Today more than ever it is getting increasingly difficult to choose a competent contractor mainly because, everyone and his brother who has ever worked as a helper for a contractor decides they are going to open up their own business.  Unfortunately there are no tests one needs to take in order to become a contractor.  Shocking but true!  So what do you look for to help ensure you hire the right company?  Here is a quick checklist of the essentials:

The Essentials

  • Make sure they are licensed and insured
  • Get referrals and letters of recommendation from people who have used this contractor in the past
  • Inquire how much experience the contractor has
  • Find out if the owner will be on the job working alongside his employees
  • Find out if they are using quality materials and know which products you are paying for
  • Make sure you have a proposal in writing that states what you are paying for and how much.
  • Did you know?  When you sign a home improvement contract at your place of residence you are supposed to be given and sign a “Rights of Cancellation Notice” by law, which states:
    • “You the homeowner have 3 business days after signing this contract to cancel it and are entitled to a full refund of your deposit.  Please see attached notice for a full explanation of this right”
    • This is supposed to be clearly printed in 10pt. or 12pt. bold type on the contractors contract/proposal along with the Full Explanation of this Right on a separate Notice Form.  The contractor is supposed to explain to you; this is a consumer protection law designed for your benefit and then have you sign and date this notice upon acceptance of the contract.  The contractor is to fill in the date up until which you have to cancel this contract.  This Full Explanation also describes how the consumer is to go about canceling the contract if they so choose.  Then you receive a copy of this notice.  For more information on this right and to view ours, please click here.

Educate Yourself

Those are the basic things you should know going into your home improvement project, but how does this assure you of getting a good job?  It doesn’t unfortunately…just because you have done some homework and have made sure the contractor is operating legally and has done a satisfactory job in the past does not speak at all to what you are going to get?  What it comes down to is you the consumer being educated on the project you are undertaking.  The more you know, the better informed your decision making will be and the greater the chance of you getting what you pay for.

  • Research your project.  If you are reading this you already have a world of information at your fingertips over the internet…USE IT!
    • Search for websites that explain how a job is done in your area.
      • Don’t believe everything your read on DIY (Do It Yourself) websites!  They are a constant source of misinformation because they tend to over-simplify projects and cut corners!  Usually they provide you a decent working knowledge of how something is to be done as long as you keep in mind they are oversimplifying it for the lay-person.
    • If you are doing a large project such as a dormer or extension, you will need a set of plans drawn up from an Architect or Draftsman.
      • The same diligence in finding a reputable contractor needs to go into finding a reputable person or firm to draw up your plans.  This is the “foundation” of your project, if it is not done well, the rest of the project will be off to a rocky start at best.  If you need help finding someone, we would be glad to recommend a reputable firm.
    • Look up the local building department and ask them if the work you plan to do requires a permit.

    “Decide Whether or Not To Use A General Contractor (G.C.) for your project?

