Proper care and feeding of a residential construction project – Part 1 Choosing a contractor

Amy Musser

So you’re planning to build your dream home and you’re going to work with a contractor. That’s great. Building is complicated and I think almost everyone would benefit from having an experienced person manage the process for them.  My involvement on a lot of residential projects gives me a window to the ways that homeowners mess up their building process and the relationship with their builder. When that happens the house (and usually the budget) suffers. Making your project more successful starts with choosing the right contractor.

Know what’s most important to you. It can’t be everything (sorry), but you can have a couple of priorities as long as you can honestly rank them. You may have a really tight budget. You may want to focus on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, or finish quality. Is your time schedule really tight? You need to really, honestly answer this question before you hire a builder, and you should be ruthless about hiring one who has been successful in this arena in the past. If you have a tight budget, you want the builder who is honest with you about the ways that you’re going to need to make hard sacrifices. They should also have a proven track record of completing jobs of similar size and cost on budget. The worst thing you can do is hire someone who tells you they can give you everything you want on your very tight budget.

If green building is very important to you, the WNCGBC publishes a list of contractors who have built Greenbuilt NC homes before, and shows how many have been completed and at what certification level.

Choose your contractor wisely. Building a home is stressful, and personality conflicts only magnify that. How do you react to stress, and how do you expect your contractor to handle it? Do you prefer someone who is a bean counter, or who takes a more laid-back approach? Might the project benefit from someone with people-skills that are complimentary to yours? If it’s a bigger company, make sure you are meeting the person who will manage your project day to day, in addition to the owner of the company or its sales staff.

Understand that second to getting married you will never have your finances this entwined with another person again in your life. Research your contractor and read your contract carefully. Consider having a lawyer with real estate experience advise you before you sign it. Think about your money management style. What sort of detail are you going to want in terms of estimate, updates, billing, and construction cost? Find out what format the contractor typically provides. Ask to see examples.

Find four local contractors who can do your “most important thing” and interview them. Reject any that don’t make you feel comfortable from a financial perspective, and then choose based on personality. Think of it like getting married. If you have doubts at the beginning, it’s better for everyone if you call it quits and find someone else.

Choosing a contractor wisely is perhaps the most important step you can take toward a successful project. In a future blog, I’ll identify some common pitfalls after you’ve hired a contractor.

Copyright 2014.  Amy Musser.