As a general contractor I often get asked by friends and family to give some tips on what to look for when hiring a general contractor for their next construction project. It's kind of strange to answer these questions at times since I often feel like I am a little biased but I understand that this is a big purchase and they want to be as careful as possible. So in the hopes of not having to answer this question so many time ;) I have prepared the following top 7 tips for hiring a general contractor. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Get References & Verify References
References from neighbors or other customers in the neighborhood is the best way to vet your contractors. When evaluating a contractor ask them for detailed references from recent projects they completed. Better yet, ask the contractor if they can bring you to see one or two of their recent projects. This last piece might be a little tricky being you have to get the home owners permission to let a total stranger inside their house to inspect the work but if it is exterior work, it is a great option. Also call up or email the references and verify the work was performed satisfactorily. The best question to ask on these calls is would you hire this contractor again. If they waiver or say no, move on.
2. Check the Contractors Licence
If there is ever is any damage to your property during, or anytime after a renovation, insurance may not cover anything if work was not performed by a licensed contractor. To protect yourself against damage and poor workmanship always get and validate the contractors licence is accurate (make sure it is relevant to work being done) and up to date. Plus if the contractor cannot take the time to get and/or keep a license, they are probably not very conscientious or detail oriented and you definitely don't want those types of people leading a major construction project on your home.
3. Check that the Contractors Insurance is Up-to-Date and Covers the Work being Performed
This is a must! No insurance, insufficient insurance, no work. It is far too risky to have an uninsured or under-insured contractor working on your property. If someone gets hurt while working on your house and the contractor doesn't have enough insurance, that person could go after you for damages. Make sure to get the contractors policy number along with who the policy is with and call that company to verify. Check on how much coverage and if the coverage is for the type of work you are looking to have performed. I know it seems like a lot, but the risk is far too great not to take this precaution.
4. Check the Contractor Reviews
Online customer reviews are a real powerful thing and they help a customer form an opinion and a trust factor in a matter of minutes. Studies have shown that favorable reviews will often positively affect a customers purchase decision. So if you are in the market for a contractor, then I would highly recommend checking out their Google reviews, Yelp reviews, Home Advisor reviews, Angies List reviews and more. Check and see what people are saying. If most of the reviews are positive than chances are you are dealing with a reputable contractor. If the contractor has no reviews then beware! Also take note of how the contractor responds to negative reviews.
5. Ask to See Photos or Videos of their Work
I always take detailed before and after pics of my all my nj general contractor jobs to help promote my service and share with potential customers during consultations. Nothing beats a good photo or video of similar work when trying to get a customers. In action shots of the work are often the best and help show that we are organized professional and take pride in our craft.
6. Ask to See a Contract
A good contractor will almost always provide you with a contract that gives you detailed scope of work. Everything should be clearly spelled out including who is responsible for what, time-frames, what materials are to going to be used, payment details, and any other special needs for the construction project.
7. Spend Time Talking in Detail About the Project
A home renovation is a big purchase so don't be afraid to spend as much time with the contractor asking lots of questions and getting answers. Gauge the contractors responses. If they are to short or unclear push for details, if they still can't get you the answers you need, then this is a big red flag. A good contractor should be able to cover any question about this work with ease and in great detail since after all, they have been doing this work for years right?
8. Payment Schedule
While it is not uncommon for a contractor to ask for a small down payment for the work, be careful of any contractor asking for large sums of money up front or before the job is complete. Most contractors should be properly funded and/or have sufficient credit with suppliers to be able to perform much of the work without the need of a customers prepayment money. Be careful of contractors asking for 50% down. As a general rule I would recommend never paying anything greater than 40 to 50% of the job to a contractor before completion of work.
9. Ask About Who will be Performing the Work
It's not uncommon for a general contractor to sub contract out parts of job and in fact you definitely want this when it comes to things like plumbing, HVAC, electrical and other specialty trades. You want pros that are licensed to do the kind of work needed. IF the general contractor says he is going to handle these specialty components, ask them to see their license for each. If they can't produce a proper license for that type of work, you don't want them doing the work.
I know the above list may seem like a lot of things and even overkill in some cases but if you are going to be spending thousands of dollars, I think you can never be too carfeul.