At last, the momentous day has arrived. You and your designer have agreed on a plan for your project, the drawings are done, and you’re ready to start building. But wait – you still need to choose a contractor. Whom do you entrust with the all-important job of turning your dream into physical reality? Your designer can be really helpful in this regard if he or she knows the builders in your community. Otherwise, you may need to do the hiring yourself. So as you set about trying to choose among the many building professionals available, here are some notes to guide you.
- Project Timing
How long will it take? Do you have other jobs in progress at the same time as our job? A solid contractor will be able to give you a start and end date, weather permitting. Is the builder working on other projects, and will subcontractors finish parts of the work? Remember, someone with too many commitments may not give your project the attention it deserves.
- Experience & References
How many projects like this one have you done in the past? An experienced contractor will know exactly how to handle typical problems associated with the project, where to purchase the best, most cost effective materials, and knows local building codes and regulations. Ask for the names and numbers of at least three past clients and follow up with a phone call. Better yet, if the reference is open to it, visit the site and see the work for yourself.
While speaking to former clients you can ask these questions:
How closely did time and cost estimates reflect reality?
How organized was the builder in regard to planning, organizing the site, billing, keeping customers up to date, coordinating the workflow and scheduling the subtrades?
Did the contractor communicate easily and in a straightforward way?
How long was the response time to calls and questions?
Was the site kept in a clean and orderly fashion?
What were the workers like to be around? Were they respectful and considerate?
Was the home built as expected? Do you feel you got good value?
Did the job get finished in a timely way? (Often the last 5%-10% of the work can get dragged out for months)
So… who’s going to keep an eye on my project? It’s best to have someone coordinating the work and supervising the subcontractors while the work progresses, rather than making corrections upon completion — these will incur extra expenses if additional supplies are required to fix the blunder.
How will you go about getting all the necessary permits? You, the homeowner, should not have to get the permits; this is part of the contractor’s job. In some cities, a permit must be obtained by the individual doing the work, so if you get the permit under your name, not the contractor’s, there may be a conflict of interest or delays later on.
Have you worked with an architect or designer before? Are you willing to work with our ideas? A contractor who cooperates with you and your designer will ensure that the project moves along and that your architectural ideas are actually implemented without compromise. Disagreements on design, materials, etc. lead to project stagnation.
How will you protect my house, and the materials around it during construction? Have the contractor give you specifics — instead of accepting an “oh we’ll throw a tarp over it” response, look for something like “We’ll use reinforced sheeting supported on temporary framework….”. This project is your investment. The contractor should respect that and take appropriate measures to conserve materials.
- Change Orders
What happens if we change our minds about something? Details on paper may alter once they take shape in the physical world. A reliable builder uses written change orders to manage the process. This form outlines the initial changes and the cost to both homeowner and contractor. Steer clear of individuals who say, “We’ll see what happens”.
Do you carry liability and worker’s compensation insurance? If an employee is injured on-site, it is the contractor’s responsibility, not yours, to pay for any medical expenses. Be sure to ask for proof of insurance, and if still in doubt, check with the carrier to see if the policy is valid.
Do you guarantee your work will be up to standards? Check to see if the contractor is willing to take care of any problems associated with the project that may crop up in the following few months after completion. A builder who considers the project done after the final inspection may not be the right person for the job. (Note: In BC, all builders of new homes must provide a New Home Warranty to cover their work against defects and failure for up to 10 years after completing construction.)
What’s the best way to reach you? Can you reach the builder easily if you have problems with the project? Do you have to leave several messages, or do calls get answered in a reasonable amount of time? One easy way to solve this is to call after the first meeting to say thanks for the consult, and see whether the contractor picks up or lets voicemail do the work.
You may have additional questions, and that’s great. Never be afraid to ask, and make sure that all of your concerns are addressed, both before and during the build. Remember: it’s your money, and just as importantly, it’s your home, the place where the rest of your life is anchored, so do your homework and choose carefully. As Aristotle said, “Excellence is never an accident… choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” Happy building!