Construction Law

How do I find a good builder or construction contractor?

By Brian Farkas, Attorney
Strategies for choosing the best person for your home building, remodeling, or improvement job.

If you need to hire a builder (also known as a contractor) for home renovation or construction work, finding the right match is critical. Just like selecting other types of professionals; such as doctors, lawyers, and investment managers; there are several considerations to finding that match.

Technical Skills

First, you want to make sure that the contractor has the technical skills that you will need. You wouldn’t hire a bankruptcy lawyer to handle your traffic ticket; similarly, you wouldn’t hire a plumbing expert to renovate your porch. While some contractors are generalists (and hire more specialized subcontractors to work under their supervision), many contractors focus on particular types of construction, for example large-scale home renovations, or new construction of garages, or earthwork in yards.

This means that there often is no such thing as a “good builder,” just a builder who is right for your specific purposes. So, your first step is to have a clear idea of what work you need performed. If the work involves structural changes to your home (for example, moving staircases or walls), you may need to retain an architect or designer with the proper certifications and expertise before approaching contractors.

When you meet with contractors, you should candidly ask for examples of similar projects that they have performed in the past (complete with photos, references, and so on). You want a contractor who has successfully executed similar projects.

Reputation in the Community

Second, you will want to make sure the contractor has a good reputation. Is the contractor known for being professional and on time? For overcharging? For showing up as promised, versus perpetually late, or less and less as the job should be nearing completion? Does the contractor return phone calls in a timely manner?

As one might expect, you can find plenty of information available online. Websites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau will often rate contractors and offer comments by former clients. The contractor's own website might post reviews. These could, of course, be easily faked, but you can ask to speak with references.

As with all information on the Internet, it is hard to be sure of its veracity. That's why a better approach is to seek out personal recommendations in your geographic area. Ask friends or neighbors in your community whom they have hired for similar work. See whether your town or city has a chamber of commerce (a business organization) that will offer some names.

If you live in an apartment building or condo, see whether the building’s management knows of anyone. Often, personal recommendations will ensure that you begin your relationship with your new contractor on the basis of trust. The contractor will also not want to disappoint or embarrass a building management company or chamber of commerce by performing shoddy work. After all, those entities can often be important referral sources, and if you go back and complain that their recommended contractor was terrible, they are unlikely to recommend that contractor in the future.

Personal Rapport

Finally, do not overlook the importance of personal rapport. Before you blindly sign a contract with a contracting company, you should insist on one or more meetings with the contractor and/or his leadership team who will be on site. Some projects might require that these individuals spend days, weeks, or even months working on your property in close quarters, and you should not underestimate the benefit of having a strong personal connection. Trust your gut.

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