8 Tips to Select a General Contractor for a Home Improvement Project

Selecting a General Contractor based on the Lowest Price may not be the best idea.

Recently I was asked to visit a home of someone that had a room added onto the house juGary Rumbaugh Construction, example of taking a low bid.  rotten wood.st seven short years ago. They selected the lowest bid and now that decision is costing them tens of thousands of dollars to correct.  You can see from the photo, flashing and roofing were not done properly and now there are rotted headers, siding, roofing. Plus there is so much more that has yet to be discovered beneath the siding.

To avoid this, here are 8 tips to select a general contractor that will help you.

1 Find a Local Contractor

You can do a Google Search, look at websites and check the reviews on Angie’s List, Buildzoom, Houzz, Google My Business and others.  Check out what past clients are saying about various contractors. I also recommend contacting the commercial building departments inside building supply stores for suggested contractors. They will know the most reputable contractors that buy the best quality materials and also pay on time.  I primarily use Builders Supply locally, as do most reputable contractors in the greater Omaha area.

2 Make a Short List

To cull the list of possible contractors call them and ask questions:

  • Do they take on projects within your size?
  • Can you see a list of previous clients?
  • How busy are they right now?
  • Can the provide License information, financial references and the like?
  • How long have they been working with their subcontractors?

3 Meet with the Finalists

After you have completed tip number 2, have the finalists stop over and look at your project. Get to know them. Make sure you communicate your wants, desires, and needs. You can remind them of your budget which was covered in Tip 2. I think one of the biggest benefits of a Face-to-Face meeting is whether you and the contractor can communicate well together.

4 Ask and Check the References

Contact their clients.  Ask if you can stop over and view the finished work. You can ask the homeowner how they got along with the contractor.

Visit a current job site. This may allow you to see how the contractor and subs work.  Granted you will be checking a construction project, but you can see how clean or neat they work.

5 Have Drawings for the Project

Have a set of plans and specifications to bid from. This will allow the various contractors you invite to do the work on the project to submit bids all based on the same specifications.  OK, where do you get the drawings?  This can be done by project managers, architects and some general contractors.  Many times I provide a set of drawings as part of my bid process if none are available and let the homeowner use these drawings so other contractors can submit bids using the same specifications.  That way you can get a good comparison as to pricing for your home improvement. I do charge for this service, I call it in-home design service, but if I am selected as the contractor for your project, I deduct the cost for the drawings from the total bid.

6 Set a Payment Schedule

All contractors will want a portion of the project fees up front.  This is to buy needed materials to get the project started.  Then if a payment schedule is not offered, be sure to set one up and both agree to the milestones and the necessary payments. Large project may require a 10% down payment. Smaller renovation projects may require 25-30%. Then evenly spaced payments should be scheduled with a hold back of 15% which is paid once the project is completed once the punch list is checked off.  There may still be required inspections by municipal inspectors, but for all intents, the project is complete at the punch list stage.

7 Don’t Always Select the Lowest Bid

In fact you should just throw the lowest bid out. As I started out above, selecting the lowest price is NOT always the best idea. Low price may mean the contractor is cutting corners or is desperate to get work. Using a quality contractor to do the job right with quality materials, will save you money overall.  You will also be able to enjoy the completed project, trouble-free for years to come.

8 Contracts

Get it in writing. Know what is expected of you and what is expected of your contractor. Set the payment schedule, project milestones and anticipated project completion date.  Also understand that there are factors that can change the completion date for any project, as I detailed in my previous post “The Planning Process for your Home Renovation.” The four most expensive words you can utter to a contractor are “While you’re at it…”

Be sure to include provisions about lien releases from the subs and the general contractor.

So there are my 8 Tips on Selecting a General Contractor for your home improvement project. I hope you find them useful.  Be sure to contact me if you have any questions and do leave any comments below.