Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a building contractor for the first time can be a daunting exercise. The right one will help make your project go smoothly, and the wrong one can be a big problem. Taking the time to find the right fit for you is well spent. Here are some ideas and direction for finding the best fit for you and your project.

When to Start Looking for Your General Contractor

The design development stage is the beginning of every project. You will have worked with your architect or designer for a while and have a defined layout and scope for the new build. This is the time to start researching and interviewing contractors.

Where to Look

Your architect will have referral for contractors that he has worked with on successful projects. Ask him for recommendations that will be a good fit for you and your project.

  • Talk with friends and family, ask for suggestions.
  • Visit places where contractors shop, like local lumberyards, and ask around.
  • Visit with the local builders associations such as BIAWC that services Whatcom County. They will be a good resource for accredited members.

There will probably be a cross-over of some names between your sources. Try to contact them first.

Interview Candidates

Generally, this step can be done on the phone or at an informal meeting spot. Here are some questions to ask;

  • Are they licensed and bonded?
  • Who would be the on-site manager? In larger companies, there will be a general contractor and the project manager who oversees your project.
  • How many similarly sized and type of projects have they worked on?
  • What kind of project do they like to do?
  • How busy are they and when could they start?
  • How do they feel about weekly meetings with you and your designer?
  • What is his method of payment? Generally, there are 3 options;
    • Time and materials
    • Estimate
    • Flat Fee

Request for references

The successful project will be a collaborative effort, so he will probably have some questions for you, too. If none of those that you interviewed feel like a good fit, start over. You will want to get 2 – 3 estimates.

Questions for References

Have prepared questions for this step. Be respectful of the reference’s time and privacy.

  • Did you have a clear idea of the schedule and did he meet it?
  • How was his communication? Was there a point person?
  • How did he work with your architect?
  • Was the job site kept clean and tidy?
  • Did he come in on time and within budget? If not, why not?
  • Was he pleasant?

Get Bids

You will be providing the contractors project drawings and specifications for their bids. The more detailed the plans are, the more accurate the bids will be. What information they need will be dependent on your project, but in general you need to have these specifications in addition to the drawings;

  • Materials  
  • Cabinets
  • Trim & doors
  • Landscape
  • Electrical layout
  • Mechanical information, including furnace, hot water heater, exhaust fans
  • Bath and kitchen fixtures
  • Windows

Some of these things may not have been picked out at bidding time. You can use estimated amounts for these, called allowances. Make sure that the bids are based on the materials that you have chosen, or that the allowances are accurate enough to cover your plans.

Sometimes, the cost will be beyond your budget.  You and your architect will need to figure out where to cut or redesign. There are many approaches to building and contractors can sometimes offer a different solution that will lead to cost cutting.

*The electrical and mechanical work will probably need to be permitted. Make sure that the price of these permits are included in the bid.

Get a Contract

Contracts are easy to find and worthwhile to have. Chances are that your architect has one – we like to use a document from the AIA, the Architect Institute Of America, as it is a non-biased and respected document. If you are using something that the contractor has offered, make sure you or your attorney have read through it. The contract is important for both you and the contractor.

Get Started

Building should be a collaborative effort, between you, your designer and contractor. They are working for you and want to make the project great for you.  Ask questions if you don’t understand something. Give suggestions when you see something you’d like to change.

Need more information? Contact our office and we can help.