How to Choose the Right General Contractor


Avoiding the Misery of Remodeling by Choosing the Right Contractor

From an article on the New York Times Web Site
by Alina Tugend, Published: June 17, 2011

Should you decide you want a general contractor to run your project, how do you find one?

Word of mouth is always an excellent option.

Online referral sites are another option to find contractors. Some are free, but Angie’s List, which is one of the better known, charges membership fees. The cost starts at under $10 a month, and opinion online is divided on how good these sites are.

After narrowing down a list, what do you do? Most people would say ask for references and photos of previous work, but that’s just the beginning. References are important, but how do you know they’re genuine customers? Web site photos are nice, but a lot can be hidden.

So it is much more important to ask to physically see work that has withstood the test of time. When visiting a completed project, take the time to talk to the owners there and get a sense of how happy they were with their contractor.

When hiring someone, homeowners should make sure they understand whether the prices a contractor gives you are hard and fast or guesstimates, Mr. Dillon said.

If the contractor says it will cost $5,000 for the plumber, ask to see the contract between the contractor and plumber, Mr. Dillon said. Otherwise it could turn out to really be $17,000 — and guess who is going to pay that difference?

“Anyone who is aboveboard should be willing to show you the contracts,” he said. And be sure to get multiple bids, and when you do, compare what is priced.

“If one has an electrician bid and one doesn’t — what’s up with that?” he said. “Go through it line by line.”

I asked some friends who had construction experience what advice they would pass on. Here are some hard-won words of wisdom:

  • Never go on a vacation and leave contractors to work on their own. Even with builders you trust, it’s better to be available. And at worst, it can mean little or no work gets done while you’re relaxing on the beach.
  • Listen to the ways the contractor and the subcontractors, like the plumbers and electricians, interact. My friend Amy had four different contractors come with their subcontractors to bid on a major renovation.
  • “Listening to them talk together, I got a sense of how they respected each other and worked together,” she said. “In the end, we didn’t hire the cheapest guy, but the one I thought was the smartest and most creative and got along best with his subcontractors.”
  • Finally, everyone said to hold some money back until the project was completed. And that means no small unpainted areas or loose tiles or bad grouting. Too often, builders, even good ones, leave small details unfinished once they’ve moved on to their next project.

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