“You gotta talk to my guy”….Selecting and Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a contractor can be one of the most intimidating experiences for a home/business owner. Most people don’t know a reliable contractor, have some reluctance about major remodeling, and hear horror stories from friends or relatives. But it doesn’t have to be that way, by following a few, simple steps:

Have A Plan– The first step to a smart remodel is to have a strategy. The frustration that many owners experience with contractors, is not having a definitive game plan. This complicates the process and can lead to cost overruns and unsatisfactory work. If an owner can properly convey their expectations, it takes a lot of pressure off both parties. Use drawings, preferably by a qualified designer, engineer or architect, like Steven Secon Architect.

Get Recommendations– There is a good chance a friend, relative, or colleague has had some work done in the past few years. Were they satisfied? Do you like their improvements?   Ask if you can see their work.  Do not check with the employees of a big box retailer or lumberyard who may have a “horse in the race”….Or just call us.

Don’t Go With The First Warm Body– An error many people make, for the sake of ease is going with the first person who gives them an estimate. This is a mistake for a few reasons. First, if you speak to a few contractors, you will likely get several different prices and schedules. By doing so, you may realize your budget is high in some areas, and too low in others. Try to get at least three estimates- three sets of eyes, will give you three differing perspectives. Talking to several different people, who may raise some ideas you would never think of.

Always, Always Ask For References Any contractor worth their salt, should be able to provide a list of projects they have done. I suggest taking this a step further. If they are active, which they should be, there is a home or project that is current or just finished. It benefits you to drive by, or even ask to go inside, to look at their work. Try to compare apples to apples -was their project similar to yours? Ask revealing questions….Were the contractors always asking for extras? Did they finish the project on time? Did they seem organized? Were they tidy?

Don’t Leave Things To Chance– Lets think about insurance- theirs and yours. You may want to check your homeowners policy or speak to your agent, to see what is covered in the event of an accident. You definitely want to make sure the contractor has insurance, bonding, and that it is current and substantial. Consider a background check. Verify whether or not permits are needed and who will obtain them.

Get all of your approvals before work commences. Permits generally are needed before you start most construction work. Make sure that applicable regulations have been followed or else there can be fines, delays or future encumberances on the project.

Establish A Pay Schedule– This is probably the biggest area of concern for both you and the contractor. Do they wish to be paid half up front and half upon satisfactory completion? Will you pay for materials and then on a weekly, or monthly basis? Be sure to get explicit costs on line items, and avoid things like- twelve thousand dollars to “remodel kitchen”.  Require as much specificity as possible. Keep as much money as possible for the final payment. This with-holding is called a “retainage” and can be released slowly reflecting the completion efforts of the contractor.

Check The Job- There is a fine line between micromanaging and being absentee. Check the contractors work on a consistent basis. This might mean every couple of days, if you aren’t living in the house. For many, it might be everyday. Perhaps you inspect the work after the workers have gone home for the day. Hopefully, you have established a communications protocol for questions or problems. But the best way to solve a problem is to address it immediately and directly.

Get It Down On Paper– We aren’t suggesting the a hundred-page manifesto here. But it is imperative you and the contractor have a written agreement. There needs to be a clear scope of work (i.e. a good set of drawings), a construction cost cited, payment schedule, retainage indicated, beginning and ending date, insurance proof, and as much detail as possible, to make you and the contractor comfortable with expectations. Consequences are good things-discuss and agree what will happen, on both sides if either side fails to meet their obligations. We typically write the agreement between the Owner and contractor using AIA (American of Institute of Architects) templates to help assure that an industry standard is followed.

If you, or someone you know has questions, please feel free to contact Steven@seconarchitect.com or call us at 914 674 2950.