How to Find a Good Building Contractor

Many areas of the West are in the middle of an incredible building boom, with building contractors popping up faster than dandelions on a summer day. How does one go about choosing a good building contractor?

Shop around

Just like customers who are in the market for a new car, the best way to find a reputable building contractor is by shopping around. Ask your friends and relatives who have recently had homes built or remodeled for builder recommendations, and inspect the quality of the work. Friends and relatives are often quite candid and should be able to give you the unvarnished truth about their home building experience.

New home tours are another popular way of finding a builder. These home tours give prospective buyers the chance to examine the workmanship of newly built homes. Narrow the field to several builders who can handle the size and the quality of the project you have in mind. This is an important point to remember since not all builders can handle all types of project. A low end assembly line builder for example, might not have the skill nor sub-contractors to build a custom executive home, nor will a custom high-end builder want to build a no-frills starter home in the price range you need.

Checking the references

Many people never bother to check references when it comes time to remodel or build a home. They may make their decision on the bottom line cost or by merely examining only one of the builder’s homes elsewhere.

Checking references is the single most important thing you can do when interviewing a builder. Take the time to call a builder’s previous customers and ask detailed questions about their new home. Questions should address such issues as quality, price, length of time, the builder’s temperament and that of his sub contractors, if the builder kept you informed during the process, and if he stayed on budget. The single most important question to ask is “Would you build a home using this person again?”

In addition to personal references, it is also wise to check a builder’s credentials and other references. States that require building contractors to be licensed offer some measure of additional protection; in states that do not require a builders license, checking references is doubly important. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to check for any complaints have been filed against the builder and for what reason. The County Courthouse is another good place to research legal action against the builder. While it’s hard to avoid a lawsuit in the building industry, a builder with a long history of law suits for non performance or is in the middle of a bankruptcy is probably someone to steer clear of.

Get quotes

When you have narrowed the field to three or four builders, it’s time to ask for written quotes for the work.

All quotes are not the same, and to use an old expression, one must avoid “comparing apples to oranges”. Low bidders sometime neglect to mention that certain items are “extras’ and not calculated into the bid. The end of the project is not the time to discover that the carpeting, lights, and appliances were options! Set the bids side by side, and make sure that everything is properly itemized. If a category is confusing or unclear, have the builder clarify the information in the final contract.

Don’t be surprised if your builder charges you for the bid ~ in recent years, I’ve seen some contractors charge the owner an up front fee for preparing a bid. Bid prep fees are generally applied to the project down payment if the bid is accepted.

Avoid cash deals & verify insurance

Legitimate contractors are businessmen who have overhead expenses including office fees, insurance, employees, and taxes. All reputable builders take payments by check or money order which can be tracked. Verify that your builder will accept checks or money orders, and avoid those cash deals like the plague. Additionally, always ask to view copies (or at least obtain the numbers) of liability insurance and workman’s compensation policies. Take the time to verify that these policies are current.

Written contracts

A reputable builder is always more than happy to sign a written contract specifying the details of the project. A good contract prevents him from getting fleeced by a disagreeable client, as well as protect the client from getting scammed by a dishonest builder. If the home owner is working with a Realtor, the Realtor can provide a contract that protects both parties involved. If you are acting as your own agent and building directly, consult an attorney to draw up a document that will prevent the home construction project from becoming an unhappy experience. Hiring an attorney to represent your best interests is one area in which a customer should never scrimp.

This is not intended to be legal advice, but merely a guideline for things to look for when hiring a builder. Building a home can be a trying experience, but by taking the project seriously and doing your homework before hiring a building contractor, will make your dream home a reality instead of turning it into a nightmare.

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