Choosing a Contractor

Professional, experienced contractors can complete home construction and improvement projects more safely, efficiently, and appropriately than you can. But you can also get into trouble with a contractor if you choose someone who’s not right for the job. Some potential pitfalls of choosing the wrong contractor could include an unfinished job, problems that will have to be fixed by someone else, theft, or even a lien on your own home. It’s important to take the time to choose the right contractor for the job.

Building or remodeling your home requires that you form a close working relationship with your contractor. This relationship involves careful communication of your vision. Your building project is a huge personal investment with results that you’ll be living with for years to come. Finding a contractor who can work well with you creatively while acting as an efficient and timely builder can be a difficult process. Making the right match with the right contractor can make the difference between a house that you love and one that falls short of your dream.

Here are some recommended steps to help you select the right professional for your project:

  1. Determine what you need done, by when, and how much you are willing to spend.
  2. Create an initial list of contractors in your area who are experts at the type of building project you have in mind. A great source is HPM’s Better Builder Directory.
  3. Screen and prioritize your list:
    1. Check with the local Better Business Bureau office for any complaints. Keep in mind that complaints are not always accurate representations of the contractor’s work, and may be unfounded, but multiple complaints likely indicate an underlying issue.
    2. Check for a current license for the type of work you need done, and any complaints with the licensing board.
    3. Check how long they’ve been in business. Although newcomers may be qualified, it will be harder to verify references.
    4. Check for insurance. For most projects, at the very least the contractor you hire should have some form of general liability insurance. If he has employees he should also have worker’s compensation insurance. If the contractor has been approved for a material house performance bond, they likely are insured.
    5. Check their website (if they have one). Does it indicate that they specialize in the type and quality of work you need done?
  4. Interview the top five or six on your list:
    1. By phone is okay, but in person is better.
    2. Note how reactive they are to your call; this may be a good indicator of how responsive they are while working your project
    3. Have a list of questions prepared:
      1. Ask what similar projects they’ve done – what were the challenges, what are they most proud of, time projects took
      2. Ask what portions of the project their company would do themselves and what portions they would use sub-contractors. Ask about their history with the sub- contractors they would use.
      3. Ask about other projects they’re currently doing. Will they have the time and resources to do your project in your expected timeframe?
      4. Ask for references that you can speak with, but even better, references whose homes you could visit and personally inspect the contractor’s work.
  5. Check references and ask about the working relationship as well as the quality of work:
    1. Was the contractor responsive and a good communicator?
    2. Did they help you make intelligent decisions?
    3. Did the project start on time and finish on time?
    4. Did they keep the jobsite neat?
    5. Were there any issues with sub-contractors used?
    6. Did the project stay within the agreed upon budget? If not, were changes communicated upfront and in writing?
    7. Did you enjoy working with the contactor? Were you happy with the quality of work? Would you use them again?
  6. Request bids from your top three. (HPM can assist with putting your project out to bid)
    1. Provide detailed plans and specifications
    2. Provide requested project completion date
    3. Inform contractors of any other requirements or restrictions such as access to property
    4. Request a copy of their standard contract to review terms and conditions
    5. Request a statement of their insurance and ability to be bonded
      1. Insurance covers liability for damage or injuries caused on the job, not just to your property but also to workmen and neighbors. If work on your foundation destabilizes your neighbors’ home, for example, you want insurance to cover the cost of any needed repairs. You can contact the insurance provider to confirm that the policy number is valid and get specifics on the nature of the coverage provided.
      2. Bonding, meanwhile, guarantees that the project will be completed per plans and specifications. It also ensures that all suppliers and subcontractors will be paid through the bond expiration period which is 45 days after the Notice of Completion is filed or published.  Note that bonds do not cover workmanship. Most financers will require the contractor to qualify for a material house bond. (HPM’s Better Builder Directory indicates if the contractor qualified for a bond with HPM within the past two years.)
      3. State the bid closing and awarding date. Allow at least three weeks for bid submittals and two weeks for you to make your decision.
  7. Review and evaluate all bids (HPM can assist with this too). Compare each proposal closely to see what is included and what is not. If there are items in one submittal that are not easily identifiable in another, make note. Also record any other questions you have regarding types of building materials used, labor, sub-contractor charges and terms and conditions. If a bid looks too good to be true, it probably is; a contractor may underbid in the hopes of getting the work, but not be able to complete the job at the quoted price. Or the contractor might cut corners to complete the work within cost. Ask clarifying questions of each contractor’s proposal and request responses in writing by a specific date
  8. Make your selection. Don’t select a contractor based solely on money. The lowest bidder may sometimes be a good choice. But the old adage that you get what pay for is especially true in the construction industry. Contractors who do high-quality work hire high-quality subs and, because they’re experienced and skilled, they charge more. They are also less likely to cut corners by using shoddy materials or construction techniques.
  9. Pick a contractor whom you feel comfortable with and with whom you feel able to communicate your vision effectively. You may be on the phone with your contractor several times a day. You will be discussing money, how much of it you have, and what you want to do with it. You may have to work through disagreements over details. A contractor with lousy communication skills or someone who simply rubs you the wrong way is not the guy for you no matter how much your neighbor liked him or how low his bid is.
  10. Get a contract from the builder of your choice and examine it carefully. The contract should include: A begin date and an end date to your project; complete contractor information. Name, address, contact information; some type of payment schedule; material specifications. If the contractor you hire will be using sub-contractors, there needs to be a clause in the contract detailing that all sub.’s must be paid before the head contractor receives his last payment. If your project requires building permits, the contract should call out who is responsible for acquiring them and warranties or guarantees for materials or workmanship should be outlined in the contract. Pay close attention to exactly what work the contractor is agreeing to do for you. Don’t expect anything not called out in the contract to get done without being charged extra for it. One of the biggest pet peeve’s contractors have about homeowners is that they change their mind or add work to a project after the contract has already been signed. Once you’re satisfied with the contract, sign it.

If all of this seems overwhelming, it’s because it can be. But selecting the right professional for your project is an imperative step to reducing future headaches and stress.

If you’d like help with any part of this process please contact our experienced HPM team:

HPM Hilo                             808-935-0875
HPM Kona                           808-334-4241
HPM Waimea                      808-885-0139
HPM Campbell (Oahu)      808-682-8560
HPM Lawai (Kauai)            808-332-7376



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