A man shaking hands with a contractor for new construction over a table of construction materials

Building a new custom home, making additions or doing some renovation to an existing home or condominium means you either have to look for a contractor or home builder. Making the right choice on which contractor you will engage is one of the most important decisions you will have to make.

The way you deal and interact with your contractor sets the framework and determines whether your project will go smoothly without costly mishaps. Lack of communication and setting of the guidelines early in the process can result in an expensive and disastrous adventure.

Maintain good communication with the people involved in your project and try to do this on a regular basis at a predetermined time to avoid getting in the way of their job.

Choosing a Contractor / Home Builder

There are a number of ways to look for a contractor. You can ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, search the internet for a home builder near your area or get recommendations from your designer. It’s always recommended to have a few choices and narrow down to a list of at least three contractors.

Whichever way you proceed, the next step would be to know the contractor. Request and gather as much information from them as you can. Start with their company or personal information, licenses required for your build, list of past projects they have done and a few references you can contact from their ongoing or recent projects. If they cannot provide all of these, then that’s one name to be taken out of your list.

After trimming down your list of contractors, ask them to quote on your project and ask them to include the Scope of Work, the time it will take to complete the work, inclusions and exclusions, work to be subcontracted and any other costs that they have included in their price.

The best choice may not be the contractor with the lowest price. Take the time to review in detail what is included and what is not, in the contractors’ prices. Besides the cost for the materials and labor, see if permits, cleaning during construction, protection of existing (in renovations or additions), final job cleaning, taxes and insurances are included. Request for a work schedule, working hours and days, subcontractors, list of items you need to provide and when they are needed. It is also best to include rates in case there is additional or unforeseen work that needs to be done.

Talk to the contractor, and preferably the foreman that would be assigned to always be on site or subcontractor they need to get, and see if they are on the same page as you with regard to the construction and communication. You’ll need to be comfortable talking to them regularly to check on their progress, schedules and other details during construction. Determine when progress payments are to be made and should be on milestones and accomplished works. It’s normal to give an advance payment but try to limit the amount to ten percent of total project cost or less. It's a good idea to find out what regulations in your area recommends and follow that. 

Find out about warranties. Different work items have warranties that are either provided by the contractor or specialty subcontractor. New equipment, such as kitchen appliances, air conditioner, furnace and other mechanical equipment, also comes with warranties. Find out if the warranties that they will provide abide by industry standards and government regulations.

After you’ve made your choice, make a contract and include all of the details. It’s better to have everything in writing to avoid any future misunderstanding. It is equally important to go through the contract in detail with your contractor to ensure everyone is on the same page.

During Construction

From start to finish, regularly talk to the contractor or his foreman, ask about their work and it’s always a good idea to compliment their work when you see they are doing well and on schedule. Maintain good communication with the people involved in your project and try to do this on a regular basis at a predetermined time to avoid getting in the way of their job. When you notice something that seems to be wrongly done or out of place, talk to your contractor or foreman directly and give them a chance to explain and rectify the issue until you are satisfied.

Maintain a work journal and write down any issues or complaints you have encountered and include the dates and the person you have talked to about it. Take photos of the work as it progresses and file them with dates and locations. This would be a good reference in the future if any problems arise.

During construction, there may be additional work, design changes or items that need to be done that were not included in the contract. Advise your home builder to submit the cost estimate and that this should be approved by you before any work is commenced.

For any changes in design, it is best to consult your architect, engineer or designer to know how this would affect the whole project and your objectives. Your contractor or home builder may not be the best person to talk about changes in the design as they would be more inclined to present the easiest way to solve an issue or a solution that is advantageous to them.  

A contractor discussing a change order with a building engineer and an architect.

Be firm but polite with your home builder. There would be instances that a compromise has to be reached between your vision and what would be practical to build. Having a good and healthy discussion about the options with your contractor can make a big difference in arriving at a solution.

It’s a good idea to take suggestions from your contractor when choosing materials, appliances and other items. Especially with plumbing and electrical fixtures, try to decide early on what would be installed. Make sure these items were included in the contract documents. Do some research and see if you would be comfortable using those items. If not, look for other options and consult your home builder. If your new choice is more expensive than what the contractor has allowed for, discuss with him any price adjustments.

When doing your regular inspection, walk around the whole project area with your contractor or foreman. As much as possible, make the inspection as pleasant and friendly as you can.  A few friendly remarks here and there go a long way and allow your contractor to discuss any issues openly. An inspection that is stressful will make your contractor be on his guard and choose his words very carefully. Your contractor is there to earn a living so making him feel comfortable with you gives the added bonus of having him do the best work possible. Having a great working relationship with your contractor will make any necessary warranty work or future work much more pleasant. Give hints that you may be interested in additional work down the road so that the contractor will want you to be a repeat customer.

Wrapping Up

Even before your project is completed, take notes again in your work journal of items and works that you found to be needing attention. Home building is a complex task and demands attention to detail. If something doesn’t look right, it probably is not. At times, something that looks right on paper may not seem logical or practical when done or installed. Discuss these items as early as you can with your contractor.

Finally, your project is at the stage of significant completion. Do a punch list of all the defects you have noticed and have your contractor attend to it. Take as much time as you need to go through your whole home, list all the defects that you see however small they are and have them accept and sign the list and agree to a completion date.

Handover manuals should be given to you at this stage. This should contain all the equipment, appliances and devices that were installed in your home. Have your contractor show you how to operate these items. Part of this handover, you should also receive the copies for all warranty certificates and have your home builder explain each one of them. A copy of as-builts should be collected from the contractor with all of their documented deviations from the original design plans.

When all of these are done and you are satisfied with your contractor, you can now pay him in full.

We can help

The process of building a new home or renovation is a demanding and time-consuming task. We at Design Everest can help you go through this as painless as possible. With years of experience and completed projects, we can help guide you through this process from start to finish. Managing new home and renovation projects is our expertise.

Call us at (877) 704-5727 or email your requirements to info@designeverest.com for a no-obligation quote followed by a consultation.

*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.

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