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Looking for General Contractors in your area? Learn what to take into consideration before you hire a contractor, so you never overpay or get scammed.
You need a new improvement or repair job done at your house. It may be a new sauna to be installed, a bathroom to be remodeled, a kitchen to be upgraded, a basement staircase to be built, the roof to be repaired, a solar installation, or electrical repairs. You weigh the task for scale, complexity, difficulty, DIY vs. professional, and so forth. Whatever project it is, there will be significant cost implications on materials, labor, insurance, and permits. As the home owner your main concern is the dent a project will cause in your pocket. Major projects cost tens of thousands of dollars to do, and even minor projects like installing the entryway security lights will still cost several hundred dollars. Unless you are going to DIY, a significant portion of the cost, sometimes as much as 50 percent, will go to labor, therefore you have to choose from among the handyman, specialist, and general contractor.
Before calling the local contractor, you need to do a monthly and biannual checklist of your home. Each month you should check the location, if any is missing, and charge in the fire extinguisher. Check the smoke detector’s batteries and functioning. Inspect the drains, vanities, sinks, garbage disposal, and faucets. Check the HVAC’s steam system, air filters, forced warm air heating, heat pump, and air conditioner to ensure free flow of air. Make a biannual inspection of the foundation, crawl space, and basement for moisture leak. Also check the toilets, caulking and grout, exhaust fan, all wet areas, water heater, wiring, refrigerator, electrical system, and paint work. Consider hiring a home inspector to do the biannual check. Many GCs double as home inspectors and would give you a comprehensive checklist.
If you decide to outsource the labor, then you can hire one of handyman, specialist contractor, or a general contractor, depending on the scale, complexity, nature of work, and expertise required for the project. Generally, a handyman will do simple or routine tasks that would not normally require the approval of the local authority’s building department. They come cheap by comparison to the specialist and general contractor. A specialist contractor or home improvement pro will carry out a specific job, such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical installation or repair, landscaping, masonry, and so forth.
However, most projects span several specialty skills, for example, a kitchen remodeling involves a carpenter, an electrician, a tiler, a painter, and perhaps an interior designer. Even a seemingly singular task like staircase installation or entryway door installation will involve at least a carpenter and an electrician. You would need a contract with each of them and still figure out how to coordinate their activities. For a big project, you need to hire a residential general contractor.
When you hire a contractor you need to weigh the scale and complexity of task and decide whether it is best handled by a handyman or a specialist. The table below outlines some of the projects that can be handled best by a handyman or a specialist. A handyman will fix the easy, simple, urgent, and low budget repair tasks, mostly using hand tools instead of machines. Do a proper inquiry before hiring him, check that they are properly insured, and have them sign a contract. Many states require that a handyman be licensed for jobs worth more than $500.
|Faucet and disposal||Handyman|
|Piping, drain, relocating||Specialist|
|Install ceiling fan||Handyman|
|Replace bulbs and fixtures||Handyman|
|Wiring, Circuit breaker Panel||Specialist|
|Crown and mold installation||Handyman|
|Door, Window, Staircase installation||Specialist|
|Lawn mowing, gardening||Handyman|
|Spa and pool cleaning||Specialist|
The average project takes weeks or months for an individual to accomplish, for example, a kitchen remodel can take between four and seven week to complete. If you want to take less time then you should get a general contractor to do the job in as little time as you require. The general contractor can put forth enough labor to accomplish the task faster.
Most projects require different experts on the job. For example, a basement upgrade will require the skills of an interior designer or architect, carpenter, mason, excavation expert, plumber, HVAC engineer, flooring pro, carpet layer, tiler, electrician, and several handymen. And that is quite a crowd of people in a confined space and who need a coordinator! As a lay person in matters remodeling, you would have a hard time finding the right people for these tasks, and obtaining a good deal – read price. You would have to conduct quite a few searches and interviews – and you are not even sure how to gauge the best person for the job, other than relying on references. The specialty contractors would need someone to coordinate their activities, make schedules, control the budget, harmonize the overall design, and fetch supplies and materials.
The whole project must comply with the building guidelines and code, which you are unfamiliar with. This is where the residential general or residential home improvement contractor comes in. After appraising your project they will give you estimates and a budget, and a work schedule, and you can sit back, relax, and watch the project take shape. The general contractor, or simply GC, is an individual or company that organizes the entire project, plans the schedule, oversees all aspects of the project, hires from his pool of tested pro workers and subcontractors, and is your contact person. He ensures the project complies with the building code, you get the relevant permits and certificates, and the finished project is approved by both the building authority and the insurance company. He plans and organizes for materials, transport, disposal of debris, and clean up after work. When not on site, he appoints a works manager for the duration of the project. The general contractor is a certified professional who is licensed by the local authorities and is experienced in projects like yours. HomeAdvisor.com advises that if a project is scheduled to last more than a week or more than 40 man-hours of labor, or requires several specialists, then consider hiring a GC.
The residential general contractor does not come cheap. As a general rule, they charge between 15 percent and 25 percent over and above the total of materials, labor, permits, and services. You therefore should evaluate your needs and if you only need a couple of specialists, then hire then directly, for example, while you can use a GC for major roof repair, you can hire a pro to repair the gutter or drain. A carpenter and electrician can build a staircase, a painter can repaint the house, and a few handymen can do the landscape, without the need for a GC to coordinate them. Moreover, many specialists work in “partnerships” on similar projects, much like the GC, but without the title.
Hiring a pro often makes more sense than DIY. A big job is better accomplished by a contractor while a small project is better handled by a handyman or a small contractor. A good contractor is the key to a successful project. Use the following criteria to make an informed choice of contractor from your list.
You are the boss and financial of your project and you have the final say. Use this authority and your instincts to ask the hard questions at the earliest opportunity so you that you get the right contractor. Ask about their work, legitimacy, skill, accountability, insurance, how they respond to change in the plan or scope of work, delivery, past projects and references, and warranty. The contract will be around your home for a stretch of time, therefore, it must be a trustworthy person you can relate and work with comfortably.
A valid membership to a professional body such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or NARI gives you confidence that the person has been rigorously vetted and found fit by a reputable body. NARI does a thorough background check on the member’s professionalism, character, and financial stability. A state license allows the contractor to operate legally and openly as a skilled and credible professional. The insurance cover protects you from liability in case of an accident at the project site and compensates you for poor workmanship. The bond ensures you can recoup your losses in the event that the contractor does not finish the job on time or to the required standards.
