By Doug Storey on December 06, 2010

Choosing the best building contractor for your project

I recently read an article about “Avoiding Contractor Rip-Offs”. The implication being that most if not all contractors would rip you off if you don’t watch out. 

Well, I categorically disagree with that sentiment and believe that most contractors are honest and want to do a good job for you, while attempting to earn a decent living. In fact I wrote a letter to the editor that was published Jan 2nd:

To The Editor Boston Globe Magazine - RE: "Avoid Contractor Rip-Offs":
The title implies most or all contractors will rip you off if you aren't careful.  This is simply not true.  Most contractors are earnest, honest and want to do a good job while earning a decent living.  We have to be licensed, to carry insurance and stay up to date on the latest building and energy code changes, Mass State Law and many belong to a professional organization such as the NAHB or NARI to continue opportunities to learn and grow in our field.  The article was correct that homeowners should be sure to check that the contractor they are considering is licensed, does carry the proper insurance, does have the necessary training and has provided a list of prior customer references that will give direct testimony to the experience with that contractor.
Unfortunately some contractors, who otherwise pass these tests of professionalism, may still fail and go out of business.  The best source of information is a reference from their last job.  
Doug Storey, Managing Partner
Two Storey

There are of course many different types of contractors and many different degrees of sophistication and professionalism within the contractor profession and homeowners need to follow a clear process in choosing the best contractor for them and their particular project.

Here are some helpful tips and a process to follow:

  1. Educate yourself and do the necessary research to make yourself knowledgeable about the important aspects of what you are considering.  The internet is an endless source of this information.  Building magazine and websites are also helpful as well as home improvement programs.  Many classes and seminars are offered and open to the public to provide a more detailed level of knowledge.
  2. Have architectural plans and project specifications developed that clearly delineate the scope of your project as well as the details that are very important to you.  An architect or a design/builder can help you with this.
  3. Identify potential contractors that fit the type of work you are about to do.  A small project may require a handyman or replacement contractor.  Larger projects require a builder or remodeling contractor with a much greater experience and background.  A design/build contractor can help with the plans and provide a one stop source for the plans and building of your project.
  4. Check their credentials thoroughly:
    1. Are they a member of a professional organization such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) or the Builder Association of Greater Boston (BAGB)?
    2. Do they have specialized expertise or training that may be required on your project?
    3. Are they up to date on the latest building and energy codes (IECC 2009 and Stretch) and regulations like the EPA RRP lead paint law?  Are they are Lead Safe Renovation Contractor?
    4. Do they carry the insurance (workers compensation and liability) and licenses (construction supervisor and home improvement contractor) required in the State of Massachusetts?
    5. Meet the builders and review their proposals:
      1. Are the owners personally involved in the process and will they be involved in your project?
      2. Do they listen to your needs, desires and biggest priorities?  Do they demonstrate flexibility in their approach?
      3. Have they provided you with a detailed estimate and explained the content so that you feel comfortable that they are offering a fair and reasonable approach to determine the cost of your project?
      4. Check their references- Check Several:
        1. Do they provide a list of prior customers with the type of project, the date of the project and the email and phone contact information?
        2. Talk to several former customers and ask what it was like to work with this contractor, did they stay on schedule and on budget, how were changes handled, do they trust the contractor?
        3. Personal referrals from a trusted source such a family member, friend, neighbor, or other contractor are the best source of information
        4. Check out third party websites such as Angie's List as well.
        5. Trust your gut – do you trust this contractor, are they honest and do they conduct themselves with integrity, will they be professional and manage all aspects of your project, are they flexible, creative and fun to talk to?  At the end of the day you are forming a relationship that will be critical to the future of your family, your home and your comfort in your home.
        6. Once you have selected your contractor you must execute a written contract (for all projects over $1000 in Mass.).  This is a critical piece and roadmap for the project and must not be taken lightly. 

I’ll give a detailed description of what a construction contract should look like in a future blog.

Published by Doug Storey December 6, 2010