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Often when people are building a home or deciding they’d like to embark on a remodel, they will hire a general contractor. A general contractor oversees the daily construction process and oversees the entire project from start to finish. They’re in charge of hiring subcontractors and coordinating efforts between various subcontractors. Hiring a general contractor to work on your home can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few tips and questions you should consider when selecting a general contractor.

Start by Getting Recommendations
When looking to hire any contractor, seek recommendations from friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. According to Tom Silva, the general contractor on This Old House, “You can also talk with a building inspector, who’ll know which home renovation contractors routinely meet code requirements. Or pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.” Make sure to check online for reviews by searching the contractor’s name along with the keywords, “rip-off,” “scam,” or “complaint.” It’s also critical to check the consumer protection agency in your state as well as the Better Business Bureau to determine if they have a history of disputes with subcontractors or clients.

After gathering a list of potential candidates, make phone calls to each prospective contractor. Here are some questions you will want to ask to help you determine their reliability and availability for your project. 

  • How long have they been in business? Do they typically take on projects similar to yours? Do they have a contracting license?
  • Will they provide references from suppliers, banks, and previous clients for whom they’ve completed similar projects?
  • How many projects do they usually oversee at once? Would I have a team dedicated to working on my job? What is the typical timeline for projects similar to yours?
  • How do they vet subcontractors?
  • Can they provide a certificate of insurance?
  • Do they obtain all the permits necessary for the job? Will they be setting up the inspections required?
  • Do they offer a warranty? What happens if there is a dispute? 
  • How are additional expenses that arise during the project handled?
  • What is your payment schedule?
  • What will they do to protect my property? How is clean up handled at the end of the day? If the project lasts more than one day, where will materials and tools be stored? 
  • What is the best way to reach them?

Their answers to these questions will give you an idea of how easy they will be to work with and how responsive they will be to your questions and concerns. Contractors that don’t return calls or can’t answer these basic questions are likely not worth your time.   

Once you’ve conducted your phone interviews, select three contractors to meet in person, and provide estimates for your project. You want a contractor who asks questions to ensure they have a clear idea of the scope of the project, and they should be able to answer your questions in a way that puts you at ease choosing them for the job. A responsible contractor will want a complete set of blueprints for the job. Get project estimates in writing and keep track of any paperwork provided. To compare pricing, ask each contractor to break down the cost of labor, materials, expenses, and profits on the job. 

Asking about the payment schedule can be an indicator of the contractor’s work ethic and financial stability. If they’re asking for a sizable down payment, they may be concerned that you won’t want to pay up after seeing the work, or they may be having financial issues. Call around and speak with the contractors’ references and former clients. Ask to visit an active worksite and see other projects they’ve completed. It’s essential to do your due diligence. Choosing the lowest bidding contractor is not always the best option. Make your final selection based on who is likely to do the best job for a reasonable price that fits within your budget. 

Last but not least, make sure you get a contract in writing and take the time to read it before signing it and before any work begins on your project. This will not only ensure you’re getting what you want, but it will also protect you in the event of unsatisfactory service and workmanship.