Be Choosy When Choosing a Contractor

Choosing a contractor can be and should be a difficult task. Often times you will be living with this person for months, so it is important to be sure you have a good working relationship with them before you get started. I have a few thoughts on this, but before we get to that lets make a checklist:

1. Does the contractor have his/her license? -Most states and cities require that contractors have a license in order to work on other peoples houses. For example, in Oregon, all contractors are required to be licensed with the Construction Contractors Board (CCB). Usually to have the license they need to be insured and bonded. Just in case, ask them for their insurance papers.

2. Does the contractor have his business in order? -Ask to see his/her business licence. If their business is not properly registered do you really want them working in your house?

3. What associations do the contractors belong to? -There are two big national associations that help out construction contractors, the National Builders Association and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

4. Does the contractor have any liens on his/her projects? What is the cause? -Most states allow contractors and sub-contractors to place liens on houses if they have not been paid in due time. If the general contractor has placed a lien on a house, that usually means he has a client that has not paid him, if his sub-contractors have a lien on the house, that means that the general contractor has not paid his subs. It is okay to ask why this has happened.

5. Does the contractor have references? – If you are still a little hesitant about hiring someone, then ask for references. Good contractors and produce two or three references right away.

6. How does the contractor price projects? -This is a big one! If your project is over $5000.00, you better see at least two or three subcontractors coming by to see your job. Be very wary if the contractor is giving you a bid based on square footage or just off the top of his head. A well ESTIMATED project means that everyone that is going to work your house has come by to look at and given the general their price. -Remember too that no general contractor can give you a “FIRM PRICE.” That is total BS (excuse the French). There is always at least one thing that will come up during construction. Remember to set aside an additional 8-10% of the job cost.

7. One last thing you should ask: How are payments made on your project? -If you are doing a $150,000.00 addition, you do not want to hand the whole amount over at once. Make sure there are appropriate progess payments in place. For example 30/20/20/20/10.

So now that I have given a few things to think about, lets talk about the design. Who is doing the design work? You the client, the contractor, or have you hired a designer/architect? Here is my thinking–and granted I am totally biased, but it is grounded in some logic. You should always consult with a designer!

“Why? I have perfectly good taste! Thank you very much!” This may be true, you might have impeccable taste, but do you know what all is involved? Do you know your local codes? Do you know how things are built and placed together?

“Okay, fine! I will have my contractor review my design.” Very good idea, but don’t expect a general contractor to know a good design when he sees one.

“So what do I need a designer for?” A designer can offer a number of services. For example, most designers know the majority of showrooms in the area and can point you to new places to look for things like tile, counters, appliances, hardware, cabinets, etc. A designer knows when you do and do not need an architect. If you are moving a bearing wall, or changing the exterior often times all you need is engineering. Architects are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are expensive and a designer can save you a ton of their time by helping get straight to the point.

“But designers are expensive too!” This can be true. In fact I know a lot of designers that charge by the hour, and the costs can skyrocket if the client has a hard time making choices. In my firm, as long as we are planning on building the project, we charge a flat rate for the design. This keeps costs low up front and allows us and the client to get to know each other better.

“You mean I can hire a designer who does contracting?” Yes! It is often referred to as design/build. But again, be wary! If a company says they are design/build, ask for their design credentials.

I will write another entry later this week on how to choose a good designer. Until then, I hope you have found this article helpful, and please check out our website at

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Milligan


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