Find the contractor who specializes in the kind of project you have, for example constructing swimming pools. This ensures that you get the job done to strict code. Get bidders to quote for a similar set of materials and inputs, so you can make a more informed choice (National Association of Home Builders).
A picture is worth a 1000 words, therefore you should trust the pictorial portfolio to give you a better variety and feel of the contractor’s work. However you need to confirm that it was that contractor’s job and not an impersonation by calling the customer or visiting them and discussing their projects. Most customers will give you an honest opinion.
The area contractors are easier to reach and relate with. You might argue that if they were shoddy and untrustworthy they would have already been forced out of the community. There is a sense of neighborliness when you work with local people.
Draw up a detailed contract and be sure to agree on each and every point on the contract. It should deal with costs, choice of materials, timeline, the start and finish dates, plan drawings, liability clauses, performance clauses, and all the nitty-gritty details of the job.
The contractor should give you the names of all the persons on the team and identify for you the contact person, site manager, or team leader, if different from the contractor. If the job is given to a subcontractor, then you should know who the manager is. Having a subcontractor is good because they are expert in a specific field and the contractor is unlikely to hire a subcontractor who will spoil his reputation.
The contractor must give a good impression in the first meeting by being presentably dressed, having a clean car, using polite but professional language to communicate, and sounding knowledgeable on the subject. T-shirts, jeans, and casual shoes the impression of a disorganized person with a don’t-care attitude. He must promptly answer any questions surrounding their bids, contracts, and intended work schedule. He must be forthcoming with helpful suggestions for your project and be a good listener who asks for clarification. But, trust nobody, put everything on paper and sign it into contract.
State the boundaries of your home, for example the rooms they are allowed into and those that out of bounds, where they can store their equipment and materials, hour outside of which they should not work, and so on. You need to ensure the project site is cleared of any obstruction or item that may be damaged by ongoing work. You may have to demolish the external fence in order to allow a truck to deliver heavy equipment, concrete, stones, sauna, and so forth. Children and pets have to be restrained from roaming into the work area. The terms of responsibility have to be incorporated in the contract.
If the contractor were to fail to pay the workers, subcontractors, and suppliers, they could place a lien on your property until you settle the bill, even if you have fully paid the contractor, and woo unto you if the contractor happens to be unregistered.
Take measurements of the project, including dimension of fixtures and structures, and the surface area or volume. You need a list of all required specifications or attributes of the completed project, for example, the finishing, fixtures, décor, sturdiness and durability of the structure, and so forth. The cost will depend on whether the project is a retrofit, remodel, or repair. A retrofit will be the most expensive because you will need to create a new space out of the existing footprint by redesigning the floor, and moving a wall or two in order to install the new project. A remodel will be moderately expensive because you will replace all or some existing model fixtures and add new ones as well. A GC will tell you that this kind of project is more skill and labor demanding than other either retrofit or new construction. A repair job is the least expensive as it simple involved fixing or replacing malfunctioned fixtures. It is easier to estimate the cost of materials because you can see and quantify them, and confirm their cost with a supplier, and labor is charged by the hour.
As much as you may be lost in the numbers when estimating the project costs, it is prudent for you to have a good clue of project costing. Start by physically measuring the site, basically the widths, lengths, depths or heights, areas, and volumes of fixtures. Fixtures include the project room or space, floor, walls, windows, doors, ceiling, and fixed furniture or fixtures. If the surfaces have different textures, then break down the areas by texture. Use online apps to help you do the calculations. Armed with the measurements you can work out the quantities and costs of concrete, paint, tiling, carpeting, fixtures like cabinets, rails, and furniture, and length of wiring, and other materials needed for the project.
The online paint calculator uses the width, length, and height of the room, and calculates the area of the wall and ceiling and the quantity of paint needed, based on 400 square feet per gallon. You can then go online to compare prices of paint from different manufacturers and different stores. The drywall calculator works like the paint calculator but in addition it excludes the areas of the doors and windows. The concrete calculator calculates the amount of concrete needed based on the surface width, length, and depth. The lumber and laminate calculators use the dimensions of the floor or wall to be covered and the unit cost of timber or laminate to calculate the quantity and cost of material. Note that lumber measurements are ½” smaller than stated. The area of the roof can be tricky to calculate but you can simplify it by taking the planar area and increase it by a factor of 5 percent for every 10 degrees pitch.
You and the contractor should collaborate in coming up with an accurate estimate of the project cost. As an expert in the field, the contractor will help you correct such anomalies as budget overestimates and underestimates. He will advise you to either increase your budget for the desired outcome, downscale the project to fit the budget, or use cheaper alternative materials to fit the budget. Budgets rarely remain static because of changes in the cost of materials, new issues coming up, plan changes, weather-related interruptions, worker abandonment, and so forth.
Find the materials that give you the desired results, quantify them, and get their prices online and from local stores. Establish the skill, effort, and equipment required to install the materials and use it to estimate the cost of labor associated with it. An easier method is to charge by man-hours after finding out the average time it takes to complete a project like yours (TempestCompany.com). Estimate the cost of equipment by charging the cost of hiring each equipment or machine. You should expect an honest GC to charge much less for equipment since they already own it. Allow for miscellaneous costs like transport, consumables, fasteners, power, security, cleanup of debris, and acquisition of permits and approvals. Allow for a further 10 percent wastage, damage, and undervaluing. Finally, markup the total cost by between 15 and 25 percent to cater for the GC costs.
The reasonable GC charges between 10 and 15 percent for profit and between 5 and 15 percent for overheads and contingencies outside the estimates (MarkupAndProfit.com). Do not underestimate any of the costs, and if need be, adjust either your budget or the scope of the project instead. If all this task seems daunting to you, then you can hire an estimator to do it for a fee of around $200 to $1,000. The contractor can also do the estimates since he is involved in the project.
