How to Hire a Contractor

As we mentioned before, we are familiar with the abilities and reputations of contractors in the Rocky Mountain region. We share long-standing working relationships with several well-qualified, professional contractors, which helps ensure reliability and quality work.

However, if you choose to do the legwork of finding a well-qualified contractor yourself, here some recommendations for finding the right one for your project:

Get recommendations
Start with your friends and family and then check in with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. You can also talk with a building inspector, who'll know which contractors routinely meet code requirements, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, or pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.

Do phone interviews
Once you've assembled a list, Tom recommends that you make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions:

  • Do they take on projects of your size?
  • Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?
  • Can they give you a list of previous clients?
  • How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
  • How long have they worked with their subcontractors?

The answers to these questions will reveal the company's availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go.

Meet face to face
Based on the phone interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. Tom says that it's crucial that you two communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time. On the other hand, don't let personality fool you. Check in with your state's consumer protection agency and your local Better Business Bureau to make sure contractors don't have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

Investigate the facts
Now that you've narrowed your list, put your research to use. Call up former clients to find how their project went and ask to see the finished product. But Tom says you shouldn't rely on results alone. Even more important, visit a current job site and see for yourself how the contractor works. Is the job site neat and safe? Are workers courteous and careful with the homeowner's property?

Make plans, get bids
A conscientious contractor will want a complete set of bidding documents, which is typically prepared by us, the architects. We can also can help you determine which bid may give you the best value in terms of the contractor’s reputation, expertise, quality of work and reliability. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.

We can help you evaluate a contractor by using a standard Contractor’s Qualification Statement, available through the local AIA chapter, to verify the contractor’s background, history, references and financial stability. This form provides a sworn, notarized statement with appropriate attachments to assess important aspects of the contractor’s qualifications.

Set a payment schedule
Payment schedules can also speak to a contractor's financial status and work ethic. If they want half the bid up front, they may have financial problems or be worried that you won't pay the rest after you've seen the work. For large projects, a schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.

Don't let price be your guide
Throw out the lowball bid. This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work— hardly an encouraging sign. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate. All things being equal, it's better to spend more and get someone you're comfortable with.

Put it in writing
Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; proof of liability insurance and worker's compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he doesn't pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers. Insisting on a clear contract isn't about mistrust, Tom assures us. It's about insuring a successful renovation.

Finally, remember that as soon as a change is made or a problem uncovered, the price just increased and the project just got longer. Good contractors factor these surprises or inevitable delays into the original price, however, be prepared for the possibility of paying a little more than you originally thought you would.

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Earth and Sky Architecture, Colorado's leading sustainable residential home architect, specializes in evocative, compassionate, and environmentally responsible house design. The Rocky Mountain Colorado passive solar home designer is committed to designing homes that harness the energy of nature to create a serene sense of comfort and significantly reduce long-term maintenance expenses. The sustainable home architect in the Denver Metro Colorado offers custom luxury homes and residential passive solar home design for a reasonable price. Front Range Colorado green home architect can offer passive solar home design. Paul Adams, licensed Colorado architect, was a leader among his peers serving as president of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). He was also a finalist in the Walter Wagner Education Forum, a national educational award for architecture. Paul Adams is a sustainable architect. We design Colorado solar homes.