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How to Select a Contractor Builder

Find a General Contractor or a Subcontractor Like a Roofer, Plumber, Electrician, or Painter

© 2009 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

This contractor does top quality work at a reasonable price; photo © Kelly Smith

A carpenter contractor ready for work.

This article was updated on 02/26/20.

Selecting a building contractor for new home construction or a home remodeling project is serious business. Chances are that a home improvement project is going to cost some good bit of money. This is because things must be done professionally and in compliance with the local building code.

For example, cabinet installation must be done properly with respect to plumbing fixtures and electrical circuits following the local building code. Also, a project time line schedule has to be established adhered to as close as possible in order to minimize inconvenience to the homeowner.

The first step is to completely understand how to protect yourself and your property against having a mechanics lien filed against you for failing to pay on schedule. The process and steps are a bit more involved than most people think.

Use a Checklist to Select a Contractor Builder

The process should be done methodically to vet the construction company’s background. So what exactly is the process? Following are the items that need be considered after coming up with a short list of potential contractors.

Verify the Company History

Ask how long the building contractor been conducting business. Has it always legally operated under the current DBA or name?

Any business that alters its name should draw questions. It’s usually done to get a clean bill of health with the BBB (Better Business Bureau) or to lower insurance rates. Both of these situations are show-stoppers.

Does the business maintain a business address? Does the business work out of a garage and pick up truck? These are not necessarily bad things (I’ve done both of these things myself to keep overhead down), but verify the reason.

Does the Building Contractor have a Good Reputation in the Area He Serves?

The best way I have found to answer the reputation question is to try one of the services like Angie’s List to see what homeowners in your area have to say about companies they hired.

This is well worth the small price it costs in the long run, or in many cases there is no cost to the homeowner; the contractors foot the bill. A full 15% of the bids I make are for work that has been botched by someone else. The homeowner ends up paying twice.

It’s also important to discover the contractor’s status with the BBB. Complaints are registered for for a variety of reasons; it is not necessarily a bad thing. The key thing to be sure that issues have been resolved to customer’s satisfaction.

Ask for a list of references from prior construction jobs that are similar to the one you’re considering whether it’s a backyard swimming pool, refinishing a wooden deck, a Jacuzzi installation, a paint job, or a re-roofing project.

Actually contact the references and look at the work if possible. Inquire whether the tasks were done properly and on agreed on schedule.

Determine whether the construction crew was courteous and if they cleaned up behind themselves at the end of the day.

Find Out What Business Model the Contractor Uses

Most contractors work on a particular version of a business model. Do they use their own work crews? Do they hire sub-contractors? Once again, this is not a good thing or bad thing. it's often a question of the scope of the work the company takes on.

A high-quality construction company will use their own crews, but will hire subs when needed for niche work that calls for unique building trade licensing. This is usually trades such as electricians or master plumbers.

Get Proof of Insurance and Bonding

Sufficient contractor insurance and bonding is important for large or expensive jobs, but exceptions can be made for very minor handyman work such as painting touch-up as long as the handyman service passes the Angie’s List test.

Why is insurance critical? Both general liability and workers compensation both fall in the insurance category. Why should you as a homeowner worry about workers compensation insurance?

This is why; if a worker becomes injured on the job (think loud power tools, tall ladders, back strains, etc.), you as the homeowner can be the target of a lawsuit!

Determine if the Company is Registered with a Construction Commission

Is this registration mandatory? It depends on the state or the geographical region the company operates in. Take Texas, for example.

When work over $20,000 USD in involved or for new construction, registration with the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) is the law.

But even construction contracts of lesser dollar amounts, registration is recommended since it demonstrates a level of credibility and professionalism.

Two Final Tips Prior to Signing a Construction Contract

  1. Never agree to any up-front payment unless it’s a handyman job like installing a ceiling fan and the money just covers materials. This is why you see homeowners with the handyman at Home Depot. Never pay labor up-front. Pay at the end of the job or on a weekly draw basis for percentage of work completed and approved of.

    Asking for up-front labor payment might be a sign of a fly-by-night contractor and it gives the company little incentive to complete the project or deliver quality product.

    Either finance the project or phase the job and dole out the payment in the form of draws after you receive invoices, inspect the progress, and sign off on the work accomplished.

  2. Don’t feel pressured to sign on the dotted line on the day a bid is submitted to you. There’s no reason to endure a bout of buyer’s remorse.

    Anyone that’s bought a flashy new car or big plasma TV knows what this is all about.

Following this advice when selecting a contractor builder will surely save you some grief down the road.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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