The top ten tips for hiring a contractor
1. IDENTIFY THE PROJECT: Determine the trade[s] that will be utilized. If more than one skill is needed, you may want to consider a General Contractor unless you have the time and energy to be your own.
2. PROJECT TIMING: Consider the time frame, how quickly you need the work done, if the weather will inhibit the progress. Planning the project in advance and allowing a fair amount of time for contractors to respond and bid the project will save a load of frustration in the long run. [i.e., you need something begun in spring, you should be thinking about and planning the project, interviewing contractors, etc., the previous fall.
3. SELECTION PROCESS: Do your homework and spend the time to choose an appropriate contractor. Use available resources like the Rehabbers Club Contractors List, consult the Better Business Bureau, and ask your friends and associates for referrals.
4. SCOPE OF WORK: Write out [if you're working with an architect, they will probably be doing this for you] an extremely detailed scope of work. We feel this is one of the most important points in the process. If you aren’t specific about your needs and wants for your project, it can lead to massive communication problems directly affecting the project’s result, to say nothing of your heart and blood pressure.
Specify a desired process [i.e., the order in which you'd like the work to proceed], particular materials you want used [making sure they are right for the application], you might even want to spell out something as seemingly mundane as wanting your trim corners mitered.
Identify your expectations and responsibilities and what you will require of the yet-to-be-named contractor and that proper permits will be pulled. Chances are, you will probably be viewed much more seriously by a potential contractor if you have a really detailed and well thought out scope of work.
5. BIDDING/INTERVIEWING: Make sure that the contractor’s bid addresses all the points mentioned in your scope of work. Ask for a time frame within which the job can be started and a reasonable completion date. Make sure you discuss a payment schedule with contractor and that you are comfortable with those terms. For larger projects a 1/3 down – 1/3 at the half-way point – 1/3 upon completion is typical. For smaller projects you may be asked for 1/3 up front and 2/3 upon completion. Now, we say this a lot, but it never hurts to repeat it – are you listening? Never, ever, ever, ever, no not ever, not even once, pay someone in full for a project before work starts or even in the middle for that matter. Another thing to consider for larger projects is that you fully understand the change order process and costs and any additional fees related to additional work. You may also want to consider setting up milestones for the project to gauge progress, payments may be tied to these milestones. Also make sure the selected contractor as sufficient insurance for your specific project. Ask the contractor about warranties – whether he/she has them or not and their details.
6. REFERENCES: Take a look at the project[s] your chosen contractor is currently working on. Make sure you check them out with the BBB or other consumer-protection agency. Get a list of references and talk to as many recent clients as you can. We feel that five past clients from within the past six months to one year is a good number.
7. AVAILABILITY: If you’re the GC, make sure you are available to the subcontractors so they can get their questions answered. Whether you have a GC or not, if you see something happening with your project that concerns you, speak up immediately.
8. RECOURSE: This is a brief “what to do” if a project stalls related to the contractor’s shortcomings [and not because you've changed your mind a thousand times or for "acts of God"]. First, if you’re using a GC, talk with them and see if you can get some answers. If not, talk directly to the subcontractor slacker. If you get no satisfaction after a fair amount time or making phone calls and receiving no response, you should go up the recourse chain by first writing and sending a registered letter using professional demeanor, stating the situation and what you expect them to do and then, if it becomes necessary, contact a lawyer about how to proceed further.
9. COMING TO THE END: As the project nears 99% completion, it might be a good idea to create a punch list. This is probably more beneficial on larger projects but this way you can make sure that everything is done before you make your last payment.
10. LIEN WAIVERS: Once the final payment is made, make sure you receive the lien waiver from the contractor. Every subcontractor that purchases materials for your project needs to supply you with an Unconditional Lien Waiver that lists the materials they bought and states that they paid for them. More than likely you will not get this before you make the last payment [most contractors hang onto it until that last check clears], but you should receive it within a satisfactory period of time after the payment is made.