Hiring the Perfect Contractor for the Job: Finding "Mr. Right" -The search for the perfect contractor.

I guess you could say I "grew up in the business.” My great grandfather was a developer in Pittsburgh after World War II. My paternal grandfather was a union carpenter and worked his way up to Construction Superintendent on large jobs like the Watergate in Washington, DC. My father took the path of higher education and became a Professional Engineer, working in Construction Contract Management for major projects like the New Library of Congress (it is not so new anymore!). Construction talk was dinner conversation most evenings. The epic stories are the ones of major mishaps.

Now as an Architect (the only one to carry on in the “family business”), not a day goes by that I don’t talk to a contractor. Clients and friends who are renovating their homes always want to know who my favorite contractor is. Well, I must qualify that …I have never met a contractor that I wouldn’t get a drink with…they are in general light-hearted guys that know how to have a good time. But just like finding “Mr. Right, you would not necessarily want to enter into an “until death/built do we part” agreement.

So, my experiences have taught me to:

1. Get recommendations and references from each Contractor
  • Call the references
  • Verify that the work done by the contractor is similar in scope to what you are    planning to do.
  • One reference is not enough…
2. Ask the reference how they know the Contractor
  • Be specific and ask if they are a friend or family-member of the contractor?
  • Would they hire the contractor or their sub-contractors again?
  • What was the scope of their project.
  • Did the contractor meet the schedule.
  • How did the contractor communicate with them--email, phone, notes, in person?
  • Did you work with an Architect? 
  • Did the contractor follow the drawings?
  • Did the contractor encourage you to keep the Architect involved with Construction Administration Services? Or did they discourage you from keeping the Architect involved.
3. Ask to visit two jobs similar in scope that the Contractor has completed.
  • Make sure the client is going to be there, and verify that this Contractor did the work that you are looking at. I have personally been shown very impressive projects where the Contractor led one to believe that he had built the entire house. Research into the initial permit at the building department revealed that the house was built by others.  He was a past employee of the company.
  • Look at where materials change/meet. That may tell you what type of craftsman the Contractor is. It could also be the fact that they did or did not work with an architect on the detail…so ask.
4. Check the recommendations and complaint records
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Local online sites
5. Licensing, registrations, EPA Lead Safe Certification and insurance
  • Call and verify that all of the documents are originals and currently active; don’t accept a certificate as proof before you sign a contract.
  • Call your insurance agent to determine if your Homeowner's policy requires an additional rider during construction.
6. Beware of a Contractor that wants you to…
  • File for permits yourself or tells you that he can “do it” without a building permit.
  • Pay in cash or will not allow you to retain 10% of the costs until you have a Certificate of Occupancy as required by law in New Jersey and stated on the Building Permit. 
  • Wants you to pay the subcontractors directly.
Often, once I know more about you and your project I am a better match-maker. Personality does play a huge role in matching clients up with Mr. Right. So, once you have found “Mr. Right”…it is time to "get engaged." We will go over getting the right pre-nuptials next time. Until then, to learn more about how to work with an architect or the process of getting the right construction documents—your contract with the contractor for that big day -- visit www.clawsonarchitects.com.