How to Find a General Contractor
Your residence is likely your most valuable possession. Whether you need remodeling work, repair after significant damage, or hope to build your dream home, you’ll want to make sure that the people working on your place are properly qualified for the job.
Despite the fact that there are many excellent contractors operating in the US today, many people have heard "horror stories" from friends and coworkers about construction projects gone bad. In many cases, however, problems with construction could've been avoided had the homeowner taken the time to carefully research the contractor before signing an agreement.
Finding a Contractor in Your Area
There are several ways of finding a contractor in your area, including word-of-mouth, Internet searches, or using the Yellow Pages. Many people use a combination of these methods: they may ask friends and family for recommendations and then look up the businesses online to learn more about them. Similarly, they may find a website or directory listing and then ask others if they've heard about the contractor.
Types of Contractors
There are many different types of contractors, so it's important to understand what kind of contractor you need to hire before starting your search. Below are some common types of contractors:
- General contractor: A general contractor is someone who oversees an entire construction project. General contractors typically do everything from working with an architect to develop a building plan to hiring tradespeople to handle things like plumbing and wiring.
- Specialized trades: some contractors are specialized tradespeople who install, maintain and repair various building systems. These include roofing contractors, electricians, plumbers and HVAC-R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) technicians.
- Commercial vs. Residential: some contractors specialize in commercial projects while others focus on residential homes. When considering a contractor, find out which type of work they are most experienced with. In some cases, a contractor that does good work on an office building may not have the expertise to remodel a living room.
The type of contractor you need depends on your project. If you need a repair to a toilet or a furnace, you'd want to hire a plumber or HVAC-R contractor directly. If you are looking to add a room to your home, remodel the basement, or build a new place, you'd want to talk with a general contractor.
Names and Numbers Yellow Pages directories offer categorize listings of contractors. You'll be able to look up a contractor that specializes in the kind of job you need done.
In most states, contractors are regulated. Laws vary, but a contractor often must either register with or be licensed by the state or states in which they operate. In addition, individual tradespeople, such as electricians or HVAC technicians either have to hold a license or certification in their own right, or must be an employee of a licensed contractor. Some states do have a loophole that allows contractors to operate without a license if they are not building new structures or the cost of their jobs is under a certain dollar amount.
Check local court records to see if the contractor has been involved with lawsuits. It is not uncommon for businesses that have been operating for several years to have some sort of legal issue from time to time. But if you begin to see a pattern in lawsuits filed against the contractor, be wary of working with them.
Check the laws in your state. If your state does require contractors to register or be licensed, check to see if a contractor has a license. Many contractors actually include license information on their websites or in advertising, including Yellow Page ads. You can usually lookup a license online via the state licensing board’s website.
Don't rely on references from the contractor. Instead, talk to others who have used the contractor service in the past. If you don't know anyone personally, ask friends and family to ask their social networks for feedback. You can also look up the contractor’s online reviews.
Don't fall for a "hard-sell" from a contractor's representative. After a salesperson offers a quote, tell him or her that you will get back to them. Get at least three quotes from contractors before making a final decision.
Make sure the contractor has experience in your type of job. There are many fine contractors out there that don't have experience in certain areas of remodeling, construction, or repair. If you have a very old home, or systems that require specialized expertise, it's important to confirm with the contractor that they understand your homes specific needs.
As you continue your investigation and local contractors, there are several red flags that you should pay attention to. While one or even two of these doesn't mean that a contractor is unethical, their existence means that you should probe further before signing a contract.
Request for a cash deal: Some contractors will offer you a steep discount if you agree to pay upfront and in cash. Unfortunately, when you pay a contractor this way you have very little recourse if the job is done poorly or not at all. Paying with a credit card or in installments are two ways of minimizing potential financial loss and ensuring that the contractor will complete your job.
History of complaints and disciplinary action: while doing your research, you may come across reports of disciplinary action taken against contractors by local or state licensing boards. If you notice multiple, recent complaints and disciplinary procedures, reconsider working with that contractor.
The benefits of finding the right contractor are significant, both in the short-term and long-term. In the short term, you'll get necessary home repairs, remodeling, or construction done right. In the long term, you'll be able to develop a strong relationship with a contractor that you can return to time and again over the years.
The key to finding a good home contractor is to start your search as early as possible so that you can take your time doing good research and evaluating bids. Quality contractors understand your caution and will be willing to answer your questions and give you time and space to make the right decision.