Tips for Finding a Good General Contractor

If you want to do some renovations around the house, whether it’s a big fix or small, a good general contractor can help you get things done, on-time and on-budget.

Finding a contractor you can trust is the first, and probably most important, step. These tips can help.

No more guesswork. You know what you want, right? Maybe it’s a renovated kitchen with an island and new flooring. Or an updated bathroom with shower stall. But have you thought about what and who it’s going to take to make those renovations happen? Your general contractor can help you find the right experts, at the right price so you don’t have to guess.

Ask your agent. Your American Family Insurance agent is a great resource and always ready to help. They know and work with local contractors and, especially in storm-damage situations, and most likely have trustworthy recommendations. And, if a storm is the reason for your renovations, they can help you get started submitting any applicable storm damage insurance claims.

Do materials make a difference? Another great topic to discuss with your American Family Insurance agent before you begin construction is if there are homeowners insurance discounts for using certain materials or having upgraded or renovated systems. Going with the cheapest bid and the cheapest materials may actually cost you in the long run. Being an informed consumer gives you the finished product you want and some discounts down the road.

Look for referrals. Word of mouth is a great way to do business. Start out by asking your friends and family if they know any good contractors. If you come up short there, go ahead and Google it. There are a ton of great referral resources online.

Stay local. In major storm situations, outside contractors often come into the area. Along with them come those looking to take advantage of storm victims. If at all possible, try to stick with local contractors who have ties to the community and a reputation to uphold. They’ll also be better versed on where to find subcontractors and supplies in your region and are more likely to comply with local licensing requirements.

Shop around. Interviewing contractors can be time consuming, but it’s still the smart move. You’ll discover you can learn a lot about the contractor and the process, just by asking a few questions.

Not sure what to ask? Try these to get the conversation started:

  • What are their specialties?
  • Do they handle jobs like yours regularly and is the size of your project within their scope?
  • Do they subcontract any of the work? If so, will they provide you with information on the subcontractors?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they have the proper licenses for your municipality?
  • Will they give you a list of references or previous clients that you can call?
  • When can they start working and how long will it take?
  • How many projects will they have going at the same time?
  • How do they handle permitting?
  • How much will the entire project cost and how much of that is for supplies

Plan on interviewing at least three different contractors and getting a written bid from each one. Once you have your three (or more) bids, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price.

What are the contractor’s specialties? If you have a hail damage and you need your roof replaced, you’ll want a contractor with roofing experience. If you’re building on a new addition, look for a contractor with a wider set of skills. The goal is to find the right builder, with the right set of skills, for the job at hand.

Learn what you can about subcontractors. It’s not uncommon for a general contractor to have a few subcontractors they use regularly for specialized jobs. If your contractor is going to be using subcontractors, take time to learn more about who they are, what they do, what that means, how payments are handled, etc. The more you know about the team working on your home, the better you’ll feel about the job getting done right.

Check references. If the contractor gave you references, don’t hesitate to give them a call. Even better — find a project they’re currently working on and ask the homeowner if you can stop by to see them in action on the job. Check out how clean the jobsite is. How many people are working? Does it look safe and are they being respectful of the homeowner’s property?

Do your research. The Better Business Bureau and local court records are excellent resources for finding any past issues connected to a contractor. It’s also a good idea to dig into professional disciplinary boards in your region. These steps can take some extra time, but you’re putting your home in this person’s hands, so being proactive about protecting your home is a smart move.

Are their licenses in order? Municipalities can vary on licensing requirements, but a license of some sort is typically required. Check to see what your area recommends and then make sure the contractor you’re interested in is up to date.

Insist on having the proper permits. Most home renovation projects require permits. If a contractor suggests skipping the permits to save money and time, it’s time to find a different contractor. If you don’t get the proper permits, you could be at risk of violating local ordinances, and that could lead to a fine. And when you have the right permits, it means the work will be properly inspected by the city or county to ensure everything is up to code. Oh, and be wary of any contractors who ask you to get the permits, this is their responsibility. Make them do their job.

Get it in writing. It’s best if you can have the details ironed out and signed in a contract. If changes are made along the way, get them in writing too.

Watch for lowball bids. If one of the bids comes in way lower than the others, it may be tempting, but probably not a good idea to go with that contractor. When one contractor is really out of range of the others, it might suggest they are cutting corners. The money you think you’re saving now could lead to big expenses down the road.

Verify insurance coverage. Get a copy of the contractor’s insurance policy and speak with your agent so you know what’s covered by your homeowners insurance and what’s covered by the contractor’s business insurance.

Don’t pay everything upfront. While it’s expected that you’ll pay something upfront in order to buy materials, you should never pay the entire bill before the work is done. If you’re being pressured to make a full payment before the work even starts, it’s probably in your best interest to walk away from that contractor. If you can, set up a payment schedule. Make a down payment at the start, a bit more at certain milestones and pay majority of the balance at the end, when every detail is done to your satisfaction. Both parties should feel comfortable that the payment schedule is fair.

If you’ve found a great contractor who you trust to deliver a quality job, on time and at a price that’s fair, you’ve discovered a real gem. Let them know that you appreciate the way they handle their business and how they treated you and your home. Offer to be a referral for them or write them a sincere review. A little appreciation can go a long way.

While you’re focusing on managing your renovation, make managing your insurance easier. Log in or sign up for My Account, where you can access your insurance cards, file a claim, pay your bills and much more! Even better? You can do it all from the MyAmFam app. Download it today!

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Related Topics: At Home , Home Insurance , Owning A Home