Include a cost overrun clause in the contract that will ensure the GC abides by the budget and informs you when there are extra and unforeseen costs. Prices and quantities of material needed can increase, a task may prove extra challenging to accomplish, for example to control moisture in a basement, so the contractor may ask to negotiate extra payment. Do not be too rigid with the budget otherwise you will force the GC to do a shoddy job or abandon the project. He can result to cutting corners like using inferior materials, omitting some processes, or hiring unskilled workers. However, do not accept to pay extra money that you had not approved or after the contract is completed.
It is reasonable to pay a small down payment of between 10 and 25 percent of the labor cost upfront, which is treated as a commitment fee to book your spot on the contractor’s schedule and to enable the contractor to engage subcontractors. However you need to provide funding for the materials at the start of each milestone in the project. In California the down payment is limited to the lesser of $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract fee. In New York the contractor is has to deport some of the fee in an escrow account. In North Dakota the GC is obliged to complete the project within 90 days. By law, you can revoke a contract within three days of signing it.
To the contractor, you are a new lead and they are keen to seal a deal with you. When you communicate back, the general contractor will ask you a number of lead questions.
You will state unequivocally the structure you want built, where it is a remodel, retrofit, or new construction. Tell them the purpose and the reason you want the project, the timeline, and state your expectations of the outcome. Remember, though, that the GC will be mentally peeking at your decisiveness, type of personality, willingness to proceed with discussions, and the potential issues that may arise. If the contractor is not in that area of expertise or they have difficulty fitting you in their lineup, then consider moving on to the next contractor. Do not allow them to coerce you into entering a contract with you.
You will inform the contractor about the budget you have in mind so that they will be able to give a professional opinion, advise you on either downscaling your project, increasing your budget, or adopting an alternative design that matches the budget. They will likely warn about possible cost overrun that inevitably do occur. The contractor may be able to direct you to a financial backer to help you meet the budget.
You will inform the contractor your project completion date so that they can work out the starting date for the project. You also need to be flexible as the contractor may be engaged in the time frame you have proposed, but if that will not work for you then move on to the next contractor.
You should do your research well before contacting the contractors, otherwise you will be burdening them with planning, designing, and organizing – for which they will likely charge you, inflate the costs, or pass the project altogether. It also gives a clue on the expectation of the budget for the project.
The worst fear of a homeowner in home improvement is to choose the wrong general contractor. With these worries come the fear of shoddy workmanship, overpricing, length of time to complete the project, invasion of the home by strangers, and so forth.
Angieslist.com advices that you should get at least three bids so that you can compare them for costs, skill, and interaction. Check out both large and small GC companies. If researching from the internet, pick random names from the webpage and check them out. Call several suppliers to confirm the price of various materials with those you are given by the contractor. The contractor markup should be reasonable, that is, less than 10 percent markup. Get the contractor to stick by schedule so that the project ends on time.
In the current climate of shortage of competent and reliable contractors it is not easy to secure even one contractor bid. Bids should at least state if the contractor or a subcontractor will carry out the job, propose a schedule, give a quote for individual materials and labor, state the payment terms, and give proof of registration, credibility, and competence to do the job. Do not base your selection on price alone, but look at the skill and performance as well. A writer on Angieslist.com from First Choice Carpentry Contractors notes that when you go to a trusted contractor (according to reviews you read), you expect to be charged at a higher premium in return for an excellent service, which in the long run will have cost you less.
A contractor will do a simple and straightforward estimate such as fencing cost for free. You will be charged for a comprehensive or time-consuming estimate such as roof repair or diagnosing the cause of moisture lick in the basement. Typically, an estimator for a comprehensive home improvement project charges between $200 and $1,000 or at $100 per hour. An estimate should include all aspects of the project, that is, costs of materials, services, labor, cleanup, inspection, and securing documents.
You do not have to conceal your budget from the contractor. Contractors are not necessarily greedy people out to squeeze every penny out of your pocket. As a lay-person in the field, you may have an unrealistic budget. When you are upfront with the contractor, they will be able to help you come up with one that is realistic. You cannot get a $20,000 value project for the price of $10,000! Being frank will reduce the likelihood of conflict or disagreement with a contractor and save you both time from fixtures and features you can’t afford. The GC will advise you to upscale your budget, downsize your project, or find cheaper inputs to match the budget. However if you got your estimates from an expert, such as an estimator, designer, or an architect, you need not share the budget with the contractor.
There are many contractors to choose from, whether local or from another state. Inform all your bidders of your decision at the earliest possible time. Do not base your choice of contractor solely on cost because a good contractor works with good people, and these come at a cost.
Each of the contractors has their strong points and different prices. You should not base your decision solely on pricing, considering that the price differences are not usually so big. Explore the sum of all criteria, picking out the considerations that are most important to you. The criteria are up to you. The lowest bidder may have the worst reputation or skill, the highest bidder may have a very professional service and quality of work. Chances are that many bidders will fit in between the price and the job satisfaction.
Check if the GC has given a clear outline of their work and how they intend to give you excellent service. Note the guarantee on their work and be on the lookout for contractors who give a warranty that exceeds that of the materials used. Compare the warranty with that which the state has mandated, and if possible, have the GC walk you through their warranty. Take seriously the testimonials that the contractor has given to you. Make a point to contact a few of them, especially those who had a similar project to yours. Consult friends and neighbors and you might get a good recommended contractor. Read the online reviews both on the GC’s website and independent blogs or opinions.
Scrutinize the breakdown of their logistics. They should give you their schedule or time table for work, the workers involved, and security arrangements. They should also explain to you how they intend to transport and store the equipment and materials, and if they will need your garage or other space for storage. A general contractor who is open with information about their company is likely to be a skilled, experienced, and confident contractor.
When rejecting a shortlisted candidate, keep your letter short, firm, and direct. Appreciate their time and effort to bid, before informing them that they were unsuccessful. If you feel the need or they ask, explain briefly how you arrived at your final choice and why they did not meet your criteria on the price, experience, personality, references, commitment, timeline, or options. Point out their competitive edge and where they failed. It is much easier to explain if they had given an item-by-item breakdown that includes their markup (HMDhome.com). You may need the rejected contractor in future, so keep your communication open and professional.
