Though you'll make many, many decisions before your new home construction or remodeling project is complete, the first decision you make is the most important one: The selection of a reputable, professional, high quality builder or remodeler.
The following are the top ten tips you should consider to selecting the right contractor for your new home construction or remodeling project.
Do your homework. The more prepared you are and the better idea you have of what you want the end product to be, the more likely you are to be satisfied with the completed project.
Develop what you want in general in terms of footprint, square footage, etc., and develop an idea file with pictures and descriptions of specific elements you would like incorporated into your project.
Determine what your budget is - and be prepared to stick to it.
Determine whether you have a firm project completion deadline or if you are willing/able to extend it if it would enable you to get your preferred contractor.
Pull an initial list of contractors from a local source such as the SIBA Member Directory.
Ask for recommendations. Talk to people you trust and ask them about their first-hand experiences working with local contractors and about anything they've heard second-hand. Make sure you get both positive and negative constructive criticisms. You can also contact SIBA for the names of contractors with expertise in projects similar to yours. Trust the opinions and observations you are given; and add contractors to or remove contractors from your list as necessary.
Verify licensing and insurance. Contact the Building Commissioner's office to verify that each contractor on your list has and maintains their license - which is the law in Vanderburgh County. Contractors are also required by law to carry liability insurance and workers compensation insurance. Without proper insurance the homeowner can be held liable for job-site accidents - even ones that harm the contractor or an employee. Again, any company without proper licensing and insurance should be removed from your list.
Ask for - and follow up on - references. Ask each company on your list for at least three references of customers with similar projects. And call them! Ask specific questions as to the performance of the contractor, the quality of work, the adherence to the budget and timeline parameters, and the general interpersonal experience.
Solicit at least three firm bids. Most contractors will give you a free estimate. Include pictures from your idea file. For things like appliances, fixtures, flooring, materials, etc., include specifics about what you want in terms of grade, quality, and even manufacturer. Set priorities, at least mentally, and be prepared to discuss alternatives and trade-offs. Remember that the more specific you are about what you want, the more accurate the bid you receive from the contractor will be.
Keep in mind that the lowest bid may be lowest for a reason! It could mean that the contractor has not estimated a vital part of your project, or that you're dealing with an unscrupulous contractor who hopes to make up the difference later with change orders. Always work with a SIBA member!
Conduct interviews. Interview each contractor whose bid fits in your budget. Make a list of questions you have about the bid, and make sure you get an honest, straightforward answer or clarification about each question. Ask the contractor if he will actually oversee your project or if he'll use a project manager. (Ask to interview the project manager also, if applicable.)
Gauge communication and comfort level. In addition to fact checking, use the interview to determine if you and your spouse feel comfortable with and can communicate with the contractor. You should not feel intimidated by the contractor. You should feel assured that you can reach the contractor when you have questions. You also should also try to visit an active job site to see if the actions and attitudes you observe of the contractor and his staff are those you'd feel comfortable with when they are in your house.
Get a signed proposal, then a written contract. Once you have made a decision, get a signed proposal. The signed proposal will define what is intended to be done so everything can be clarified/ratified by both parties prior to the official legal contract. When all issues are resolved, get a written contract.
Do not enter into any constructions agreements without a written contract. Have your lawyer review the contract before signing it. Make sure this final agreement details both what is included and what is excluded (site clean-up, for instance), and that is includes a clause that limits the maximum change order costs that may be charged.
Be sure to authorize the contractor to apply for building permits as your agent. Licensed contractors are required by law to do this, and your contractor won't or is reluctant to do this, it may be a signed that he is not properly licensed.
When working with SIBA members, you will receive your Indiana Quality Assurance Builder Standards manual at the time of contract signing.
After you have a signed contract, notify any other contactors you received bids from of your decision so they are not holding a place for you in their schedule.
Maintain a project file. Translate as "CYA." In addition to saving the original estimate, the signed contract, and your Indiana Quality Assurance Builders Standards manual in a file, you should also save every receipt, every fax, every email, every change order, dated notes from every phone conversation, etc. This file is your back up just in case a question, misunderstanding, or conflict arises.
Be a good neighbor. Before construction begins, be sure to take time to talk to your neighbors to let them know what work you are having done, when the project will begin, and when you expect it to end. Make it clear to your neighbors that you want them to contact you right away if they encounter any problems related to your project, such as construction debris, unacceptable traffic/noise levels, or discourtesy from contractor or staff. Gently remind them that you cannot fix a problem if you do not know it exists, and assure them that you will discuss any issues with the contractor right away.