Hiring a Contractor / by Luke Davies

We work with contractors all the time. The bulk of your project budget goes through the contractor so it is vitally important that you hire the right contractor for your project. The risks involved in hiring the wrong contractor are massive.  Poor construction quality can ruin the end result and contractors who do not honor the schedule can cost you thousands of dollars in lost business revenue and in rent. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you do your research before hiring a contractor. Below I have listed some steps you can take before hiring a contractor so that you are better protected. Depend on your design professional to help you through the process as well.  We have immense pride in our designs so we take a vested interest in having a good contractor deliver our vision.  A contractor who is not qualified to do the work can ruin the design integrity of the space and you will be the one who has to live with it.  It is to your best interest to hire a good contractor. 

Good luck and feel free to ask us questions. 

Prior to asking for bids check references and ask to see work the contractors have completed.  If they have a good relationship with past clients they will be able to give you a tour of some of their completed projects.  Ask their past clients if they are happy with the outcome, the quality of work and the amount of time it took the contractor to complete the project.

The City of San Francisco issued a document called "Considering Becoming an Owner-Builder?".  You should read this document to realize your risks if you are considering hiring an unlicensed contractor.  For example, if you hire an unlicensed individual to perform any construction work valued at more than $500.00, the permit is taken out in your name and you are personally responsible for their employment requirements, supervision, performance, safety and welfare while they are on your property.  This also makes you their direct employer responsible for withholding payroll taxes, providing workers compensation and disability insurance and contributing to unemployment compensation for each individual working on your project.  To read further follow this link and scroll down to Owner-Builder Forms.  http://www.sfdbi.org/index.aspx?page=62  G. Paoletti Design Lab discourages the hiring of unlicensed contractors.

Once you have an idea of which contractor you want to hire enter the contractor's license number into the "Check a license" section of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board to check the status of their license and to see if they have any complaints filed against them.  It takes just a moment to do. Here is the link:  https://www2.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/checklicense.aspx 

The website also has a 15 minute educational video titled, "Doing it Right, Hiring a Licensed Contractor" which covers how to verify a contractor's credentials, what to include in the written contract, how to prevent common disputes and where to go if problems arise. 

It is worth mentioning that they have documents about "Making Sure Your Contractor Measures Up", "Prescreening Contractors" and "Arbitration Program Guides" in the Consumer section of the website.

Ask the contractor if he is a member of a professional association which has standards or a code of ethics for remodelers.  They do not have to be but it helps their credibility.

Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against them. 

Compare costs between the different contractors bidding the project and ask about items that are not clearly described or if there is anything you do not understand.  Make sure that each contractor includes the same items on their bids and that each item is described to the same extent.  If it is not written on the bid it is not included in the price. Do not allow substitutions during the bidding phase unless you have reviewed and approve of the substitution.  Make sure you inform all contractors of the substitution. 

Do not automatically choose the lowest price.  One contractor's bid might be higher because the materials to be used are of a better quality or because the work will be especially thorough and therefore, require more time and labor.  With the construction industry it has been our experience that you get what you pay for.  If you go with an inexpensive contractor do not expect good quality work or professionalism on the job site. 

Make sure the contractor is insured against claims covering worker's compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents.  Then make sure they meet the bonding requirements in your area.  The contractor should provide you with the proper documents. 

Never pay a contractor for the entire job in advance and avoid paying in cash whenever possible. 

Most of this information can be found on the Better Business Bureau website.  www.bbb.org

Gi Paoletti Design Lab provides management services during the bid phase of projects to help clients through the process. Many design firms provide this service. If you are uncomfortable going through the bid phase without guidance ask your designer or architect to give you a price to manage the process. It can save you a lot of stress. We work with contractors on every project we do so we know a lot about it. Do not feel pressured to go through it alone.