You must agree on every point and clause of the contract, otherwise do not append your signature. Read all the terms carefully to make sure all important issues are covered. If a contractor is unwilling to change a clause you feel strongly about, especially regarding money, then call off the deal. In home improvement projects, 70 percent want all payment before completion date, 45 percent have no termination clause, and 24 percent do not even have a contract. A good contract must contain the following information;
Describe the job to be done, including payment, down payment, and a payment schedule. The general contractor provides the labor, expertise, materials, and tools. The timeline or milestones should be set and used to make further down payments. The contractor must secure the requisite permits and certificates of inspection. Lay down specific penalties for delays, which can be in form of deduction or delayed payment. Outline the work order and change order procedures that affect the schedule, project plan, or budget. Get an itemized and detailed list of materials and the cost. Specify your brands, colors, warranty, and any other attributes of the materials.
At intervals, review the contract point by point to see if it has been violated. Through discussion and an accompanying letter, state any concerns with the contractor and get them to make amends in accordance with the contract. Report any suspected fraud, unethical, or illegal behavior to relevant bodies. If a job seams shoddy, take photographic evidence and present it to the authorities.
These are the hidden issues that show up at some point in the projects. You have to determine how they will be handled, especially if they involve money.
You should pay no more than 25 percent of the total cost upfront. The contract should state the total amount to be paid, and when each part payment should be made. Link payment to completed work milestones. The final payment should only be made when you are satisfied that the job has been accomplished successfully and passed the inspection by the building code.
Disputes often arise in a large project, which calls for some form of resolution. You have to state at the outset how you will go about resolving any contract related dispute. The arbitrator is a less expensive option than the courts, but you will likely be waiving your right to a court hearing.
The contractor and a bunch of people accompanying him will pitch tent in your home and private space for quite some time. You will need to provide them with restroom facilities, soap, toilet paper, and towels, or allow them to bring along their portable toilets along, and you . Remove personal items from the restroom and provide enough toilet paper, soap, and towels. Ensure that the pets are not going to get in the way of the workers, and if necessary send them on “holiday” to a friend’s, a relative’s, or a safe house. Provide adequate cleaning facilities such as disposable wipes or cloths, a garden hose pipe, access to water, and so forth. Though not obligatory, it is a good gesture to provide the workers some refreshments. A few snacks can transform your project into a wonder to behold.
In order to get value for your money you have to be bold and ask the hard questions. Remember you are allowing a “stranger” to work in your house over an extended and often unsupervised period of time. A few so-called GCs could turn out to be petty crooks who can’t help pinching an item or two from your house, or causing more damage in order to force you to add money to the repair or remodel project. For you to feel comfortable get satisfactory answers to questions about their business, practices, credentials, expertise, and legality. By asking questions you show the contractor that you are prepared, focused and ready to embark on the project. The GC is quick to note when you are clueless or confused and is likely to take advantage of you, as noted by Craig Gouker Roofing (craiggoukerroofing.com). Here is a list of questions to help you catch the fraudster.
Ideally they should have done projects similar to yours. An experienced contractor has seen it all and learnt a lot that is not in the text book. They have developed their own systems, functions, and controls that ensure they do a professional job on time, on budget, and at the highest quality standards. Through repetition, they have a good handle on the expected budget of any home improvement job. They also know a few tricks and loopholes to get permits and certificates quickly, have a job done quickly or more efficiently, and so forth. You should do your own background check to ascertain their claim to experience. Note that a GC may have had prior experience as an employee of a GC company. If the GC works with subcontractors then they too must be properly qualified.
All legitimate contractors are licensed. The local government building authority licenses the contractor to run a business, while the building association licenses a professional contractor to operate in the construction industry. The issuing authority vets to ensure they are a legitimate business in the contraction industry. The license will also reveal their specific line of expertise, so that you do not hire an electrician to fix the plumbing as well. Check that the license covers the specific type of work you are about to contract out. Angieslist.com advices that you visit the state website for a list of licensed contractors in your state.
Having a license simply legitimizes the GC’s operations and not validates their prowess in the field. An affiliation to relevant professional bodies is proof that the GC is skilled and competent. Membership to these bodies is based on rigorous vetting and examination of persons who have already been trained, in order to validate the GC’s expertise. The bodies are also a recourse in case of a dispute or unsatisfactory service.
You need to know if the GC has a valid liabilities and workman’s compensation insurance, which would insulate you from liability and responsibility for accidents occurring at your premises. You can also expect compensation if he does a shoddy work or causes damage. Are the workers and subcontractors properly covered by the liability and worker’s compensation insurance?
Ask if you can use those projects as the references, or better still if they can arrange for you to visit one or two of them to assess the workers enthusiasm, skill, coordination, and general approach to work.
Be sure that the GC is going to be available to carry out your job as per schedule. It is important to establish the work days, hours or times, and days on which you should be present to be appraised of the progress. Knowing their work schedule helps you to plan own activities, supervise the ongoing work, and communicate with the GC. Establish when you will be needed at home if at all.
Before the project takes off, you need to know if there are preparatory activities you need to carry out, such as moving items out of the work area, disconnecting power and water, and so on. You also need to establish if the house environment will be noisy so that you can plan your activities during the work hours. You need to inform the GC about the conditions of the locality, such as designated neighborhood parking, the rooms you need to be kept private, where to tap power from, the restroom to use, presence of other people or pets at home, and such other information that you may deem necessary. If a requirement is serious, for example a designated public parking, you have to put it down in writing in the contract document.
Through time-tested practice the GC knows approximately how long it takes to do a particular task, and can therefore work by timelines or milestones. They draw up a detailed schedule of what is needed in terms of materials, skills, finances, and other resources at each stage of the project.
Will the contractor take personal oversight of the project? If he will not, he should tell you who will be the site manager/supervisor, and who you should communicate with, if not the site manager. Even then, the GC should be available on occasions to appraise himself of the progress and to discuss the way forward with you and the manager/supervisor. The manager should be on site full time. Many contractors have several parallel projects and different teams of workers or subcontractors who can shift from one site to another. This is likely to cause some delay. It is even worse if a different worker turns up each day for the same task as this would not yield the desired results. You need to be sure that the same team works on your project. You will be more at ease knowing that the people working with the contractors are not just unskilled people working under supervision. Your project is not a training ground. In demanding a full-time and dedicated team, you assume the responsibility of paying their day’s wage if you stop suspend your work for a day or two, otherwise you should have an agreement about stoppage.
