4 Things Contractors Don't Want You to Know

By: David Seip

You’ve heard the horror stories about the contractor who takes your money and never shows up to do the work, or who does a poor job and then refuses to return phone calls.  There are a lot of good contractors out there, but finding them can be challenging.  We’ve put together a four-point checklist to help you gain confidence that you’ve found the right person before you sign the contract.  These are things you’ll have to search out for yourself because contractors won’t readily volunteer it.  You’ll need to know these things before you hire your contractor.


First: Watch How They Handle Their First Commitment.

This one you won’t have to dig too deeply to discover.  We even feel funny mentioning this step.  You’d think that anyone who owns a business would automatically pass this first test, but its far from a guarantee.  Contractors are notorious for not showing up for their scheduled first meeting with potential clients.  They may be excellent in what they do, but running a business and possessing common business sense and courtesy does not go hand-in-hand.  If your contractor does not show up for your first meeting or is significantly late don’t waste any time crossing him off your list.  If you hire this one, you’re sure to be sorry when you’re well into your project and it’s financially difficult to end the relationship.


Second: Check Their History and Qualifications.

A young general contractor with a fairly new company is not a bad thing, but it makes it a little harder to gauge his track record.  Unless you personally know him or he comes enthusiastically recommended by someone you trust it’s better to go with a more established company.  Ask the contractor to show proof that he is licensed to do work in your municipality (or, in some cases the state).  If he is he will likely to have had to show proof of insurance in order to work there.  Have him show you proof of insurance anyway.  No contractor should work for you without this protection.  Check with the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Protection Agency to see if there have been any complaints against his company.  Also check with the state to see how long his company has been in business.  He may have been around a long time but that doesn’t mean that is true of his company.  Some contractors are notorious for filing bankruptcy and starting companies with new names to avoid the law.


Third: Read the Contract Carefully.

We’ve seen lots of general contractor contracts and the one thing that is common to many of them is that they lack “specificity.”  Be certain you clearly understand what the contractor is obligating himself to do for you.  One of the biggest areas of confusion is over the finishes you choose for your project.  There are “builder grade” items that the contractor will install, such as lighting, faucets, flooring and trim. Ask to see samples if you agree to allow him to install those builder grade items — and be certain that the model numbers and manufacturers are specifically called out.  If you don’t like what he’s proposing to install, your option is to ask for an “allowance” for those items whereby he gives you a credit amount for you to select your own.  This option doesn’t work very well.  The most effective option is for you to agree to buy finishes yourself.  If he’s an honest guy he’ll help you out by extending to you his contractor discounts.  Also, be certain that you hold a portion of your contractor payments (at least ten percent) until he has gone through and corrected all the little things (called a “punch list”) that need to be corrected or touched-up at the end of the construction process.


Fourth: Understand Clearly Who’s Doing the Work.

You might be thinking that if you hire a general contractor he’ll be performing all the work except for things like electrical, HVAC and plumbing, but that’s a false assumption.  Many general contractors do very little of the work themselves.  They might perform as little as the demolition and rough framing.  All the other portions of the job are hired separately through subs.  That’s where things can get a little unpredictable.  The subs prably have multiple jobs they are working on simultaneously.  That often means manpower is stretched pretty thin.  They may start your job and them not show up for a few days while they spend time getting caught up at another project.  One sure way to avoid this it to build into your contract a stipulation that the contractor agrees to meet with you on a weekly basis to provide updates on progress and to inform you as to his expectations for what is to be accomplished during the current week.  It won’t take you long to realize whether he’s living up to his stipulated schedule, and give you plenty of time to impress upon him your expectations.

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About the Author

Architect, David Seip, has over 33 years of experience and is licensed in 5 states (including Florida). He has completed more than 300 projects both residential & commercial. Please visit The Seip Group for more information or to schedule a design consultation.