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Building Trust - Selecting A Contractor

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Leslie Patterson  by Leslie Patterson

Building a solid relationship with your contractor early will make building your home so much easier. Here's how to select a building contractor.

Finding a Home Building Contractor

Choosing the design for your dream home is just the beginning. The process of building from the ground up can be almost as rewarding as the results. Finding a good general contractor to oversee your project is one of the key factors in ensuring that your new home is well constructed, as well as finished on time and within your budget.

If you plan to do a great deal of the work yourself, and if you know how to obtain building permits, handle other kinds of legal paperwork, hire, monitor, and pay subcontractors, etc., you can save money by acting as your own general contractor. However, if you are not experienced in these areas, you should hire a general contractor, because building houses is his business.

Finding a builder is a breeze with our "Locate a Builder" feature found in the "Resource Center" of our website, You can also contact your local Home Builders Association to obtain references. Many states require building contractors to be licensed; if this is the case in your state, its licensing board is another referral source.

The Bidding Process

Before you contact any of the contractors on your list, assemble your specifications for bids. Make them as specific as possible; the more detail you go into with the contractors or subcontractors, the more accurate their bids will be. In addition to your construction blueprints, you should have the material list detailing the kinds of materials you want, such as roofing, siding, insulation, windows and doors, heating and cooling system, etc. Include the brand names you have selected wherever possible. If you can, you should even itemize the appliances and fixtures, including model numbers and colors.

When you meet with the contractors you would like to get bids from, have your detailed specifications ready. The bids you receive should include start and finish dates for the project, a list of jobs to be subcontracted and the cost of each, and explanations of warranties on materials and labor. The bids should be in writing; they usually are valid for 30 days.

A factor just as important as the bids your prospective contractors submit is whether or not you feel you can work well with them. Discuss your project with each of them to find out if they can communicate ideas and details clearly. Good rapport is essential.

Checking References

Once you have made your preliminary selection, you need to do a thorough reference check of the following sources:

  1. Former clients. The contractor should be willing to give you a list, including pictures, of his previous projects. Be sure to talk to several people whose homes were completed more than three years ago to see how well they are holding up. Also ask how quickly and smoothly the contractor solved whatever problems came up during construction.

  2. The Better Business Bureau. Any dissatisfied former clients may have logged complaints against the contractor with this agency; it's a good idea to check.

In addition to checking references, make sure that the contractor is bonded and his workers are covered by worker's compensation insurance. Ask to see the insurance certificates.

Signing a contract with the general contractor you've selected is the final step before work on your home begins ? and one of the most important. Basically, it details who will do what work, by what date and at what cost. Specifically, it should include starting and finishing dates, full price of the project, payment terms, and any additional details you feel are important.

Your contractor's compensation can be based on a fixed fee or a percentage of the project's total cost. You may want him to work on a cost-plus contract but only if it has a "not-to-exceed" clause which sets an upper limit on the total cost to you.

In addition to how and when the contractor is to be paid, the contract should list the services to be provided by the subcontractors, along with the cost of each. If possible, it should name a neutral third party to arbitrate in case of a dispute. After you sign the contract, you have a legal three-day "recision period" during which you can change your mind.

Selecting a general contractor to help you build your dream home is indeed a fairly long and involved process. However, if you take the time necessary before work starts to find a good, dependable contractor who will watch out for your interests, the building process itself will be much simplified for you, and the quality of your finished home will make it well worth the effort.

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