For jobs that require documents, you will want the contractor to pursue the issue since they are more familiar with the process and are in touch with the relevant authorities. A novice contractor may have as much difficulty as the homeowner in obtaining the said documents. Note however that many contractors will charge a fee for the favor, especially if your project is a small one, since obtaining the documents involves working time and transport costs.
You need to set a tentative date of completion and a commitment to compensate if the schedule is unreasonably surpassed. The GC should explain if they have other commitments, such as an ongoing project, that may compel them to set a later completion date. They may also be working on other bids that may go through and therefore compel them to spread their workforce thinner.
According to the Better Business Bureau, you should never pay the full contract price upfront. Some states stipulate that the deposit or down payment should not exceed a certain percentage of the total value. You must discuss the payment schedule before the start of the project.
Costs are not cast in stone, so to speak, and they vary according to circumstances and project variations. Experienced contractors are able to give accurate estimates of the costs using apps and online resources, but inevitably issues may arise to cause a variation on the estimates. Estimates are just that – estimates! Unforeseen problems may arise on the site, for example a broken pipe that was not in the original estimates, cost of supplies may increase, you may have overlooked the cost of transport and electricity, or materials may be accidentally damaged. However, some contractors have a tendency to bloat their costs, not exercise due diligence when looking for a fair priced store, or overemploy workers on a milestone. Houselogic.com advises that in the event of cost overruns, you need to know who will bear the cost. The contractor should justify the cost increase and you must first approve it. Do not accept cost overruns that have already been incurred before your approval. The cost should be specific to the milestone.
Sometimes it is tricky to apportion costs, for example, if materials are unavailable yet workers are on standby and idle, should they be paid by you or the contractor? If some problem arises outside of the project due to the project activities who should be responsible for the cost of rectification. For example who bears the cost of shingles that may be damaged during the installation of the solar panels on the roof?
You need a direct channel of communication especially with the GC and project manager. All of you must be easily reached, especially to resolve urgent matters. Most people prefer the telephone mode of contact, but also a backup plan such as email and text. You also need to know the best time to make such contact and how soon to expect a response. You certainly need a place for face to face contact, such as the project site, the contractor’s office, your office, or any other agreed upon location.
Disputes are inevitable and are not necessarily a sign of ineptitude or bad faith. Often times, the GC will do a piece of job in a way you disapprove. You may also differ on the method of payments. The GC may have problems with the subcontractors. You should allow the GC to fix a problem that is brought to their attention, and you should also listen and fix problems brought to your attention. That way you will create synergy between you and the GC, and in turn you will have a successful project completion. Keep an open and constant communication with the GC, ask for updates on the works progress, ensure all necessary materials are supplied on time, and that any problems are resolved amicably. A GC wants a good name to be stamped on their portfolio, and you the homeowner want a decent job done, therefore you have to work together on disputes.
You need to know if you have to provide a storage area, perhaps in the project area or in the garage. Sometimes it is necessary to keep the items in the work site to prevent damage to the floor or doorway, leading to escalation of costs. This might require you to move things around. You have to agree in writing who is liable for their safety and for any accident they may cause while in storage.
Establish the steps the GC intends to take to ensure they do not cause unnecessary damage to your property. Establish who will be liable for damage to items on project site and off the site. Determine which areas will be off-limit to the workers, which exits will be used, what items will be removed from the work area or covered with tarps, and whether the workers will have to wear protective shoes to avoid staining the floor. These rules should be penned down for clarity.
It is important that the home is put back in a livable condition at the end of each day. The contractor should allocate time for cleaning up debris and safely putting away tools, equipment, and unused materials after the day’s work is done. They should also dust off the doors and windows affected by their activities.
The contractor should use only manufacturer warranted materials, and you should insist on getting a copy of the warranty from the GC. The contractor must give a reasonable guarantee on the workmanship. A reasonable GC’s warranty should at most match that of the materials used, since it cannot be enforced after the materials warranty has expired.
If the answer is yes, move on to the next contractor or discuss its removal from the contract. Such a stipulation is an indication of a shady contractor who does shoddy work, lacks confidence in their work, and tries to hide his shortcomings behind legalese – a gag order to keep you from giving them bad press. You should be free to discuss on public forums your business interaction with a contractor, just as much as they wish to showcase your project in their portfolio. However, the main reason many contractors add the non-disparaging clause is to stop the negative reviewers who only spread bad press about every company. Many contractors try to offer great service, but some customers are ever busy mudslinging them and leveraging themselves against the contractor. Try and talk with the contractor about being fair-minded and honest. A company that allows negative feedback is able to learn from the public, gain credibility, and give customers confidence that the GC is neither perfect nor incompetent.
The contractor is assumed to be responsible for purchasing all the project materials. Some contractors will cut costs by bringing in unwarranted materials leftover from another project and still charge you for new purchases. Unless the materials are unused and of good quality – which you need to confirm – then do not agree to such an arrangement . Do not accept leftover mechanical devices or fixtures such as faucets, pumps, and so forth, because their warranty may have expired or they may have become rusty at the joints. Sometimes they use recycled materials for a noble cause such as protecting the environment, but they should let you know in advance.
If you are environmentally conscious – which you really should be – check if the GC is installing Energy Star, biodegradable, non-toxic, or non-polluting materials for you. Will they install wifi devices to allow you monitor and control home appliances remotely, like switching off the heater when there is nobody at home? Are the work processes environment-friendly?
You need to get a feel of the contractor’s practices from an independent testimonial as part of your background checks. Pick a couple of the references and either call them or, better still, visit them by invitation, and enquire from them about the GC. Ask questions as sampled below.
It would be nice to know if the project was similar to yours, or at least as complex as yours.
Find out if the contractor presented them with copies of their credentials, insurance, and bond for verification? Ask if the project required permits and whether the contractor had difficulties obtaining them from the local building department?
You want to know if the workers were diligent, enthusiastic, and organized. You want to know the reason for delay if any occurred, and for how long it delayed.
Was the team leader active, in control, and good at communicating? Did he give you satisfactory answers to your queries? Did he diligently follow up on issues you raised? Were the crew easy to work with and personable? Were you given a lien waiver to guarantee the crew, suppliers, and subcontractors were not your responsibility? You want to know if the workers were time-conscious, diligent, enthusiastic, organized, and respectful of private property.
