Choosing a Contractor 2017-05-18T21:51:03+00:00

Considerations for choosing a contractor

Considerations for choosing a contractor and considerations for your project.

a.k.a uncovering those pesky details that will insure that your project will result in success.

I, Gary E. Naugle Sr. Have compiled this information from my years of experience, with the intent that it be factual, unbiased information to share with the general public to help  in doing their “homework.”

Home improvements, repairs, and homes to be built are hard to shop and compare.

You are shopping for a product that only exists as a concept.

You get conflicting opinions and information on the project.

You are not able to do a “side by side” comparison as you are able to do with existing homes, automobiles, appliances, yard equipment and etc….

And you have to select from a group of virtual strangers to accomplish the task for you.

The Low Bid

You have heard it or read it in the newspaper.

XYZ Construction is the low bidder on city project.

What you may not realize is that XYZ had to put up 10% ( In the form of a bond) of the bid price to be able to give a bid and the bond remains during construction to insure that XYZ finishes the project to the exact specifications.

The project was designed and engineered by licenced professionals. Detailed plans and specifications were prepared, plans that state the quality and location of every beam, board, nail and bolt to be installed, including the tightness of the bolt, ect.

The project will be built by a superior co, using highly skilled and highly paid tradesmen and subcontractors.

As the project proceeds the designers will be constantly exercising oversight over every detail of the project. XYZ will be doing likewise over their tradesmen and subcontractors.

Building inspectors although very adept at their profession are more like locks…. they keep honest people honest. They are expert at what they see at the footing shell and finished stages. Because of budget constraints they are not able to be on the project every day like the architect. Every day a critical process is being performed on the project.

The above method of bringing quality to home owners is seldom used in residential home building and remodeling mostly due to the high cost. However by doing some “homework” a home owner can come very close.

When you hire a residential, general contractor, the contractor is usually also performing as yourarchitect” and “engineer”. As we have seen in the XYZ example, it is this element that is the most important in the projects success.

What Frank Lloyd Wright Had To Say

What Frank Lloyd Wright had to say about contractors, excerpted from my copy of his 1954, “The Natural House”

The Contractor

In choosing a contractor, the only way to judge him is to look carefully into his previous work. You should be able to tell fairly well from what he has done what he may do.

Dankmar Alder- the old Chief- used to say that he would rather give work to a crook who does know how to build than to a honest man who does not know how to build. He had this to say about that: “I can police a crook, but if a man doesn’t know good work, how am I to get it out of him?” Remember also what Shakespeare said about one’s not being able to make silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

When you hire a residential, general contractor, the contractor is usually also performing as yourarchitect” and “engineer”. As we have seen in the XYZ example, it is this element that is the most important in the projects success.

About General Contractors

The most important element for your project is the general contractor. A general contractor should be knowledgeable about every aspect of your project. Lets take for instance a roof, a seemingly simple project. A roofing project commonly involves the trades or knowledge of, frame and siding carpenters and gutter and flashing tinners, along with the knowledge of building codes. In today’s quest for roofing speed one is lucky to get the roofing applied correctly, let alone the roofers performing carpenters and tinners trades. I won’t bring up the ability to read the code book. The general contractor will insure that all of the trades will be performed correctly including the roof and that every thing is to code and specifications. Many contractors today rely on a subcontractors knowledge for their own knowledge. Who supervises who in such a situation? The contractor should be proactively involved and supervising all of the trades and subcontractors, though somewhat less scrutiny is needed with the licenced trades.

The 2nd most important element is the 10% bond. Only sound contractors can obtain such a bond. In effect the bond insures a worthy contractor and a cash commitment. You will be unlikely to obtain such a solid protection on your residential project. Choose your contractor wisely. The contractors proven honesty and integrity will be your bond.

The 3rd most important element is the obligations and close ties the architect/designer has with the owner…. and the arms length relationship the designer has with the contractor. Your protection will only come from selecting a contractor with strong fiduciary and obligatory values for protecting the home owner.

