Choosing a Contractor

With a booming economy comes lots of new home buyers and first-time renovators. Word is that demand is outpacing the supply of builders, general contractors and tradespeople in general. The trend is that work is going to the highest bidders and/or the most desperate or aggressive purchasers of building services.

Patience and caution will reward you! This type of market reinforces the old adage, "Haste makes waste."

What follows could well prove to be among the soundest morsels of advice you may receive ...

If you are about to embark on a new home construction or a renovation project, consider the critical factors described below in hiring people to better ensure a mutually beneficial outcome.

  1. Ask for references that include type of project and time frame, i.e., when past or referenced projects were begun and when they ended. Types of questions the prospective customer (you, the buyer of services) ought to check out: did project experience any prolonged delays and if so why and how often? How often was the general contractor on site? Did the sub-contractors show up in a timely manner to complete work and respond to customer needs? Did the contractor fulfill all services in the contract for the previous client? Overall, how satisfied were the previous clients with the work done, timeliness, quality, follow through, post-contract servicing if something needed to be corrected, fixed or remedied i.e., cracked plaster work, inoperable windows, faulty doors or locks?

  1. In addition to checking out your prospective contractor with a local and county Better Business Bureau, you are strongly advised to go to your county Superior Court records department, where a helpful and friendly staff will enter your prospective contractor's name into the computer database and then issue you a list of judgments that may have been filed against your prospective contractor. If none are on file, that's great news! Then proceed with a legal records check by going to the department that will check out liens against your prospective contractor, e.g., by the IRS, state tax department or sub-contractors for non-payment by the contractor. A third source of information that should not be overlooked is your nearest bankruptcy court center to check on whether your prospective contractor has filed for or is in a bankruptcy proceeding and to check on the outcomes of possible previous proceedings and/or filings.

With the above critical information you have gathered, you will be in a better position to determine if you want to entrust your hard earned dollars, your precious home or future home, your confidence and dreams of a home-to-be to a contractor and/or tradesperson bidding on your project. Keep in mind that in New Jersey, there are no state licensing requirements for general contractors. Only plumbers and electricians are required to have state licenses. This creates a situation where the buyer had better beware, be cautious, be patient and BE THOROUGH in checking out the qualifications of prospective contractors to whom you will be entrusting hundreds or tens of thousands of dollars to realize that most precious of possessions...your new home or renovated home.

Once you have selected a contractor, be sure to sign off on a written contract. It may be somewhat tiresome, but it's in your best interest to make sure the contract is as detailed and as specific as possible in identifying construction milestones associated with specific payments. It is important that both you and your contractor are in sync about when a milestone is reached, both by definition of the tangible work completed and the associated mutually agreed on amount to be paid at that milestone.

For your own peace of mind, you need to accept and embrace that fact that you will be project managing your project.

If time and/or interest does not permit you to be this actively involved in your project, be sure to enlist input and/or services from an architect/interior design team you have chosen and one that has agreed to assume this role up front, with the terms and conditions of such project management roles spelled out in a contract with you, the buyer of these services.

This aspect of your project isn't particularly fun, folks; it's detailed, it's tedious and very time consuming. Think of it as rooting a plant: this up-front research and good project management will help to ensure your project comes in reasonably close to budget and blooms into something close to your dreams -- while minimizing the heartburn, the sleepless, fitful nights and nightmarish scenarios described by friends who have forewarned you about undertaking home construction or renovations.

Good luck with your new project!!