Building Contractors

Finding a trustworthy building contractor

You've finally decided to hire a building contractor or company but your part does not end there.  You are eager to get the ball rolling and want to dive into the project fast.  But being certain that you're hiring a professional is tricky.  Most building companies or contractors are reliable and hardworking.  But to guard against a few who are not, here are ways to avoid a home construction disaster:

Know exactly what you want before you pick up the phone and call any contractor or building company.  Do some research especially on the latest building and construction materials.  Pick out specific products by brand name, model, and style to include in the construction.  This could be overwhelming so write everything down. Collect pictures from magazines, material swatches or samples, and other visual and tactile references.  Know what you like and what you don't like even the brands and styles. Do your home work well so you can provide your contractor with concrete visual and tangible references when you meet for the first time.   

Clarify your priorities and your budget limitations ehen you sit down with the contractor.  Everyone wants to get a certain finish or look at target cost.  To stay within the budget, a common mistake is to scrimp across all items.  You may ask suggestions from the contractor.  He or she knows what you can get away with lower-priced materials and where it really counts.  But don't leave the choice of materials entirely to the contractor.  You're likely to get the cheapest stuff available. 

Don't involve too many people in the planning.  Sometimes your spouse or your mom may have a say in the house project.  Take that into consideration but you should only be the one communicating all concerns to the contractor.  Imagine too many people with conflicting ideas and visions; this could be overwhelming for the contractor and might make both of you lose sight of the bigger picture or original plan.  So just appoint one person to do the talking or it would be better if you do it yourself.  This prevents confusion in decisions and directions given from you to the contractor. 

Make sure you have a specific work agreement or contract.  Make sure the contract states what it is to be done, in as much detail as possible, and when it is to be completed.  Sometimes a contractor will take on more jobs than he can possibly complete in a satisfactory length of time.  He will begin the job to have a hold on you.  Then he will move and begin another job with another client.  Soon he has several jobs in progress that you find yours is suffering.  So be sure to have a specific completion date.  This will discourage him from leaving you hanging for months with a half-completed project or job.  You may also include a "time of essence" clause, which charges the contractor penalties if the work takes too long. 

The contractor should also set forth a payment schedule.  As a general rule, put up a small down payment and space out the remainder.  Reserve at least 25% of the total amount for final payment and release it only when and after you're completely satisfied with the work.  If he does not give you a contract, you can write your own and have the contractor sign it or you can write the contractor a letter that outlines everything you've discussed.  With all contracts, be sure to have them reviewed by your lawyer before signing.  Such review can be well worth it in the event of future problems.

A contractor must have full insurance.  It should include worker's compensation as well as general comprehensive liability insurance.  If you don't understand the papers they give you for proof of coverage, call the insurance company and verify the coverage.  Some contractors skimp on insurance, leaving you "exposed" in case of an accident.  This is very important.  If they are not covered by the insurance, this may cost you a bundle if any mishaps or accidents happen on your property.  Also make sure that the certificate of insurance names as an additional insured so the insurance company can notify you if the policy is cancelled for any reason.  One more thing, be sure to check the policy limit of the general comprehensive coverage.  If you find the policy limit too low, let the building company know and insist on a bigger amount for the coverage. 

Keep a written record.  Good record keeping and documentation of the work is crucial if something should go wrong in the future or if disputes arise.  Keep written notes of starting and stopping times, how many people are working and what's being done and not being done.  This is especially useful if you're paying the contractor by the hour or by the day.  For bigger jobs, keep notes of conversations you've discussed with the contractor about changes, additions, and problems.  Many of the common rip-offs and misunderstandings can be avoided by being aware of the work being done. 

Get an outside review.  If any question or problem arises about the quality of the job, have the work inspected by an independent professional, such as a home inspector.  If you feel you have been ripped off, don't hesitate to report it.  You may also write your local or state-consumer agency.  Include as much documentation as possible-copies of work orders, estimates, bills, cancelled checks and just about every paper work you have.  You may also talk to the Better Business Bureau if in the US or Trading Standards Institute in the UK.  These organizations encourage honest enterprise and business and helps safeguard the economic, environmental, health and social well-being of consumers.