Finding a professional building contractor
For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself, it’s finding a competent and reliable contractor to do the job. Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down a wall or re-tiling the bathroom is simple compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish let alone a competent builder than can undertake larger projects.
Everyone has heard stories about horrendous contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that cost three times the contractor’s original estimate.
Those are the nightmare kind of stories we hear all the time.
Even with a good contractor, renovations can be stressful, expensive and involve unpleasant surprises, such as rotted subfloors that are revealed when tiles are removed or dangerous electrical wiring or leaking pipes behind walls.
Choosing the right contractor can make the difference between a successful home renovation project and a disaster. But even for experienced builder finding the right contractor can be a challenge.
It can be difficult to hire contractors and know what you’re getting. You’re spending a lot of money, and you’re dealing with your home. If they do it wrong, there can be a whole lot of heartache.
If you’re doing a big project, you’ll need a reputable contractor, who may hire subcontractors for specialty work such as plumbing and electrical. Homeowners with renovation experience sometimes work as their own general contractors, hiring specific tradespeople for each job. While this may save you money, it can be time-consuming and will mean multiple contractor searches instead of just one, since you’ll have to find a specialist for each smaller job.
Whichever way you go, there are steps you can take to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and your sanity – under control. Here are 19 tips to help you find a contractor who will get the job done right.
1. Know what you want before you get estimates
Start with a plan and some ideas. Architectural drawings and approved plans on bigger projects are key. Leave nothing for second guess or chance! Don’t start by talking to contractors. You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you have a very specific plan and structural drawings to go from.
2. Work with My Build My Way
We only work with competent, vetting and professional building contractors. We have purposely made our criteria and vetting process difficult to ensure only those of a certain calibre undertake building work endorsed by us. We personally validate and check an array of checks including credit searches, testimonial checks, insurance documents and validate past/present work.
3. Compare at least 3 quotes
Ask a lot of questions and get a written quote from each contractor we provide. When you compare quotes, make sure each one includes the same materials and the same tasks, so you’re comparing apples and apples. Get three quotes even if you have a contractor you like because you’ll learn something from each. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. While you might do some haggling at the onsite visit, be prepared to do most of the negotiation after you get the bid and before you sign the contract.
4. NEVER settle on just a friend recommendation
Time and time again we have heard the horror stories unfold.
“My friend recommended a company who did a great job on their house. They did mine and it was horrendous!”
My Build My Way put all the safeguards in place to ensure a simple recommendation isn’t enough! Even if all hell breaks loose and issues arise, don’t panic! We’ve got you covered!
5. Ask what work will be done by the contractor’s employees and what work will be done by subcontractors
Whilst it’s not uncommon for a contractor to hire in skilled labour, its important to ensure they are as big or as small as they say. Smaller companies tend to have a more personal touch but they also run the risk of biting off more than they can chew! Larger company’s tend to be picky with the jobs they bring on, and you can become a number rather than an individual.
6. Choose the right contractor for the right project
Someone who did a good job tiling your neighbour’s bathroom isn’t necessarily the right person to build your rear extension. You want to find a company that routinely does the kind of project you want done. You don’t want them to use you as a guinea pig.
7. Check licenses, complaints and litigation history
Whilst we do our best to endorse our contractors, not everyone is so compliant outside of us. It’s important to check resolution history, credit checks and insurance documents to start. Directors with numerous liquidated companies are a red flag. If they either can’t be found online or across social media pages, this is also suspicious – especially in today’s market.
8. Check references
Talk to clients both past and present for a real understanding of how the contractor performs. Whilst My Build My Way can provide feedback on each registered contractor, outside of our walls its important to get real feedback. A phone call is never enough, visit a site! Check the work being carried out and ask questions.
9. Read online reviews, but don’t consider that enough information.
Yelp and Google should have some reviews. You want to read the reviews carefully to make sure the contractor is the right person for your job and will work well with you. Keep in mind that reading reviews is not a substitute for checking references.
10. Sign a detailed contract
Make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including deadlines, progress payments, and the exact materials that will be used – all the way down to who will provide which materials. If you don’t have it documented, it’s your word against theirs. If the builder’s contract is not detailed enough, write up your own or provide addendums. Any change in the project, whether you change your mind about products or ask for additional projects, should generate a written change order that includes the new work, materials and cost.
11. Get the proper permits
Nearly all home renovation projects require permits. Many fly-by-night companies, as well as some licensed contractors, will suggest the job be done without permits to save money. Not only does that violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if you’re caught, it means the work will not be inspected by the council to make sure it’s up to code. Ensure you have the right permission, party wall agreements, acknowledgment letters and have informed the local authority of your intension to start work. This usual requires 48-72 hours’ notice.
12. Don’t pay more than 30 percent of the job total before the job starts
You don’t want a contractor to use your money to finish someone else’s job. 30% is more than enough to order the correct materials, hire in plant equipment and get your project up to the first completed stage. The contract should include a payment schedule and stage payments for milestone completions.
13. Always allocate a pot for “unforeseen extras”
No matter how careful you and the contractor are in preparing for the job, there will be surprises that will add to the cost. They can’t see through walls nor see what lies beneath the soil. Building control may ask your footings to go from 1000mm depth to over 1600 in some case. This will means additional labour and material to backfill. It’s advised to keep 10-15% of the project total in your pot.
14. Negotiate ground rules
Discuss what hours the contractor can work at your home, what kind of notice you’ll get, what bathroom the workers will use and what will be cleaned up at the end of every workday. Set out the rules at the beginning and leave nothing to chance.
15. Talk to the contractor frequently
For a big job, you may need to talk every day. My Build My Way’s unique approved inspection eradicates the risk of covering up issues. They are flagged and resolved immediately. However, should you be dealing with a contractor outside of us, it’s important to see issues and flag them immediately. What’s a small issue today could have a catastrophic effect weeks down the line!
16. Verify insurance coverage
Understand what the contractors insurance covers and what our unique insurance policy offers. Whilst we have gone to great lengths to ensure your protected, things may have been unaccounted for and it ultimately comes down to you to check.
Most singular insurance policies from contractors will cover existing structures but NOT what’s being built.
17. Don’t make the final payment until the job is 100 percent complete
Contractors are notorious for finishing most of the job and then moving on before they get to the final details. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and have sign off from Building control. There’s normally a 2 week ‘Snagging’ payment which allows the work to settle, cracks to appear and pipes to leak. This is normal and ensure your contractor is called back to repair.
18. Hold a personal guarantee against the contractor
At My Build My Way we hold ALL of our company directors PERSONALLY liable for the work they undertake. This means no hiding behind an LTD company in the event of a shortfall or foul play. If you are using a contractor outside of us, ensure you get this in a contract form and ensure your contractor as assets. These are just a few safeguard we put in place to make sure there are no hiccups along the way!
19. Attention is in the detail
Gone are the days of a verbal agreement on price or a simple email saying your project will cost “X”. We hold our contractors to validate an extensive quote (unless otherwise stipulated) meaning we expect a lengthy document detailing what exactly is to be included.
If a contractor provides anything less then a 2 page document, be wary!