  • Remember experience, experience, experience? Put one of each behind; buiding, business andcustomer relations.
  • Be careful not to confuse building experience with business experience. Many fine craftsmen have virtually no business and customer relations skills.
  • According to the better business bureau. “Remodeling complaints are almost as big of an industry as the remodeling industry.”
  • According to the national association of the remodeling industry-NARI. “Statistics show that 9 out of 10 remodeling businesses (general and specialty) fail within 5 years.”
  • These statements can be made because of the contractors lack of skill in one or more of the “experiences”
  • Any honest contractor would challenge another contractor that would deny the following statement.
    All contractors gain some experience at the expense of owners.”
  • The Longer a contractor is in business, the less chance they will gain significant experience at your expense.

Although many contractors are not in the phone book, the yellow pages tend to support NARI’s statement. Here is a 6 and 12 year survey of the Columbia GTE/ Verizon /Centurytel yellow pages for remodeling and building contractors.

It Seems Unbelievable but the books tell the truth and they are available at our office for examination

Although the ramifications of choosing the wrong contractor are scary, uncovering the “pesky details” to help you with your “homework” is really not that difficult. There are a lot of good contractors in Columbia so there is little reason for you to compromise your standards, and don’t forget to verify, never,  never,  never take our word for it. Always keep in mind the “four faces.”

The following are recommendations that tend to be the minimum. You may have good reasons to accept less and thankfully people did this for me, but you may need to put some extra in your budget just in case.

Years in business

Experience at staying in business 10 or less, unless you know differently… don’t take the chance, 15 or more years is better, at least at 15 years they should be about finished getting significant additional education at the expense of home owners

How

In lieu of a stack of phone books, the Columbia business license office will be able to confirm licenses back into the 80s. If the contractor doesn’t have a current license you should… turn them in. If the contractor doesn’t have a local history make them supply verifiable information and if necessary the costs of verification. This action should be applied as needed to every aspect of doing your “homework.”

Years Experience

Less than 15, unless you know differently… don’t take the chance, 20 or more years is better and only if they have experience from footing to roof cap. A carpenter that has only “trimmed for most of the 20 years experience is probably only a highly skilled trim carpenter.

How

Just like you did to secure your employment. A simple verifiable chained resume of their employment and business history.

Customer relations

Should have a total of 10 or more years in business, years as a construction superintendent or production management or any business where interaction with customers was part of the job.

How

Again a simple verifiable resume along with customer references, such references will be addressed later here-in.

Accessability

Will you be able to reach the “owner” any day at any time, of course in a reasonable manner and time.

How

An unlisted phone number or address is a tip off, if you can’t get these… don’t take the chance. You should expect nothing less then to have all manners of access and communication to the owner if an emergency arises and/or you have trouble with the owners employees. Don’t forget that the contractor is also your designer…. the architect so to speak….. your protection.

Continuing education and commitment to the industry-

The contractor should show that they are involved in the industry and interested in expanding their three critical experiences.

How

Membership in industry associations and subscribing to their codes of ethic, civic service, industry education classes, career center classes, etc. All verifiable.

References

Be satisfied with their references, keeping in mind that the worst contractors around can come up with a half dozen or so glowing references.

How

Why not a list of all of their past customers, preferably chained, or at least the past 7 or 10 contiguous years, along with the glowing references. Verifiable? Sure if they don’t already have it, they should be able to compile one in short order from their bank records.

Well you are half way there.

It may seem like a lot of work but you should only have to do it once to select a long-term contractor. Maybe twice if you think it is needed to keep your contractor on their toes.

Insurance

They must have it. General liability and workers compensation insurance.

How

The only way you can be sure, is to have their insurance co. issue a certificate, then if it lapses the insurance company will send you a notice. This process is simple, a phone call, it is done between contractors and subcontractors every day. If a contractor has no employees or subcontractors or the contractor is one person and the only person working on your project, by law, they do not need workers comp. But how will your project get finished if your one-person contractor is incapacitated?