How to Hire a Contractor How to Hire a Contractor

Hiring a contractor can be a stressful experience. We have all heard the horror stories of contractors fleeing the jobsite after receiving a deposit or doing shoddy work. But are these pitfalls avoidable? How do you hire the right person for the job?

The first step in hiring a contractor is to treat it like an interview. You are more than just another “job.” In fact, you are their boss for the time they perform work. Treat your project as if it was your company – would you hire someone who failed to return calls or showed up late? What if their appearance was not professional? All of these factors should be included in the hiring process. Whether you are building a new home or replacing a fence, the contractor is working for you!

The first step is finding the contractor – which can be difficult. You can find contractor listings on the Internet, through trade organizations, bulletin boards, etc. While these are all viable ways to find them, the best contractors are found through word-of-mouth referrals. In this example, someone is recommending a contractor based on their favorable experience. And in the long run, that is your goal, to become another satisfied customer. Ask friends, family and co-workers if they can recommend contractors for your project.

When you find a contractor ask for references. Often times, homeowners search only for the lowest price. Granted, price plays a major role in any construction project. In some cases, the cheapest bid is not supplied by the best contractor. We can equate hiring a contractor to buying car. Sure, an older car will be cheaper to purchase initially – but how much will maintenance cost? Will it start the first time, every time? Compare that with a new car that is reliable and has a warranty, but costs more upfront. This is the challenge facing homeowners. Striking a balance between the two can ensure a successful building experience. Ask the contractor for three recent references. Call their past clients and ask to see their work. Ask important questions such as:

  • Was the contractor punctual?
  • Were any changes discussed with the owner prior to proceeding?
  • Was the jobsite clean and free of debris at the end of the day?
  • Was the job completed in the time allotted?
  • Were they on budget?

These questions will help determine if the contractor is worth hiring again. Remember, a bad contractor can cost you time and money.

If you are looking for a contractor to remodel or build a new home, ask for material supplier references. You can tell a lot about someone by how they pay their bills. If a contractor shops at a particular lumberyard, ask if you can contact his account manager for a reference. If he or she pays their bill on time, it tells you they are responsible and have a good credit standing with their suppliers. If their standing with the supplier is suspect, be weary!

Comparing bids is a crucial step in hiring the right contractor. It is advisable to receive at least three bids for any one phase of construction. This establishes market value for your project and will allow you analyze the bid. Make sure the bid includes the following:

  • Scope of work – a detailed list of what the contractor will perform
  • Timeline for completion
  • Payment schedule
  • Process for approving changes in construction

If the contractor is quoting labor and materials, request the bid be separated between the two. This will allow you to see if they are adding profit into the material price. It will also make it easier to compare multiple bids for the same work.

Selecting the right contractor for the job is the most important decision you can make. Take the necessary time to investigate the contractor, their referrals, past performance and standing with material suppliers. Be weary of contractors asking for large sums of money upfront. While a small deposit is acceptable for securing their work, large sums upfront are a warning sign. Remember, the decision you make now can positively or negatively affect your project’s success!

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