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How to Hire and Manage a General Contractor

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It might seem odd to you that a contractor is giving you advice on how to hire and manage a contractor.

After all, for those outside the business then general contractors seem to be put in the same unflattering slot as “ambulance-chasing lawyers,” “slum landlords,” and “used car salespeople.”

You get the picture.

The truth is most contractors in the building and home industries have been “taken to the cleaners” a number of times by their clients. Work done and not paid, scope of work creep, dishonesty, unjustified and malicious bad reviews – the list goes on and on.

Sure, like any industry there are a few “bad eggs” out there.

Being a general contractor is a risky business.

This is why I am not a general contractor. I stay within my level of focus and expertise and the things I enjoy doing. That’s why I focus on residential exterior work covering siding installation, window replacement, and roofing services. I operate in the cities and towns surrounding Worcester and within the Metrowest Boston regions.

Even though I have elected not to be a General Contractor I have still experienced all the downsides they have. I enrolled in the “school of hard knocks” early in my career and have some amazing stories about people who have hired me – but those are stories for another day.

Today, I want to use my experience to help you choose a contractor to help you with your next project.

THE RESEARCH AND INTERVIEW:

Getting a referral is always better than seeing who comes up top in a Google search. Most people these days start their search in Google and visit a few sites to see what they can find out. By all means pay attention to the reviews people leave about a contractor.

You obviously want to see more five-star reviews than one-star, but don’t put too much weight on reviews – we are not talking about a restaurant dinner here but usually a substantial investment of time and money and the need for people to work together. Are the reviews specific about quality of work? What was the conduct of the project crew? If there was an issue did the contractor respond to a complaint and make a customer whole?

Once you have a short-list pick up the phone and interview them. You’re looking for a contractor who will listen to you, be interested in your project, and be responsive. Did they return your call promptly or did it take them a few days? Unless the job is really simple they should visit you on site. The site interview allows you to assess if they’re somebody you’d be comfortable with tramping through your home.

Have a list of questions beforehand and make sure they answer each one to your satisfaction. Don’t “wing it” on questions as you’ll not be able to think on your feet. You should also ask for contactable references as you’ll want these for the next phase.

Make your selection based on who you feel you can work with based on the rapport you had. When the going gets tough you want to be sure you’re hired a general contractor who is working for you and the result you want rather than just a paycheck.

THE BACKGROUND CHECK:

We’ve already talked about online reviews and testimonials at their website. You should have a few references you can check with. An experienced general contractor should be able to provide you with at least two references for projects similar to yours. Don’t be afraid to call those references.

Yes, they are likely to be glowing references because of the source but that is okay. Again, prepare for the call beforehand by writing down a few areas you want the reference to elaborate on and that are important to you. Have a question around issues encountered in the project. How were they handled? You’re not looking for perfection but do want to feel secure they will resolve issues to everybody’s satisfaction.

THE HIRING PROCESS:

So you’re made your choice and possibly have two contractors you’d feel comfortable choosing, just in case a negotiation on price and timing for one doesn’t work for you. I advise you to have a scope of work to set expectations up front and tied to a payment schedule.

The scope of work is important for both you and the general contractor. If the contractor has a standard form they use then that is okay for you to accept, just make sure you read through it and agree with it. You don’t have to have your lawyer review it but at a minimum it should spell out work to be done, start and end dates, and when payment is to be made.

MANAGING THE CONTRACTOR:

Before the contractor comes on site make sure you have both agreed on expectations – what you expect the finished result to look like and how the project is managed. The general contractor manages his crew and so you need to manage the contractor.

Depending on the project don’t pay the contractor all the money up front. This is a recipe for disaster. A reasonable expectation is to split the project up into three payments particularly if it will be a project lasting a few months. The first payment may cover materials and extras for the contractor – this is fair. The second can be paid at an agreed delivery mid-point. The final payment is only made after all work is completed and clean-up is done to your satisfaction.

The final payment should be made at an agreed time to review the work with them. Avoid the situation where the contractor is waiting for you to come home from work with the crew in the background, and with silent pressure for you to hand over the final check so they can high tail it out of dodge.

On the other hand you shouldn’t withhold final payment unreasonably. This is where the detailed scope of work is your friend. But again no final check until all the elements of the agreed scope of work is complete and to your satisfaction.

Leave a comment below if you have experiences you want to share with others. Please be respectful and genuine – I review and approve all comments.

Good hiring!

Mike Cannistraro
Owner/Operator
East Coast Siding
508.529.4500

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