etc. Make sure your plan is 100% complete before sending out to bid. Otherwise, change orders can cost you big money later after you've already chosen on a contractor.
- Within your bid package, ask potential companies to include all relevant information such as...insurance (company and agent's name, coverage), address, license number, contacts of their last three customers (not the best, the last three).
Don't be fooled into thinking price is everything. People who hire companies to do work on their homes without looking at the complete package will get into trouble more times than not. Making a hiring decision based on price alone is a horrible idea. You always want to consider...
- years in business
- references (again, check with the past three customers...not the best three)
- past quality of work (make sure their quality is on par with your expectations)
- time to complete work once started (time is money when building a home)
- start time (you may not want to hire a company that is booked for twelve months)
- warranty (how long is it covered and do you include labor and materials?)
- 24 hour service hotline? (ever had a furnace go out in the winter at night?)
Notice we didn't mention price? We know you've got this one covered.
The last step in hiring companies to work on your home is the contract. You may want to have your attorney review any contracts supplied by the company doing work for you. Why? Because they will be slanted in their favor. As a builder, I never signed these contracts. Instead we used a contract that fit our needs.
A few of the major things you should have in your contract are listed below. Be sure to have an attorney review yours...
- payment terms
- scope of work and specifications
- dispute resolution (what happens if they don't show or if the quality is bad?)
- schedule (when must the work be completed by)
- insurance requirements
- location of work to be performed
- company info including license, address, email, owner, insurance company...etc.
Whether you need a hot water heater replaced or you are in need of subcontractors to help you build your own home, due diligence is required before hiring. Don't become one of the horror stories we've all heard about where the contractor takes advantage of the poor, uneducated homeowner.