Find out if the contractor walks his customers through the schedule, provides a list of workers, subcontractors, and materials, and manages changes in the plan well. Does the contractor have an open and cordial interaction with the customer, settles any pending issues promptly, and gives a regular appraisal on the project’s progress? Updates help the customer to keep calm, keep a close tab on the budget, and ensure work flows smoothly.
You need to know if the contractor adhered to the budget, and if not, whether the reasons given were justifiable. Ask what was sacrificed, if anything, in order to stay within the budget. You want a GC who is a good planner, estimator, and cautious.
You want to know if the GC is thorough, dependable, and reasonable in his dealings. You also need to know if you have to organize for the transport of materials separately.
It is uncomfortable to have to ask an adult to clean up after their mess. A responsible GC will know that it is also hazardous to leave debris lying around as it may pose danger to people and animals.
You want to know the GC’s shortcomings so that you may avoid them. It also helps the GC to improve his services.
This is a way to get the endorsement indictment for the GC. Watch or listen to the body language as they answer this question because some people are too civil and polite to give a negative answer. If he worked well for the customer he will likely work well for you. A good project must at least pass the building code inspection.
Did you know that American spend $135 billion on home improvement and another $33 billion on home maintenance? Did you know that nearly $4 billion of this sum ends up in a rogue contractor’s pocket? An estimated 20,000 to 100,000 scams are perpetrated each year. In 2011, $147 million was recovered from GC scams in just 22 states. The sum represented only 10 to 15 percent of the total reported losses in those states. Homeowners lose between $3 billion and $5 billion to the fraudsters. Only between 20 and 35 percent of all scams are ever reported. Be on the lookout for the bad and the fraudulent contractors. Take your time to diligently check their background.
Seek approved contractors from trusted sites like Better Business Bureau who give a background report on any registered contractor, the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud or NCPHIF, and NARI members. NCPHIF not only advises on how to carry out a home improvement project, but also how to avoid being defrauded.
Deal only with certified, and therefore credible, GCs, especially those who are affiliated to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and Better Business Bureau or BBB. There are trusted online aids to finding the right contractor, for example the ProFinder Database of General Contractors by HomeAdvisor.com. The BBB gives ratings and status to contractors based on viewer comments and thorough background checks on the GC’s licensing, tax filing, insurance, client complaints, sex offense complaints, criminal offenses, and so forth.
When hiring, specify that you want a residential GC and not just a GC. Engage a reputable residential GC who is focused on good service and building his reputation. He should have formal, stringent, and sound business systems, including: expertise in his area of practice, valid registration, insurance, accounting, financial backing, a supply chain, employment or partnership policies, and legal documentation and contracts. The insurance must cover accidents, liability, workman compensation, and so forth. Surety bonds are acceptable, especially for small contracts (ConstructionInsureOn.com).
Make sure the bidder has the relevant skillset for your project, for example a swimming pool contractor is not right for kitchen remodeling. If the contractor is late for an appointment, or is shabbily dressed, then expect problems of delay and shoddy work at your project. If he does not own his equipment then you should expect to either pay him more for equipment hire or have a shoddy job done. An ill-tempered contractor is a likely bully who is hard to work with. He will work as he wishes and not as you wish.
You need to interrogate the GC’s investment in machinery, equipment, and toolkits necessary for carrying out your project, otherwise you will be paying an extra amount for equipment hire. If the GC asks to use your home tools then you should raise the red flag. There are many software and apps out there to assist the GC in accounting and estimation, therefore you expect the contractor to work with a computer. The computer will help to monitor the project, budget, and timelines.
Hire a new entrant into the home improvement business even with no portfolio, but he must be fully compliant with all professional requirements and he has skills and experience as an employee or apprentice. Newbies often come with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Remember that if a contractor does not conduct himself professionally then he is not a professional, and you should not hire him. Since your improvement project will affect your tax returns, you must deal with a contractor who adheres to strict accounting and tax standards.
HomeAdvisor gives a few tips on how to insulate yourself against GC flips. Think through the decision to carry out the improvement. Establish how much you are willing to spend and your source of financing. Be clear about what exactly you want, so that you will be able to articulate those ideas to the contractor. If you have doubts about the need for or type of remodeling you want, then you probably don’t need the project, and you should not waste your hard-earned income on it.
When you decide to go ahead with the project be sure to get several quotes from contractors. Get a partner or friend to help you evaluate and choose the most suitable bidder. Whenever possible, go local on your choice, unless they do not meet your expectations. Make due inquiries and check out with references from the GC’s previous work. Check their ratings and complaints with Better Business Bureau. Note that a negative review does not necessarily suggest the GC is incompetent or bad – it could be the client or a misunderstanding; use to discretion to evaluate. Check the contractor’s status in terms of licensing, permits, certification, and insurance.
Always insist on a written contract covering costs, scheduled completion date, mode of payment, crucial obligations, and the consequences of breach. Do not rush into signing the contract before going through it with a toothcomb. Do not make a lump sum payment, and your last payment should only be after you are satisfied with the completed work.
Avoid being scammed by a questionable, bad, or fraudulent GC fraudulent contractors, by being on the lookout for these red flags.
Hawking His Services: An unprofessional neophyte in the trade will knock on random doors soliciting for business even when you have not asked for such services.
Has No Fixed Line, No Physical Address, and Uses a Non-Domain Email Address: The “fly-by-night” or “briefcase” contractor uses unbranded vehicles, has no reachable landline, and is sketchy about their registered office. They use the free email services and mobile telephone numbers that they can discard as soon as they have scammed you.
Cannot Procure Permits and Inspection Certificates: This is a clear sign of a quark, unlicensed, uncertified, blacklisted, or perhaps a fraudulent contractor.
Payment by Cash: He does not want to use traceable payment methods like check or bank transfer methods, which leave a transaction trail, in order to evade the taxman or because he is a conman who will disappear into thin air the moment you pay him. Do not be their accomplices in evading tax.
Full Payment Upfront or Large Installment: This is a dishonest contractor who wants to steal your money or use it to pay off debts from a previous project.
Lacks of Proper Paperwork: if he claims to be waiting for the license, insurance, contract, and so forth, then he is a con, novice, blacklisted, or an illegal contractor. They will probably have poor filing of documents as well.