  • A good General Contractor (G.C.) takes on all the responsibilities and headaches of making sure your project gets done right and on time, down to the very last detail.  They tell you what to expect and what your responsibilities are.
    • Using ourselves as an example, these are the services we provide (and what we believe any G.C. should provide) when you hire us to G.C. your project.
      • We act as your agent and advisor.  It is our job to make your project go as painless and smoothly as possible by hiring any and all subcontractors necessary, including an architect if you so wish, that may be needed for your job.  We have many trusted and proven subcontractors we have used for years.  We have already researched their backgrounds and qualifications and are quite pleased with their quality of work.  This is something you would normally have to do with each and every subcontractor you hire.
      • We figure out all the materials and supplies necessary for your entire job.
        • There are some items, such as tile, appliances, fixtures, cabinets, flooring, etc. that we cannot possibly guess the exact cost of since we don’t know precisely what you are going to like or choose.   What we do with these items is set up a budget or an “allowance” for you to work within that gives you a realistic idea of what you can expect to spend based on your budget, wants and needs, which we have previously discussed.  This “allowance” is not set in stone and you may come in under or over the suggested allowance and the price gets adjusted accordingly.
      • We advise you to have at least a 10%-20% over budget contingency available as it is impossible to account for the unforeseen, things we may encounter during construction.  This is especially important in older homes, previous renovations or poor initial construction.
      • Should we uncover an unforeseen item or should you choose to downgrade or upgrade something in the contract, we provide you with a “Change Order” that lists the price and item(s) of change that both of us sign, and the total job cost get adjusted accordingly.
      • We supply you with a list of our trusted vendors for you to choose your products and materials from.  Often times we go with you to our vendors to help minimize your time there and answer any questions you may have.  All the vendors have different way of running their businesses, some may simply give you a worksheet with the products and item numbers, some may also include a per unit or item cost and a few will also print out a complete estimate for you under our name.  You can also expect to be given samples, swatches or brochures of the items and products you pick out.  If we’re not there with you at the time, all you have to do is give us the information they provide you and we will do the rest for you.
      • We then calculate all the information they provide you, and include those prices in our estimate.
      • We obtain all the estimates from, the subcontractors.
      • We include everything above and prepare and provide you one estimate for the total job including all the work we perform ourselves, and go over the whole contract and scope of the job with you.
      • Along with the contract, we prepare and provide you with itemized worksheets for all aspects of your project, e.g. “Window Worksheet,” “Door Worksheet,” “Siding Worksheet,” etc.  These worksheets contain all the particulars and options you choose for each facet of work we do for you.  We find it is much easier for you to have things itemized and it allows you to see all the details for the many individual projects that make up the whole project.  It virtually eliminates the potential for any error in your choices  during ordering.  Together, we review and sign-off on each worksheet before anything is ordered.
      • We inform you of what your responsibilities are and what needs we may have to efficiently perform our job such as access in and out of the driveway, a predetermined location to store the materials, tools and supplies and a key/temporary alarm code to gain access in and out of your home.
      • Upon your written acceptance of the job, we determine a start date that works for both of us and you issue us a deposit.  We will also give you an approximate or estimated date of completion.  This date is approximate due to potential inclement weather conditions that we have no control of or change orders that come up.
      • We place the orders for all your materials and supplies.
      • We coordinate and schedule all the subcontractors work as well as our own work on your project.
      • We continue to track and schedule all the orders and deliveries for these materials and supplies and inspect them for damage once they arrive.  If something is damaged we handle all the returns and re-orders.  Should everything arrive undamaged, we unload them and stock them in a predetermined area of your home as they come in off the truck.
      • We are usually the first to begin working on your project followed by the subcontractors.
      • With very few exceptions, if ever, we are always there overseeing all the subcontractors while they are in your home and answer any questions they may have.
      • We inspect their work to make sure it is done right before issuing them payment.
  • A choice few people choose to hire all independent contractors and take on the role of G.C. themselves in order to save themselves the 10%-30% customary fee a General Contractor is entitled to for his time and efforts.  WARNING:  Only try this if you have prior experience, exceptional organizational skills and a lot of extra time and patience to do so in your day to day routine.  Some people have been successful with this, but most fall short and cost themselves more money as well as causing the project to take much longer to complete.

Pricing and the Costs of jobs

Once you know what to look for and have educated yourself, what’s your next step?  Many people get 3 estimates and choose the middle one.  Some still haven’t learned and go for the lowest price and a choice few go for the highest if they can afford to, thinking they are getting the best job.

This is the bottom line when it comes to pricing and choosing a contractor; choosing a contractor based on price is the WORST way to make your decision.  Although price is important to your wallet and no one wants to pay MORE than what they should, it usually has no bearing on the job you will receive, (except if the price is exceptionally low).  Chances are the contractor didn’t price the job correctly or is trying to undercut his competitors…often times the job is not able to be completed for such a low price or it is done intentionally to get the job and then the contractor keeps adding on and on until you are paying the price of the other estimates or higher.  It is their way of getting their foot in the door.  Be very wary of this!.

Choose a contractor and his estimate based on their merits.  Let me repeat this because it is VERY important, Choose a contractor and his estimate based on their merits.  Each contractor’s price is based upon several things such as, material cost, time, labor, overhead and the profit they are entitled to make on a job.  What costs one person to do a job will never be equal to what it costs someone else to do the same job.  Okay, so most of this is common sense but where does this leave you to decide on whom to hire?  It really comes down to integrity, pride and the craftsmanship each contractor has.  So after you do the above mentioned homework and establish the minimum essential requirements for hiring someone, get a feel for each contractor you have received estimates from.  Compare the estimates carefully to see what you are receiving, how it’s been written…is it vague or is it explicit?  Does the time frame appear to good to be true?  Is the contractor using quality materials for your project or “Home Depot Specials?”  How many of the referrals or letters of recommendation you’ve received are from customers that have repeatedly used this contractor?  You see…everyone has good days and those are most likely the referrals and letters you receive from contractors, but how consistent is that contractor?  THAT is where most of your determining factors in choosing a contractor should rest.  Has he repeatedly met or exceeded a customer’s expectations?  Is the job they did 3 or 5 years ago still holding up well?  Well chances are if it’s not, they won’t have any repeat business from that customer.

There are many things to look for when choosing a contractor so aside from the wealth of information we’ve provided you above, our last bit of advice to you would be, use common sense!  If you sense something is off with a contractor, DON’T USE THEM!  Trust your instincts.  If a price sounds too good to be true…it probably is!  Remember the old adage…”You get what you pay for!”

We hope this information serves you well in your home improvement endeavors.  Should you have any further questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to ask us!

All Our Best,

Constructive Design, Inc.