SELECTING A CONTRACTOR
How to select a contractor
HOW TO SELECT A CONTRACTOR
Find the contractor
Use one of these more reliable methods for finding a contractor and then select a few contractors to investigate further. If done properly, it can be time consuming to evaluate more than a few prospective contractors, so careful scrutiny is important.
1. Friends and Family - Word of Mouth - Ask your family, friends, or co-workers for a few names of contractors they have worked with who gave them a positive overall experience.
2. Trade Associations - Call your local home builder or remodelers associations for a list of members who are in good standing.
3. Chamber Of Commerce - Your local Chamber Of Commerce also has listings of their members who are in good standing.
4. Local professionals - Sometimes a local trade professional such as an architect or building inspector can recommend a contractor but use caution to be sure that there is no preferential relationship between them.
Less Reliable Sources
1. Advertisements such as yellow pages, TV, radio, print media An ad in the yellow pages or on TV etc. shows some sign of financial stability but does not necessarily speak for the quality of a contractor's work.
QUALIFY THE CONTACTOR
Now that you have selected a few contractors to pursue, the most time consuming yet most important task begins - to qualify the contractor.
1. Get Their Pricing
Consumers will often rely exclusively on price as a determining factor, either in hiring the lowest bidder or taking the middle bid (throwing out the high and the low bids). The problem with this reasoning is that price is only one small part of the entire picture that you should be scrutinizing when selecting a contractor.
2. Get References and Call
Ask the contractor for comparable references and call them. Ask if they were satisfied with the contractor’s work and if they were easy to work with. Ask straightforward questions to draw out answers that will paint a total picture of the contractor. Get references which are current and will demonstrate consistency from one job to another.
3. Look at Work
Although this can be very time consuming, whenever possible schedule an appointment to look at recent work completed by the contractor. If this is not feasible, perhaps the contacted reference could mail or email some photos to you. Before and after shots could be helpful if an onsite visit is not possible.
4. Verify Their Credentials
Ask the contractor for the appropriate license needed for your town and get a copy of their insurance and bonding if required. Take the time to verify the validity of these documents because unfortunately, although they have paperwork the coverage may have lapsed or worse (insurance scam). You should also verify how long the company has been in business.
5. Verify Their Stability – Years in Business, Financial Stability
Although this may be difficult to attain, make a concerted effort to learn if you are dealing with a financially solvent business. Sometimes a contractor will walk off a job because they are losing money on it, usually due to their own poor estimating skills or inadequate insurance to cover damage on a job. The problem may not even be from your project, but the company is losing money and must close their doors because they do not have the stability to absorb any losses. This can happen to even the most talented tradesmen because the skill level is only a part of running a successful business. Business acumen is also an important component. What good is a warranty if the contractor is not there to back it up in the future?
6. Check for Complaints
Check the contractor against governing bodies that monitor the industry such as the BBB, consumer affairs, and attorney general. Check for liens, violations, or arrests, etc. Do they have any legal action against them? Do they have any judgments against them?
This is one of the factors that the Better Business Bureau looks at when rating a business. Does the company have a physical address or just a P.O. Box? Is it a foreign corporation which may used to limit their liability? Does the phone ring at their address or to a remote answering service? Do they have bank accounts in good standing? Do they have standing relationships with suppliers under their business name?? Are they willing to disclose all this information to you? You should not deal with a company that is hiding behind a veil and is not willing to provide full disclosure.
8. Check Their Experience
How long have they been in business? More specifically, you should check their experience with jobs similar to the project that you are looking to undertake. Do they use their own forces or do they use subs and more importantly, how long have the tradesmen worked for the company? The company may be in business a long time but only recently started to engage in more significant work and you don’t want to become their guinea pig.
9. Review the Contract
Review the contract for:
A. Detailed specifications – Does it contain enough detailed descriptions to ensure that everything is to be done or is it limited in scope of work, which leaves room for unjustified change orders?
B. Terms and Conditions – Are the terms provided to protect you as well as the contractor? Do you know the proper terminology to use in the contract that will protect you? Do the terms provide for warrantees, lien waivers, start and completion dates, a rescission clause, a stop work clause, etc. You should learn about the clauses that are there to protect you and be sure to have them included within your contract and disqualify any contractor who refuses.
C. Payment schedule – Is the payment schedule set up so that you and the contractor feel protected? More payments spread throughout the project is a safer approach to a payment schedule. Do they have an escrow account (required by NYS Law) to place payments for work not yet completed?
D. Material Description – The contract should specify clearly the exact type of material that is to be used and what items the owner is responsible for purchasing separately.
E. Determine Responsibilities – Who is responsible for getting the permits, removing the debris, daily clean-up, or obtaining the final approvals and certificates? Be sure to get all your questions answered before preparing to make your final decision.
MAKING THE FINAL SELECTION
Usually, once a contractor meets all the above criteria it quickly narrows the field of acceptable candidates. This is the time to compare the prices of the qualified companies. Now you are looking at value and not just price. With your final selection you should certainly try to select a contractor you really like, one you feel you can trust and with whom you’ll be comfortable communicating. You should be able to ask any questions, no matter how trivial you might think they are, and get answers you understand.
Oftentimes the contractor that you would really like to use is more expensive than the others. If you can afford to use them then it is the most sensible choice. If it is outside your budget constraints, then maybe the scope of work can be modified to fit within your budget and sometimes, if asked, the contractor might make price adjustments to make his services more affordable.
Regardless of price, it is so important to get that proper fit. Low prices can be very seductive, especially when the budget is tight. Trust your instinct. If something just doesn’t feel right, then this might not be the correct person for the job. Whoever you choose will be spending a lot of time in your home, and possibly around your family, so finding a contractor you can trust will affect more than just your financial "bottom line."