5 Tips to Ensure a Positive Experience with Your General Contractor
If you intend to build, repair or renovate your home, it helps to have some practical guidelines to protect you from common pitfalls. Here are some of the issues I’ve encountered as a general contractor in Honolulu, and hope these guidelines are helpful to you.
1. Never give the contractor all of his fees up front. I did a job for a wonderful couple living in Aiea. Since this was a new experience for them, they offered to pay most of the fees up front. I advised them that they should never pay most of the fees up front, but instead should ask the potential contractor for a fee schedule tied in with the stages of construction.
If the contractor gets fully paid before he completes the job, the contractor will have no incentive to complete the job nor do it to the customer’s satisfaction. It’s always a win-win when the client is fully satisfied with the job and the contractor is happy to have gotten a dream client, as in this case. I hope to do business with this family in the future, as they make the contractor’s job much easier.
2. Make sure that the contractor is licensed, and ask to see this document. It goes without saying that the client should get several quotes from different contractors before deciding on one. It is not OK to use one of the contractor’s estimates to show another contractor to see if he can match the price.
You should also ask about his crew. How long has he been doing this? Will his crew be there from start to finish? As much as possible, you want to limit any strangers around your property. You want to minimize the possibility of working with strangers who you are not comfortable with, as well as any possible theft within your home. Don’t leave valuables and other precious items around. Once those items are gone, it’s almost impossible to get them back. Ask the contractor for references, especially current ones, and be sure to follow up on them. This is a must. Even better if one of the references will allow you to see what was done on their property.
3. Inquire about mechanics’ liens and if any have occurred with this company. Mechanics’ liens are one of the most common occurrences in this industry. If the hired contractor does not have a license and disappears before finishing the job for you, you may not have any recourse to recover the money you paid him. Furthermore, he may not have paid his subcontractors, in which case the subs may end up contacting you for payment. This situation may end up in a messy lawsuit.
4. Ask the contractor about his availability, as clear communication between client and contractor is essential. This also creates trust from the client. Most of my clients work full time, so it’s sometimes difficult to meet with them or discuss decisions that have to be made during normal work hours. One of my clients, for example, owns a restaurant, so it’s even more difficult to confer with him or contact him during normal work hours; yet this is the schedule most contractors keep. I keep my cell phone with me at all times, and many times I agree to meet the client on weekends or in the evening. I work according to the clients’ schedules.
5. The cheapest price is not necessarily the best price for the job. This goes back to doing your homework on the contractor before hiring the company. Many contractors go in low for the bid in the hope of making profits on the change orders. This is a common practice in the industry. I have personally gone onto sites being renovated or built and observed lower quality supplies being used to save money.
For example, to save costs, cheaper materials may be used and will begin deteriorating or corroding in a few years. Corners can be cut in every phase of construction, and most clients won’t know the difference. Most clients are clueless about the structural considerations, as long as the final finishing is appealing. Only if the contractor has high standards will the renovations, from structure to finishing, be done correctly.
This always goes back to trusting the general contractor and having the confidence that he will do what he is supposed to do, especially in the areas in which the client has little knowledge.
One of my friends used an unlicensed contractor and paid him in full before the renovations to the kitchen were completed. Of course, when my friend tried contacting him —many times — he would not get back to her. She was unable to find him. Furthermore, a few years later, some areas of her renovated kitchen are now showing distress and other parts are coming undone. Unfortunately for her, there is no recourse. The contractor has long gone onto another job, which may be yours.
If you plan to renovate your home, take time to research before making decisions. At every stage and level of the process, for reasons of safety, quality, finances and structural integrity, every decision is important when you’re working on your home. After all, whether building, renovating or maintaining your home, it’s one of your most valuable assets.
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