hiring a general contractor

So, you’re a homeowner with a project that seems too big to DIY. Maybe you need a full-service general contractor like Pro.com for those larger projects such as a new addition or a major remodel. For smaller tasks, an individual general contractor might be appropriate. No matter what kind of project you’re starting, vetting the quality, reliability, and credentials of your general contractor is the best way to ensure your project is successful.

Gather a short list

You want a properly licensed, bonded, and insured contractor with a proven track record. Word-of-mouth recommendations, online reviews, building inspectors, and industry organizations like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry can all point you to promising options. Gather a list of GCs covering the work you want done, then get on the phone.

Credentials to verify when hiring a general contractor:

  • Are they licensed in your state? You should ask for their license number if licensure is a state requirement. Get a record of the contractors registration or certification as applicable. Carrying official endorsements proves the company is financially stable. You should also check that there isn’t a criminal background or unresolved grievances on their record. 
  • Are they properly insured? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that contractors should carry three types of insurance: Check to make sure the general contractors you hire have each.
    • Personal liability — covers medical and legal fees if someone on site is hurt and there’s a lawsuit.
    • Worker’s compensation — protects if a worker is injured on the job and will cover their medical and legal fees as well as their lost wages. 
    • Property damage coverage — covers repair costs and legal fees if customer property is damaged. 
  • Do they carry surety bonds? Insurance goes with the contractor to every site. A bond is specific to the project. It’s a three-party contract between the insurer, the contractor, and you, the owner. Perhaps the most important type of construction surety bonds is a performance bond. If the contractor fails to complete the project on the agreed terms, a performance bond protects you from financial loss. 
  • Have they done this type of work before? You should be able to envision how your project will turn out based on the experiences of past clients. Look for a history of similar projects in the company’s project portfolio, reviews, customer references, and more. We’re happy to show you examples of similar work we’ve done in the past — or projects that are currently in construction. 

Pro.com tip: A contractor license lookup verifies a company’s credentials. Plus, it surfaces information that contractors might not offer on their own — like complaint disclosures. Follow the links below for contractor license searches in the areas where Pro.com operates: 

Get bids

Once you’ve narrowed your general contractor list down to a handful of good options, it’s time to look at the dollar amounts. While it’s tempting to choose the cheapest option, remember to look at more than just the total price tag. What appears to be the cheapest job up-front could cost more down the road in surprise change orders or unfinished work.

To avoid letting price play an out-sized role in your decision making, hold off on gathering estimates until you know you are looking at an even crop of contractors. Then make sure you’re comparing quotes by line item — not just sum total. Pro.com offers highly detailed estimates that break project costs down into clear phases. 

Make sure your project estimate includes:

  • The full scope of work including a detailed breakdown of costs for materials and labor plus incidentals like hauling trash.
  • The initial payment amount and the full payment schedule. Most contractors won’t ask for more than a third of the cost upfront. Contractors that ask for more upfront may not have enough cash on hand to get them through the project.
  • The expected project duration and target finish date allows you to see the big-picture approach to your project. 

Pro.com tip: A fair rate is important, but if your estimate seems too good to be true, it probably is. Homeowners that choose the bargain option often end up paying more in change orders once construction has begun.

Put it in writing

A thorough contract solves problems before they arise. Make sure the contract with your general contractor spells out your expectations for the project, its costs, and who is responsible for what.

Make sure your contract includes:

  • Your project’s primary contact person 
  • Your project timeline, including estimated start and finish dates
  • Expected payment schedule, organized by date or by phases of project completion
  • A list of all needed permits and inspections and a statement that the contractor will secure them
  • Descriptions of all warranties, guarantees, or promises made by the general contractor, including a workmanship guarantee. Most contractors will provide these for at least one year.
  • Agreement that any change orders to the existing budget will be approved by you first

Pro.com tip: The FTC guarantees you three days to rethink purchases made in your home — it’s known as the Cooling Off Rule. While originally intended to protect consumers from door-to-door salesmen, the rule extends to construction contracts. If you rethink a purchase agreement made in your home within three days, federal law says you can get a full refund.

A great project starts with a great contractor

We know that any hiring decision ultimately comes down to trust. Legal compliance and proper insurance are two sure signs; positive customer testimonials is another. But one of the most important indicators of your general contractor’s trustworthiness is how they communicate. Your general contractor should be easy to get ahold of and transparent about their process. Have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask a while you’re at it – check out some of our past work here

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