The first thing you don’t want to do is to look for a general contractor in your local yellow pages. Also, cheaper does not mean better.
The choice in finding a general contractor is dependent on the kind of work you want done.
If you are looking to build a house, drive through some new home subdivisions and talk to homeowners about their builders. Homeowners are a wealth of information and will not hesitate to tell you what they love and hate about their homes.
If you are looking for someone to build you an office or a shop, the same rules apply: except this time you will want to drive through new business parks. Talk to employees and owners, and be bold: ask if you can do a walk-through on their business property (this is not recommended on homes, as homeowners will frown at you for wanting to peak at their privacy).
If you are looking for subcontracting work, such as a plumber, an electrician, a painter, etc., then drive over to some new home subdivisions and/or business developments, and ask to talk to the superintendent in charge. Ask him or her, who they would recommend to you; superintendents are an even bigger wealth of information than homeowners because their job security rests on efficient, responsible contractors who will complete the job and do it well.
Once you have some names (I recommend a minimum of three contractors per job), double-check with your state board of contractors to make sure they do have a valid contractor’s license, that has not expired! Next, you will want to see “certificates of insurance”- namely liability, worker’s compensation and auto insurance. The certificates are your proof that the contractor is currently insured.
Okay, now that you have proof that you have valid contractors, ask them to see their work. Again, I recommend three jobs for each of your three prospective contractors. This sounds like a lot, but will save you future headaches. If you want to merely ask for references, remember that you may be talking to the BFF of a prospective contractor who has never set an eye on their buddy’s work.
Once this is done, you have seen the work of your prospective contractor. So, now is the time that you tell him or her what you want kind of work you want done; and ask for a bid price. Give your job request in writing and demand that the contractor give you a price in writing. Also, insist that the contractor give you additional prices for possible “extras” that might crop up, and an hourly rate for any changes that you might want to make. This is important because contractors hate change, so you will want to agree on an hourly rate if you change your mind about something, and be prepared to stick to that price!
After you get your prices for everything, you may find that one contractor is a lot cheaper than the others. I would advise you to avoid this individual, as you really do get what you pay for, and a cheap contractor most likely uses cheap help, which equals shoddy work.
Once you have picked a contactor, insist on a contract from him or her. And make sure that this contract stipulates the work being done, a time frame (do allow for bad weather if the work is outdoors), and how much will be paid to the contractor as the work progresses.
Insist on holding a minimum of ten percent of the total job cost until the work has been completed to your satisfaction and per the contract requirements.
Maddy is a retired general contractor and is happy to answer any of your construction questions.