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A good contractor has good relationships with competent and reliable subs. That means the subs will show up when needed and do good work with minimal supervision. They know what level of work the contractor expects, they know they’ll get paid promptly, and they know that the job will be ready for them when they show up. For example, the drywallers can’t hang their drywall until the plumbing and electrical are completed and the walls are insulated.
While some subs, such as insulation installers, are not known for the precision of their work, they know that if they want work from a particular contractor, they need to meet his standards. Maybe they can charge a little more for the higher level of quality he demands, making it worth their while to take the time to do it right. In the end the owner pays a little more for a job well done – seems fair to me.
Some companies use their own crews for framing and finish carpentry, especially for finicky work such as built-in cabinets or ornate trim and other decorative details. It’s also best to use the in-house crew for special energy details, unusual wall systems, or other details that are not the domain of a specific trade.
CHOOSING A CONTRACTOR
If you are working with an architect, they will often provide names of contractors who they have worked with successfully. That’s a good place to start, but whether you are starting from scratch or with a list of names, the process is pretty much the same. The bigger the job, the more effort you should put in to finding the right contractor. One strategy is to hire them to do a small job and see how it goes.
In general, however, you find a contractor the same way you find a doctor, lawyer, or other professional whom you have to trust is competent and reliable. As with a doctor or lawyer, a lot is at stake if the contractor messes up. Problems can range from small annoyances (escaping pets, loud bad music) to major lawsuits if things go badly.
The best place to start, I believe, is with your circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as neighbors who have had work done recently. Look for projects similar to your own in size and complexity: new home, dormer, large addition, kitchen remodel, gut-rehab? Ask who did the work, and how it went, who did the design work, and so on.
Once you have narrowed your search, ask for a list of references and call them. Also check with the Better Business Bureau and your state’s contractor licensing board to see if complaints have been filed. If complaints were file, how were they settled?
Questions for former clients might include:
Have you worked with this general contractor (GC) before?
How did the job go? How did it compare with other contractors you have worked with?
Did the GC communicate clearly throughout the project?
Was the GC on the job frequently? If not, who supervised the work on site?
Were there any problems or surprises?
How was the work quality?
Were there cost overruns or delays, and why?
Would you recommend them for your type of job?