Haranguing You into Signing the Contract: This is a contractor who knows that the contract has loopholes that he intends to exploit in the cause of the project, and that you will have no recourse for settling the dispute. Insist on adequate time to study and query the contract and it must include a lien waiver clause.
Discount for Referral: This is an unprofessional quark who lacks confidence in his work, who will silence you from giving a negative feedback on his subpar work, and thinks you his business’ unpaid promoter or marketer.
Exceptional Warranty, Low Bid: He is enticing you into awarding him the contract, yet he knows that a job can only be guaranteed for up to the warranty on the materials used, which is usually between one and three years. A low bid will cause you to use inferior materials or incur high costs of price escalation soon after you start the project.
Has no Subcontractor for a Big or Complex Project: The GC has poor working relations with other people and will likely delay the completion date of your project.
Does Not Have a Detailed Cost Breakdown: He plans to defraud you through fictitious costs of materials. He does not want you to call the stores or search online for the best prices.
Can Sell You His Spare Materials: This is a sign of a dishonest and sticky-fingered contractor who will also pinch your leftover materials and sell them to the next customer at market price and without a valid warranty.
Will Connect You to a Financier: This is a trap to defraud you of your home, or extort money from you after placing a lien on yourhouse. You can approach reputable financiers yourself.
Questionable residential GCs prey on the seniors, busy people, and women. They overcharge them for shoddy, work, fictitious services, and cheap materials, and still put up a hefty markup on the overall cost. Seniors are most at risk of being scammed. They own most of the property in the country and are therefore more likely to use the services of a GC. They live in older properties where they originally settled, and these old homes require improvements the most, especially ageing in place improvements.
Being physically weak and tired, they are less likely to participate much in the day-to-day project activities. This gives room for a dishonest contractor to shortchange them. They are often too polite and mellow to argue with a bullying contractor. Busy people with good incomes or social status are likely to fall victim of crooked contractors because they have little time to follow up on the nitty-gritties of the work. They may be clueless about the reasonable cost of materials used, or a fictitious task being charged on the project. By nature, women are sociable and trusting and therefore more likely to fall into the trap of a smooth-talking contractor using lots of technical lingo. They are also less likely to get too involved in the contractor’s activities, giving the contractor an opportunity to exploit them.
Once you have vetted and hired the GC, you will put down a down payment in check, credit card, or bank transfer. ay them ado not pay them in cash, instead pay by check, credit card, or bank transfer, or some other traceable mode of payment. A contractor will not ask for more than 25 percent of the contract amount at the start of contract, but will instead spread across the timeline according to milestones. The last balance that should be at least 10 percent should only be settled upon completion, inspection, and approval of the project.
Your contractor needs to give you satisfactory service, including the quality of work, reasonable cost, and general relationship during the lifetime of the project. The GC must be available whenever you need to discuss your project. They should give you at least three avenues for contacting them and keep them available throughout. Designate a point of contact with the GC so as to minimize misunderstandings. A good GC will have a dedicated customer service line. If the project will course excessive noise, find a way of coping with the situation. Be sure to inform your neighbors of the possible inconvenience if the project is outdoor. Prepare your family and neighbors for the impending interruption to their daily lives, for example excavation or use of loud power tools. You might want to cordon off the work site from the children and pets and look for alternative out of house activities during disruptive stages of the project.
You will immediately notice an arrogant contractor from their body language, but try and resolve any conflicts between you quickly and amicably. If you walk all over your contractor, they are likely to become irritable, rude, and less dedicated to your project – the outcome will show in a shoddy job. You are under no obligation to give positive reviews about your GC, but be fair, civil, and professional in your assessment because you may come across a worse contractor in future and wish you had stuck with this one, so be fair and open-minded.
Even as you come into conflict with your general contractor, it is important to understand the source of the conflict. It may initially appear as if the person is plainly ill-tempered or confrontational, but there may be deeper underlying issues. You may inquire from the workers on site, but it is good to ask the contractor directly if there is a problem. You may open the conversation by stating that you are a first time renovator and if there is something you are doing wrong to the GC, or you have dealt with a dozen GCs and have never had issues with them. You would like to discuss any problem between you. If they are unwilling to open up then that is a red flag. If you notice anything wrong with the ongoing work, for example the wrong material being used, do not wait until the end of the job to point it out. Ask there and then so as avoid frustrations and conflict in the future. To avoid confrontations, set the expectations in writing at the outset of the project.
A number of contractors are not as civil as they should be and will try to compel you into accepting their terms and conditions of work, and to overlook their faults when they occur. Such contractors are usually the crooks of the industry and are likely to do a mediocre job. They will likely demand a full payment upfront, stall the project for flimsy excuses, make threats to file a lien, and so forth. You might bow to their demands, but that will be to your detriment. You need to be calm, professional, and reasonable with such types. You need to also stand by the contract stipulations and avoid any verbal and informal engagements. You have to make clear in writing that they are bullying you into submission, have not demonstrated why they deserve a payment, and that you will not accept their behavior. Should matters get worse then at least you will have a recourse.
Nobody will knowingly hire a shoddy contractor. Some contractors abandon the project midway, fail to pay their suppliers and workers, or damage your property. Bad choices of contractor occur because you fail to do proper research and vetting beforehand. An unskilled worker or a crooked GC can give you a shocking outcome and disappear from your radar.
If you find yourself dealing with an inept, crooked, or plainly bad contractor, then deal with the situation calmly. Stand your ground against a bullying contractor and make sure your correspondence is only through writing. Since most confrontation comes when they demand money, stay put and remind them of the contract stipulations. Make sure to file a lien waiver early because such types are probably not paying their suppliers, subcontractors, and workers either. They may be facing personal life challenges that are getting in the way of their performance. You have to be the rational one in any argument and always refer to the contract.
If you have already been scammed by the contractor you can contact your local FBI office to report a crime, the National Consumers League to unearth the contractor, the Call For Action organization for investigating the contractor, and if the contractor is registered with a professional organization, you should contact their local branch for investigation and action.
If you do not have a valid contract then you cannot expect legal action, or claim insurance, and your warranty will be voided. If you discover at a later stage that you are dealing with an unlicensed contractor then you should stop all payments immediately. The job will not be approved by the building code. No matter how threatening he may sound, an unlicensed contractor cannot place a mechanic’s lien on your property.
