Selecting a Contractor

The critical success factor in any construction project, is the contractor.  A qualified, professional, experienced contractor knows what results are required for Owner satisfaction, as well as, what will lead to dissatisfaction down the road.  Allow yourself a minimum of 30 minutes to 1 hour to sit down with each contractor.  A professional contractor will take pride in his work and will have no problem discussing your options, his previous experience, and his list of satisfied customers.

Make sure that you ask the following 7 questions to make sure that you select the best contractor for your next project…

1. Does the company carry insurance and is the coverage adequate?

When deciding on a contractor be sure that the company can provide specific, detailed information of their insurance coverage. They should be able to provide the name and phone number of their insurance agent so you can verify everything.

2. Is the company a member in good standing of a trade association or the Better Business Bureau?

Before you buy, check the company out with the local Better Business Bureau.  The information in their report can help you decide if a contractor’s record with other customers has prepared them to do business with you.  A BBB report will tell you if the contractor has had any complaints registered against them and if the disputes were ever resolved.

3. How long has the company been in business?

Needless to say, the more experienced the better.  Under five years is often a tell-tale sign of a potentially unstable business. Most contracting businesses (90%) fail within the first five years.  Examine new business with extra care before awarding the project.
Check references carefully. Current references are only valuable to see if the Owner is happy with the contractor’s work, but only long term references are the proof of actual performance of the contractor’s work.  Most failed construction projects do not happen quickly, but deteriorate over a period of years.  New project references should carry minimal weight in the decision making process vs. long term projects.  A professional contractor will gladly provide references and want you to speak with his past customers.  Automatically reject any contractors who can not provide a reference list of customers.

4. What is the contractor’s record for complaint resolution?

Automatically reject any contractor who says they never had a complaint.  The best of contractors find themselves in disputes for one reason or another.  Be forewarned that many quality contractors, in business for a long period of time, and with thousands of completed projects, are exposed to disputes.  The question is, not if they have had disputes, but what was done about the dispute after it occurred.  Tip: One easy way to find out how a contractor handles customer complaints is by calling the Better Business Bureau.

5. What is the company’s workmanship warranty?

Typically, contractor workmanship warranties are for one year or more.  The length of the warranty is less important than the intent and ability of the contractor to stand behind his warranty.  The professional contractor often performs well beyond the written warranty period because he knows that this is what builds customer loyalty and referrals.  It is critical to be assured that the product will be installed according to the manufacturer specifications, or there will be no warranty regardless the document you were provided.  With many materials, the warranty is often only valid if the contractor is “Certified” to install the product.   Professional contractors will have no problem providing this proof, in fact, they will usually present their credentials before being asked.

6. Does the company provide sufficient details for the project being performed?

The contractor should be able to clearly explain how they plan to perform the work and what materials will be used.

  • Compliance with local ordinances – Question the contractor about what is required.  Contact the local building department for verification.  Question if the permit is included in the cost and who is responsible for obtaining the permit.
  • Product Selection – Make sure the proposal includes a specific reference to the product and color you have chosen.  Your proposal will be your proof of purchase in later years.
  • Manufacturer Warranty Specifications – If the project is to be warranted by a manufacturer, confirm that the agreement states that the work will conform to the manufacturer specifications.
  • Clean-Up – Call for daily clean-up to help minimize safety issues or exposure.
  • Payment Terms – Schedule, terms and method of payment should be clearly detailed in the agreement.  Establish an agreement regarding retainage if a certain portion of work is left incomplete or there is a “punch list”.
  • Preliminary Inspection – Plan to meet with the Job Foreman who will be responsible for your satisfaction.  Make sure he fully understands the specifications and promises made by his company.  Establish the condition of the property before the work starts in the event there is property damage during construction.

7.  What is the Contractor’s Property Protection Plan?

Ask how the contractor plans to protect your existing landscaping and outdoor structures during the construction and installation process of your project.    Make sure you know you are protected in the event any damage occurs by accident or as a result of negligence.