Choosing a Contractor

One of the biggest hurtles when thinking about building a new custom home or doing a  remodel project where a general contractor is required, is choosing your contractor. There are 2 basic ways on how to go about this process. Please allow me to explore this with you.

Hi I’m Bob Greenwood, owner of RJ Greenwood Construction.  I’ve been contracting new and remodel work in and around Nashville since 1986. My projects have been predominantly remodeling from small projects to some well over half a million. I also do the design and drafting for most of my clients including new custom homes. Choosing a contractor is the most important decision you can make, most times determining the success or failure, and proper or improper completion of your new home or remodel project.

The 1st and unfortunately the  most popular way is the notion that you should get at least 3-5 bids for your project.  Most home owners in an attempt to be honest with their potential contractor will let them know up front that they intend to get other estimates.  Usually people have no idea how much work goes into making a new construction or remodeling estimate, generally 30-40hrs, fuel for trips to the site and time spent on site, meetings with subs etc.. all of this at the contractor’s own expense in hopes of getting the job.

Basically using this way to find a contractor  tells the contractors that you are shopping price and you would like to know, given this fixed set of plans how cheaply can the work be done? Imagine going to a plastic surgeon with this attitude! Contactors make their living by providing you with your new custom home or turning your existing home dreams into reality and for the most part they desire to deliver high quality work, however, they need to make a living and need your project.

There are many ways to arrive at the cheapest bid. One is to use very cheap subs, chosen according to the lowest price, assuming all subs have included every detail of the job in their price. Most of the time this involves using sub standard people who have barely included enough funds for the labor and material not to mention enough funds to warranty their work. Another is for the general contractor to reduce his charge for overhead and contractors fee, which limits his ability to make your project completion his priority, causing the homeowner to think he is not doing his job and adds to people’s negative opinions of general contractors. You want and need a General contractor who is using a proven and reliable set of sub contractors and is charging you enough to stay in business so you can call him eleven months from now and he’ll still be there..

You’ve asked the contractors for the lowest price and in turn he has shopped the cheapest subs and materials and what you will end up with generally is a poorly done project.

What should you do?

In my 30+ years of contracting, the best experiences I’ve had is working with those who are continuing to work with me, or others who have chosen me, because of my reputation and relationship with other home owners they know. There is a great big difference between hiring a plumbing company to clear your drain or a company to clean your gutters or duct work and hiring a general contractor to build your new home or do a major renovation. The attitude of finding a single trade contractor can in no way be the same as finding a general contractor. You are hiring a person that you will need to have a relationship with potentially having to work with for up to 6 months or more, not two inconvenient hours of one day. In a remodel they will be tearing up your house and basically living with you day after day. You need to have a contractor you can actually communicate well with, and work comfortably with for an extended period of time.

The 2nd, and my recommended way to choose a general contractor is to first ask all of your friends, fellow church folks, business associates if they could recommend a general contractor they have used and had a good experience with. Some good questions to ask of them is, what was the quality of their work, if they kept the project clean during construction, if they were easy to work with, as in how did they react to changes mid stride, if they followed their schedule, were they on site every day, did they stay on budget or have legitimate reasons or written change orders for additional work, were they and their subs/employees personable and respectable?

If you don’t have any friends who can give you a personal reference for a general contractor, then you need to do some research. Do not be in a hurry! Websites may be a good starting point. Look for contractors within about a 50 mi radius, pick as many as you like and call them on the phone inquiring about preliminary info such as time in the business, where they work out of, what size projects they generally work on and references. Don’t hesitate to leave a message and wait for a timely response. In talking to them on the phone you will most likely feel good about several of the conversations. Make a note of those that you feel most comfortable with and set a consultation appointment with them at the job site location. Let them walk you through your project and give you their perspectives and feedback.

Choose 2 you feel most confident with. Interview them again and ask the financial questions that will give you an idea of their pricing structure. Do not shoot for ball park numbers! They are fruitless. At this point you should be able to choose a contractor. If you have not settled on one, spend more time with them maybe going to visit one of their ongoing projects and talking with the owner, but make your decision on the one you want to work with.

When you have chosen your contractor and the contract is written, the ball lands in your court! It is now your job to review every item in detail with your contractor. If you have the right one you will be able to ask him any question you want and he will gladly answer. A word of caution. No matter the project, or who your contractor is, there is a better than 50% chance that there will be changes or things missed during bidding, or discovered during your project that were not included in your bid. For your own financial security, depending on the scope of your project, you should add at least 10 to 15% to whatever the bid is.

Never choose a GENERAL Contractor based on price.

Stay tuned for more contractors insight or feel free to email any questions


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