Take general and close-up photographs and videos of your project prior to, during, and after the project is completed. These can serve as evidence in case of dispute. Continue checking the workmanship throughout the warranty period. You will also keep all documents including the contract, plans, schedules, notes, catalogues, quotes and bids, correspondence, invoices and payments, receipts, warranties, photographs, and videos relating to the project in a project file for evaluation or in case of dispute.
We advise that you should protect yourself by first having a valid contract. Verifying the status of the contractor’s license. If he is licensed by a professional board, then you can go to that board and lodge your complaint. Avail a copy of your project file to them. The licensing board will try and mediate.
Further, you should lodge the complaint with the state licensing agency, who will assist in resolving the matter on your behalf. If the contractor is bonded or guaranteed by a third party such as an insurance company or bank, you can seek a refund from them. Where a state contractors’ board does not exist, you may take legal action in court. This is an engaging process and with no guaranteed for full compensation on the cost of the case. Ensure your contract has a clause on waiver of lien in order to guard against a lien being placed on your house by the suppliers, workers, subcontractors, bank, or the bond agency. If you are aggrieved by a lien that has already been placed on your house, you can present your case in court. Ultimately, it is easier and cheaper to solve disputes through dialogue and an arbiter.
While the project is ongoing you will be stressed and anxious about it. If the project takes a long time or progresses too slowly, the GC infracts on the contract, misuses materials, escalates costs unreasonably, shows a bullying tendency, disregards your concerns, poor work quality, endangering your home occupants through littering, or any of several other issues listed in the contract, you may feel compelled to part ways. Most of the time it is acrimonious, but you have to be firm and stand your ground. Look over your contract carefully and give the contractor a fair before taking the step lest you end up in a legal tussle. Maintain a clear and comprehensive record of the project and progress.
A contract is terminated on account of poor quality work and escalation of costs. If you are compelled to fire your contractor, read the contract terms of termination carefully. Ensure the contract gives you an option to recoup your expenses up to the point of termination. If it does not spell out the terms clearly then you are better off consulting your lawyer.
This is the main reason for most homeowners to fire their GCs. You need to show proof of poor work and that is best provided by documentation, photographic history, and correspondence. Be sure to give instruction by writing and not just verbally.
Before you reach the decision to fire the contractor, be sure to have communicated your concerns and cautioned him in writing, unless the violation is of an urgent and serious nature, in which case you will unilaterally fire them. We advise that once you have reached the decision to fire, you should arm yourself with copies of the contract and other documents, and then call a meeting to break the news of termination. Dwell on the professional aspects only, that is, poor work quality, slow progress, or excessive costs as stipulated in specific clauses of the contract. Do not be cowed into retracting your decision. Be civil even if you are provoked.
After firing one contractor it becomes difficult to get another, especially if they know that you fired a previous one. Tel the potential contractors that the job was terminated midway and give the honest reasons for the termination. This way you avoid another disappointment with the new contractor. This time you will need to refine the contract so as to proof yourself against a shoddy finishing. Let the new contractor agree to pick up from where the previous one left, unless they had messed the job already.
As a homeowner, you will be impressed by a contractor who captures your attention – through marketing. A little advertising will not hurt anyone. The contractor needs to have a good handle on their profession and answer any questions without hesitation. Given the right tools, even a novice marketer should be able to set up a successful business. In marketing you will express your concerns or seek advice, and you expect straight answers. The GC work will “sell itself” to potential customers, just as a shoddy job will be noticed by even more people.
A contractor is not a quack chasing after business, but it is common for them to seek your seal of approval after completing a contract. It is a legitimate marketing tool and strategy according to awci.org. DarrensLaughter.com, notes that many contractors depend on marketing to grow their business, but lack the marketing knowhow beyond their portfolios. It however is unethical for them to ask or induce you to pitch for them to potential clients. They should rely on other marketing strategies including advertising, online networking, and so forth.
A captivating website, complete with a domain name and a 24/7 host, is an effective, trustworthy, and affordable strategy to market to a large audience. Visual images and in-depth descriptions of services tell their story best. Online marketing extends their network, keeps them updated on the latest trends and challenges in the industry. Local advertising using fliers, newspapers, and cold calls are ways to reach a focus group such as the local community, considering that many homeowners prefer local contractors because they are easier to reach, reach their references, and verify their credentials. The Yellow Pages is a trusted advertising site with more than 80 visitors daily. Trade fairs and social events offer a forum for advertising and having a face-to-face interaction with potential customers.
The building and housing industry represents 18 percent of the national economy, but even after the recent economic crash, the industry is yet to recover fully recover, according to Realtor.com. Although there are many general contractors near you, there is actually an acute shortage of skilled craftsmen. As the older generation fizzles out there are fewer willing younger people joining the crafts, therefore it is becoming more difficult to secure a general contractor for certain types of jobs, especially in the areas of restoration, classic, and ancient architectural concepts (HomeAdvisor.com and ThisOldHouse.com). The National Association of Home Builders states that in fact, there is a 1.4 million labor deficit in the industry with the current number being only 433,000 strong. Many GC have remained small, not because of lack of market or knowhow, but for lack of craftsmen or skilled labor. Most GC believe their businesses would grow by at least 20 percent annually if they could get enough workers.
The millennials have shunned the industry as it is considered low-paying and unstable. The few entrants do so because they desire to own a business and they have been mentored or apprenticed into the construction industry. The majority of youths find more attraction in other fields, especially technology, financial, and manufacturing industries. The biggest shortage is felt in the sectors like carpentry (73 percent), masonry (63 percent), sheet metal work (65 percent), machine operation (58 percent), electrical (60 percent), and plumbing (56 percent). The shortage is felt mostly in the hourly rate professionals. The youth have little respect for “blue collar jobs”. There is little exposure, education, and skill training resources available in the industry, especially after vocational education was phased out of schools.
The Maker Movement aims to reverse this trend by encouraging young people to embrace traditional craftsmanship. It also encourages them to take advantage of available opportunities left by retiring craftsmen. The industry is a good alternative to college and university education. The GC career does not require much startup capital since you can start with hand tools and simple machines. You actually need to have more of the requisite job skills.